Thursday, December 15, 2011


Several things need discussing.

The first is that today is my brother's birthday.  Twenty-four years, now, he has been a thorn in my side, a source of pride, a fine friend, and a promising young man.  Don't tell him I say so, though; his head is big enough as it is.

Another is that I am working through final exams.  As I write this, I have students sitting in a classroom, poring over a text and writing about it.  A number of their fellows have already finished doing so; I am waiting only for a few stragglers to wrap up.  It is not about their exam that I write today, though.  No, that has already been dealt with in this very blog; yes, I am having my students look at my prose to do their own work.

Instead, I write about another final exam I administered, one that I wrote as a standard exam for the course; all students enrolled in the course this term, regardless of their instructor, have to deal with the test I put together.  That exam centers around Catherine Rampell's 19 May 2011 New York Times article, "Many with New College Degree Find the Job Market Humbling."  In the article, Rampell notes the trend among recent college graduates to have difficulty in finding work related to their field of study upon leaving college.  They are forced to take jobs regarded as having lower prestige and demonstrating lower compensation, which in turn forces out of those jobs the people whose lower levels of education effectively limit their job prospects to them.  It also makes paying back student loans, which Rampell notes center around $20,000 per graduate, more difficult.  People are therefore less likely to say that attending college is worth doing.  It is a disturbing truth, and one that Rampell does well in pointing out.

The exam I compiled about Rampell's article requires that students summarize the article (as I do above) and write a short essay which responds to it by addressing one of two prompts.  It tests what the course needs to test, and in my own classes, students have generally done well with the exercise.

I do not know yet how others' students have fared, but I am aware of several complaints about the test I wrote.  One is that it requires too much of students; I tend to reject that one, largely because I feel that the students we teach need to be pushed harder than they tend to be in their classes--a feeling I have discussed at length.  Another, though, and one I regard as valid, is that the article tends to be quite depressing, since it casts aspersion on the collegiate endeavor, and that it sends an off-key message to students.

Honestly, I had not considered that when I wrote the exam.  I was aiming at having the students read a piece that would engage concerns they had, and they will be facing the job market after they are done--one way or another--with their studies where I teach.  So in that, I succeeded.  But I did not look at the article in the regard one of my colleagues did--and I really ought to have.

The issue, though, is one that does need to be considered.  And I will do so at another time.

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