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In this and the following post, I am presenting some of the previous week’s comments because I believe these commentaries deserve further discussion. The previous posting elicited many different kinds of responses including the Blog, my email, cell phone and even in-person.

None of them were more humorous or personally on target that this tongue-in-cheek response from “Moorehouse”.  Referring to my suggestion that a standard 120 unit college degree should take only 36 months, he/she writes:

You mean I have to neglect the necessary elements of character development found in getting drunk every night and partying with my old high school pals who never went to college, during an entire summer? (That I must) Stay in stuffy old dorms, take even more classes, hang around with a bunch of nerds, neglect the pleasure of taking the family’s cash ahead of inheriting it and so on and so on??? Do I have to do that??? Sign me up!”

Many years ago when I was devoting my time and energies to researching and improving K-12 education, I was influenced by the theories of Hank Levin, a professor at Stanford University. Levin proposed that instead of “slowing down” the pedagogic speed of teaching “disadvantaged” students, (a practice some called “compensatory education” and others called “dumbing down”) we should accelerate instruction (i.e., deliver instruction at the same level than it was delivered to gifted and talented students).

This was not an intuitive idea (as are nearly all of educators’ ideas which are based on research findings); therefore, logically it must be wrong. Levin evolved his theories in 1980 but it was not until 1986 that an experiment was funded in the San Francisco Bay Area. By 2000, a Federally-funded study[i] revealed that, “Schools have reported substantial increases in student achievement, parent participation, community projects, student research, and artistic endeavors. Third-party evaluations have shown gains in student achievement of 8 percentiles in a national evaluation and about 40 percentiles in an urban sample of six schools when compared with similar schools not undertaking reforms. The accomplishments suggest that a school based on acceleration is superior to one using remediation for students in at-risk situations.”

Henry M. Levin

So, if that’s the case why isn’t everyone practicing accelerated instruction? A colleague who practices Marxist philosophy says “Capitalism needs for the masses to remain ignorant and dependent in order to meet their exploitative aims.” I have lived and studied in both Marxists and Capitalists societies and I disagree. I think instead that evidence can never defeat “common sense,” which is another way of saying “uninformed intuition,” as the propeller of popular opinion. That’s why 18% of Americans do not believe we have landed on the moon, 28% think President Obama is not a Christian, 20% think that he is a Muslim, or that 30% think he has not proven that he was born in the United States.

But evidence supports the efficacy of accelerated instruction. Boredom is a more powerful anti-motivator than any other school induced activity.

I agree that it is almost always the case that adolescents mature in college and how they mature is important. Of course you don’t have to go to College to mature, as many thousand prove every year. But if you go to college to “mature” some people argue, you need 4 years to do that, not the 3 years I was proposing. Summer breaks with leisurely out-of-school activities would seal the deal on maturity. That’s what “Moorehouse” is satirizing.

This is a tough world where vast amounts of new information needs to be processed quickly, understood correctly and acted upon immediately. Giving adolescents five months off a year (including summers and in between vacations) prepares them for a world that does not exist. Who else in the society will be entering full time employment but only work 7 months a year? As I finish writing this, I am reminded of what a friend (another university professor like me) observes. He says his schedule is 24/7, “that is, 24 hours a week, 7 months out of the year.” I suggest two months is more than enough time to recuperate, restore and redirect energies in pursuit of a goal, both for the professor and for the student. However, this idea seems counter-intuitive and is not in line with the rest of society.

Another argument against accelerated instruction is that students change their major and thus need more time to redirect their attention. If students change their majors so often that it requires five years of college and 150 units to graduate them, I would call that a rich kid with time on his hands and money in his pocket. Finding oneself may not happen until middle-age, so what are we to do, keep them in college until their hair is white and they trade-in the convertible for a mini-van?

It is time to look at college for what it is, a place to begin understanding the world around as an adult, learning what has been discovered by others, advancing new knowledge, and yes, earning a degree that tells employers you can do something. (Maybe, we think, we swear, to the best of our knowledge.) But for God’s sake let’s use our time properly and do it in 36 months.

More comments about other comments next post

[i] Bloom, Howard; Ham, Sandra; Kagehiro, Susie; Melton, Laura; O’Brien, Julieanne; Rock, JoAnn; and Doolittle, Fred. 2000. Evaluating the Accelerated Schools Program: A Look at Its Early Implementation and Impact on Student Achievement in Eight Schools. New York: Manpower Development Research Corporation.