Letters to the Editor
Readers write about why professors should not be called upon to rescue newspapers, why the US should teach its students to think critically, and what universities should really spend their money on.
Don't ask professors to save newspapers
In regard to the March 9 Opinion piece, "Professors could rescue newspapers": Author Jonathan Zimmerman's suggestion that academic writers could help the newspaper industry by writing free of charge misses a basic lesson from US history: Progress in society is made by paying for labor, not by exploiting it.
Academic writers are already underpaid, if they are paid at all. The higher educational system that offered academics tenure in exchange for their teaching, research, and institutional loyalty is changing, and not for the better. Tenured professors are becoming an increasingly rare species. Instead, colleges and universities are hiring more adjunct professors at much lower salaries to do the work that tenured professors once did. Yet, the "publish or perish" rule is still used to perpetuate the earlier culture, wherein academic writers were taught to be unconcerned about monetary compensation or publishing rights derived from their copy.
Employing Mr. Zimmerman's suggestion would pit academic writers against journalists trying to make a living through professional news gathering and writing. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that it is not the salaries of journalists that have brought about the collapse of the newspaper industry, but excessive debt from unwise mergers and acquisitions, as well as management that was slow and inadequate in its responses to the rise of the Internet and the blogosphere.
Not paying writers isn't the answer to saving newspapers, and no one should offer or be expected to write without compensation.
Teach students to think critically
Regarding the March 10 Opinion piece, "Are you a critical thinker?": While I appreciate the intent of author Linda Elder's commentary, I am puzzled as to why she would omit the obvious: No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has handcuffed teachers from being able to spend any time cultivating critical thinking in students today.
As a former elementary school teacher – before NCLB – I routinely taught my students about "metacognition" (thinking about how you think) and how it played a part in the subject at hand. Now that the federal and state governments are telling teachers what and how to teach (and for how long and when), it is clear that one of the culprits in the decline in critical thinking is the government. Could it be that the government is, in part, responsible when test scores decline, too? It would not surprise me. Surely, the decline of critical thinking will be one result of policies like NCLB.
I applaud Linda Elder's commentary on the failure of our schools to teach children to think critically. We are witness right now to the results of that lack in the rantings of people like Rush Limbaugh that are accepted as fact by his audience, and also in our media's failure to challenge assertions by politicians and others in leadership positions.
Universities should focus on the basics
Regarding the March 13 Opinion piece, "Universities can survive only with radical reform": Radical change can't happen at the college level until the big money interests stop investing their money in sports and McMansion-type facilities, rather than keeping the cost of tuition and books at a reasonable level. Author E. Gordon Gee understands the need for change and he is correct that the community college system could provide a solution, but I think that real collaboration will come from the Internet and entrepreneurs. If you wait for the universities, it could take 20 years.
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