Notes from the College Search

Spent Friday with the Good Wife and Sixteen visiting a private liberal arts college in Spokane, Washington—not the one with the very good Division 1 basketball team. The one with a very good Division 3 basketball team.

My main objective was not to embarrass Second Born by not saying or doing anything to bring myself attention. I was doing really well until mid-day. Early on we learned about the “Three Littles” that every student strives to accomplish. . . 1) get hit by a frisbee; 2) accidentally break a dish in the cafeteria; and 3) catch a “virgin” pine cone—meaning one that hasn’t hit the ground. In the middle of the campus tour, I faked catching a pine cone by droping to the rear, picking one up of the ground, then exclaiming to a few peeps around me, “Look, I did it. I caught a virgin pine cone.” Turned out more than a few people heard. Everyone liked my head fake except Golden Locks.

Thought one. A prediction. Higher education, like every other institution, is changing and will continue to change. However, the pace of change will be slower than the “experts” anticipate. Online “education”, or the cynic in me prefers, “internet coursework”, will continue to challenge the traditional “brick and mortar” model of schooling. Hybrid programs will become more common. But based on Friday’s sample of one, private, read pricey, residential liberal arts education is alive and well. “Spokane” University is thriving despite a relatively small endowment. It’s becoming more selective, it’s improving its already nice facilities, and it feels like there is a lot of positive momentum.

Thought two. A paradox. Many private liberal arts colleges offer financial aid packages that average 30-40% of the tuition and room and board “list price”. This coupled with Washington State’s public universities having to increase tuition 15% annually into the foreseeable future, means many families of high achieving students will find privates more affordable going forward. “Spokane” University has four merit-based scholarship tiers. The higher your grade point average and SAT or ACT score, the greater your financial aid. The second tier is a 3.7 and 1880 on the SAT if I remember correctly. That’s worth something like $15,000 each year. Any high schooler planning on going to college should think long and hard about taking any part-time job that might negatively impact their grades. You’d have to scoop ice-cream part-time at Baskin Robins for five years to make $15,000.

Thought three. Confirmation of a core belief. I believe economic anxiety explains most behavior these days. Especially, but not exclusively, middle and upper middle class parents of K-12 students. One of the day’s events was a panel discussion with four “Spokane” University students answering questions. Of the dozen or so questions asked during the hour, eleven were asked by parents. The only explanation I could think of for that was deep seated anxiety about their children’s futures. I wanted to tell the lady with red hair, who asked a few different questions, to “shut the hell up,” but I had already embarrassed TSwift once. Incredibly aggravating. Free parenting advice—at least try letting your son, who looked like a grown man to me, find his own way.

I took one picture. No, not of the beavers I saw on my run along the edge of the over flowing Spokane River, not of the baby ducklings, and not of the loquacious woman with red hair.

Dig the smart mix-use design

Finally, most importantly, make sure whatever college you decide to attend has plexiglass backboards.

The Most Popular Posts of 2011

Dear Readers,

I enjoyed sharing a lot of what I learned in 2011 with you. Here were the most popular posts from the year:

1) School Principal Shortage

2) Is On-line Learning a Good or Bad Thing?

3) The Public School Budget Crisis and the Dilemma of Professional Development

4) 2011 RAMROP—Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Piece

5) The Life Changing iPhone 4S

6) Young, Devout, Maligned

7) Home Schooling is Hip. . . and Selfish

I appreciate your reading, subscribing, and forwarding posts to others. A special thanks to those who took the time to comment during the year. Recent new subscribers, a kind comment from a former student, a thoughtful email from my mom, and support from a friend at a holiday party have me ready to roll in the new year. Seemingly small gestures add up.

I’ll continue trying to provide meaningful content. I could use your help in two ways—by jumping in the water sometime this year and agreeing or disagreeing with me about something and by sending questions and/or links of things you’d like me to write about.

In appreciation,


On-line Learning At Its Best

October 15, 2011. Seattle Craigslist ad.

I need help with online class.

I am taking online classes. I need somebody to help me do it. This is my first online class i feel a little bit overwhelmed. First class is American Government and second one US History. What you need to do? American Government: every week i get assignment from teacher you need to read chapter (book will be provided) answer the questions, write your thoughts, participate in chat discussions at least two times a week and do quiz. Quiz has about 30 questions time is limited 25 min. You have to be prepared. In the end of quarter you have to be abel to pass final exam. US History you just need to read whatever will be provided every week, participate in chat discussion about 2 to 4 times , four times a quarter lead particular discussion. There will be two final exam you will need to pass it in December.
All classes will be done by December 21i guess. And then new quarter will be started.
Please write me a little bit about yourself. I need to know if you are currently in collage or not. If you have or had taken similar classes online. You have to have computer, internet and be confident to pass those classes. Pay will be discussed in person.
Start right away !
Here’s a draft of what I thought I might write the ad writer:
I am not currently in collage; however, I was once. It was in collage that I learn to use semi-colons. After collage i taught American Government and US History so i can be prepared to answer 30 questions in 25 min. Thank you for providing book. I promise to pass the two final exam in December. I am a little nervous about leading four particular discussion, but will work through it. I have computer and internet and I like labradoodles and long walks on the beach. Pay is not important, just helping someone feeling a little bit overwhelmed enough. Ready to start!
And there’s this too.

Is Online Learning A Good or Bad Thing?

I know you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, but is the steadily increasing popularity of on-line learning a good or bad thing?

Depends. If all one wants students to do is recall mostly factual information on mostly objective exams, online learning makes a lot more sense than everyone meeting at brick and mortar locations at the same time.

But if it’s important that students learn to think critically, analyze content, and show empathy for others or develop greater self-understanding, a social conscience and interpersonal skills, it’s problematic because those skills tend to require “thinking out loud” side-by-side, asking questions, debating case studies, listening, problem-solving, and in the end, constructing knowledge together.

Then again, it’s probably just a matter of time until on-line instructional software incorporates group video conferencing and other related features that will make all of those more interpersonal aims equally achievable on-line.

Until then I confess to getting more than a little queazy when applicants to the Masters teaching certificate program I coordinate inform me they attended on-line universities. “Is that going to be a problem?” Inner voice, “Hell yeah!” Apart from counseling and diplomacy, I can’t think of any more intensely interpersonal profession than teaching.

I want prospective teachers to be subject-matter experts—which means knowing the elementary curriculum AND eight year olds inside and out or 9th grade physical science AND adolescents. I also know that their success as teachers will hinge as much or more on their ability to get along with students’ families and their fellow teachers and administrators more than their undergraduate grades or teaching licensure test scores. When it comes to adults getting along with one another, every school is dysfunctional, just in different ways and in different degrees.

Isn’t most contemporary work similarly interpersonal? And shouldn’t education be about citizenship as much as it is employment? And doesn’t effective citizenship require well developed interpersonal skills?

Maybe the better, more specific question is what distinguishes good online programs from bad ones? My guess is the best online programs are hybrids that require students to combine their online learning with weekly or monthly face-to-face teaching and learning experiences on brick and mortar campuses.