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Response to Louis Menand

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Please leave a comment responding to Louis Menand’s New Yorker article “Live and Learn: Why We Have College.”


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23 Responses

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  1. Christopher Grimm says

    This is a comment to the first section of Louis Menand’s Live and Learn article from The New Yorker on June 6th, 2011.

    Professor Menand sets up an interesting relationship between his Ivy League students and those students who attend the public university where Menand subsequently taught. It is a student from the public university who poses the question, “Why did we have to buy this book?” Does the public university student indicate that the Ivy League students previously taught by Menand don’t care why they have to read a specific text? Are public university students more concerned about the financial aspects of education? Perhaps this student was merely naturally argumentative. Regardless of the answer, Menand poses an intriguing starting point for any higher education student: “why ARE we studying this (whatever THIS might be), anyway?”

    • Kevin Ferguson says

      This is making me think about the texts for this class–which should only cost students the cost of printing. Maybe it would be better to require you to invest money? I’m trying to imagine the question: “Why did we have to download this pdf?,” which seems to have less significance.

      • JOhn;P says

        I think “Why did we have to download this pdf?,” is an even more significant question. Think about it. It didn’t cost them a dime, but your students are STILL complaining?

  2. Kevin Ferguson says

    Menand’s article makes me think more about how I do and do not “justify” what I do to my students. I definitely used to do this when I first started teaching and had to give students “bad” grades–I felt like I had to tell them apologetically why their work wasn’t all A+ level. Now, I think “justifying” the class is part of the work of the syllabus description and the first day spiel. Because, like Menand, I teach writing and literature classes (unlike say, math), it seems even more important to give students a reason for studying something that is less tangible. On the other hand, I think Menand’s real point is that students themselves need to have an understanding of why they’re doing something–if it’s just motiveless learning, it’s not likely to be as effective. So, maybe I’m not convincing students that my discipline and subject is so important, but rather trying to trick them into thinking that themselves.

    • Kevin Ferguson says

      Just remembered a former student who went on to become a math teacher . . . she told me about having to give the talk to students about the relevance of math (like, it helps you make money or cook food). So maybe all disciplines need to be “justified” in some way.

      • Victoria Fontana says

        I used to teach SAT preparation classes. While I wasn’t surprised that I had to justify preparing for the exam, since it’s just another standardized test that students don’t want to bother with, I didn’t anticipate having to explain the importance of math and English studies. I figured students should get the point by the time they’re in high school. Maybe part of the problem is a lack of competitive spirit I find most students are missing. If students get excited about competing against each other, I wonder if they won’t be concerned about justifying the content. Although, this presents a problem. Students would have to become vulnerable and comfortable sharing their grades with peers. This is a tough one. Our society tends to demand privacy.

  3. Travis Lamprecht says

    I support Theory 2 from personal experience. I went to one of the best high schools in New York City at Townsend Harris High School but I didn’t get good grades. This was because my priorities were out of order. When I went on to Louisiana State University my grades also suffered because I liked the pool at my apartment complex and bartending better than class. However, I’m here today in grad school with a Bachelor’s degree and I don’t regret doing poorly in my classes. I learned how to live on my own, how to properly communicate with my peers and teachers to convey my opinions and how to make choices in all aspects of my life without any assistance. I believe that grades are a lot like statistics in sports, they may look good or bad but what matters is what you gained from the experience and what you accomplished. Thus, I believe I’m a better man from my experience at college and grades had nothing to do with it.

  4. Megan O'Brien says

    As a teacher, there is a lot of anxiety that is now related to APPR, teacher evaluations, and Common Core standards. When I read that college is “a way of producing a society of like-minded grownups,” I was automatically reminded of this anxiety. It seems like this theory, at least in NY state, is not just related to college, but can be seen in the legislation that is also affecting beginning, middle, and high school learners.

    • Kevin Ferguson says

      I don’t know much about APPR . . . you’ll definitely have to tell us about this when we get to the section on standards. The question of how this gets defined legislatively is also very important–I don’t have the sense that a lot of teachers leave the profession to work in politics, nor that politicians/legislators have all that much training in teaching.

    • Rachel Duso says

      These “grownups” that society is producing needs to start at the elementary level, not wait until college. I teach, although special education, high school students that cannot formulate a proper basic sentence or spell the simplest of words.

    • Travis Lamprecht says

      This is true. Students are constantly feeling pressured to measure up to all the standards that society sets. Everyone is different, some people need standards because without them they are lost. You can argue without these standards, students would have no direction in their lives. While “producing a society of like-minded grownups” may seem nice, it’s unrealistic to say everyone’s college experience will be the same.

      • Kevin Ferguson says

        What I struggle with is what to do about the fact that “everyone’s college experience will [not] be the same.” Does that mean I should adjust my teaching to include as many people as possible, or should I set a standard and let people succeed or fail based on their own experiences? As a teacher, am I a sorter, or an includer?

  5. Rachel Duso says

    The public college students are more worried about purchasing book because of economical status yet seem rather uninterested in why they are even reading the book that they purchased for a class. If given a legitimate reason to purchase a text then maybe I will. I do not attend an Ivy league school and do not know what the work load but it seems, from the reading, that if your parents went there then you’re accepted. It becomes about who you know and no longer about what you know. Public college students are being trained for the real world whereas ivy league students just have a larger bank account.

    • Kevin Ferguson says

      I have the feeling that alot of QC undergraduates agree with the first part of your last sentence–a college degree is not necessarily the end product or something to do just for the heck of it; it’s a stepping stone into the “real world” and a way to get skills that will help them in professions.

  6. Michelle Caamano says

    Menand states, “Society wants to identify intelligent people early on so that it can funnel them into careers that maximize their talents.” I think that is interesting because all through high school, people can’t seem to wait for college because then they can focus on what their passion is. instead of taking classes in every course, you can focus on what interests you and what you want your career to be. “As an added service, college also sorts people according to aptitude. It separates the math types from the poetry types.” I know that was one of the main reasons why I looked forward to college because I was not a math and science type and in college, i was given the opportunity to bypass that and choose from a range of subjects that interested me.

    In a class that i found interesting and that would later on help me in my line of work, “Why do i have to buy this book.” isn’t a question I would ask. I suppose it all depends on the relevance of the subject and relating to the student’s life.

  7. Christopher Grimm says

    Okay, I’m totally jealous that my apartment building(s) in college lacked swimming pools, like Travis’.

    All kidding aside, though, I agree with Travis that my lackluster undergraduate gpa is completely reflective of the extracurricular personal learning I did.

  8. Guadalupe Bueno says

    “Live and Learn” by Louis Menand induces the reader to begin to question about the “why” he bases this argumentative essay about. It is interesting that a student asked the question ” why did we have to buy this book?”.This very fact then, shows that some students see education only as a gateway to achieving credit, as opposed to gaining the tools to be a learned individual and enrich themselves to help their communities grow. Our society, sadly, pays too much importance into gaining, instead of contributing to others. Menand’s question is therefore the start to further conversation.

  9. JOhn;P says

    I’ve never prescribed to the belief that, as Menand expresses it, “college gets everyone on the same page.” However, when I go on the thinking that the higher education system is designed to be both meritocratic and democratic, it makes it more palatable.
    Breaking down Menand’s initial question; “(Can you) justify the return on an investment in a college education,” with these two theories helps me understand.

    Meritocracy, a system in which the talented are chosen first…, is the better way of looking at it. If you are talented in college, and you buy the books, you can go far. But what about if you have no talents for interpreting, composing, criticizing, or teaching the author’s work you paid for? Democracy.

    In the higher education system it means that you don’t have to buy the book unless it is a majority decision. Or maybe it means, no you don’t have to invest as much as the people who do not have your skills for hacking the book from ebay, a fileshare, or finding a used bookstore that has it.

  10. Safaarah says

    As an educator, the question of what is the purpose or significance of attending an institution of higher education is one that I have often faced within my classroom. I teach in the epicenter of urban civilization, also known as Harlem, New York, and many of my high school students will be the first in their families to attend college. I am often asked why college should be a relevant journey within their lives. For many of these students, it is not “a given” that they will pursue or even complete this level of education, but I continuously encourage them to reach for what many deem the unattainable.

    The theory that college is “a four year intelligence test” is not one that I agree with on any level. It is a theory that I could not fathom presenting to my students. I think it takes away from the extension of love and ideas that bond and connect the minds of the impressionable. Yes, one may be judged by employers, based on his or her G.P.A, but that is not the essence of what college offers. As stated in the second theory, College is able to “expose…enlighten…and empower,” individuals to go beyond the rigid pathways that are constructed by categories and careers, hopefully assisting the individual in the discovery of their passion. However, I disagree with the proposed notion that college is meant to produce “like-minded grown-ups.” I have no desire to be “like-minded.” I want a mind that is autonomous. Yes, college will offer the skills to express ideas effectively, but after that it becomes the individual’s decision.

    • Anonymous says

      Written by: Safaarah Williamson

  11. Johanna Sanchez says

    I agree with Menand and it is interesting when he says that, “College is a four-year intelligence test.” It is evident in colleges that those students who take it seriously do end up gaining a great educational experience that is going to help them in the future with their careers. But what is also great about college and learning is that it broadens the knowledge that a student already knows. College brings together multiple cultures and allows those cultures to essentially come to an agreement of what is acceptable and what is not. It was interesting when he presented an anecdote of the different college experiences he had with students asking him why they had to read a book as opposed to why they had to BUY the book because showed the different economic backgrounds these students in those particular colleges had. I do not necessarily agree with college being the way to get stuff into people’s heads because as a student you tend to forget a lot of what was taught to you in the beginning of your college years but college does help you prepare for the professional career.

  12. Dana Choit says

    After thinking about this more I have changed my mind, and see the distinction more clearly Sorry! :
    I found theory one to be a bit contradictory. The article states that in the first theory “all that matters is the grades”, and the second theory may consider “grades a useful instrument of positive or negative reinforcement”. What confuses me is that early on the first theory states that it can’t all be about the I.Q. of the student alone, and takes into account in grading if a student is “sloppy or inflexible or obnoxious” this will also be reflected. I question whether or not such traits being taken into account while grading a student overall is not a form of reinforcement.

    Personal note: this morning someone i know was speaking about a prfoesspr she had who she felt took away positive grades due to her personality.

  13. Victoria Fontana says

    I appreciate the two theories of student expectations presented in the reading – justifying an investment in education and encouraging a society on a path for success. As an educator, it’s important to realize that a student’s expectation of education will differ based on various reasons; their socioeconomic background, family responsibility, peer and/or family problems, etc. As I hear stories from my friends who are teachers, these disparities create great challenges on a day-to-day basis. After receiving training in education, how does a teacher satisfy each student’s expectation, engage the class, and best educate them as a whole according to curriculum guidelines? Is there a solution – maybe based on a particular school and group of students – or is this a “million dollar” question?