The Polite Liberal

A rant-free discussion of liberal philosophy and policies.


The Polite Liberal is the pseudonym of a "nontraditional" graduate student in mathematics (for nonacademics, "nontraditional," is a polite way of saying, "older than 25.") The Polite Liberal is an attempt to spur real policy debate, instead of partisan insults and conspiracy theories. Conservatives (and liberals, of course!) are welcome.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Party of personal responsibility?

I missed this story when it happened: a Republican state representative in North Dakota proposed a bill in January allowing students to withdraw from classes with a refund if they couldn't understand their professor's or TA's accent.

Now, I've been a student for a long, long time (I went back to graduate school around the time my son was born). Ever since I was an undergraduate I've been hearing students whinge on and on about not being able to understand their instructors. Almost uniformly, it's been a pile of horsedung.

Most science and engineering students were the "smart kid" at their high schools. Often, they slid through their last few years of high school without putting much work in. It's usually shocking to them when they get to college and suddenly aren't being fawned over anymore--and aren't even remotely the best anymore.

Most of us get over it. A few, though, start looking for excuses, and a professor that speaks with an accent is a wonderful excuse. Since most people don't do that much math, science, and engineering in school, they don't usually spit back the obvious rejoinder: "Couldn't you just have read the damn book? It didn't have an accent, did it? Or just listened a bit harder?"

My main question here is this: given the Republican Party's endless yammering about personal responsibility, what on earth are they doing aiding and abetting this sort of whinging? Aren't they even slightly embarrassed sponsoring a bill which gets defended like this (from a North Dakota senator):

Mr. Hacker says he has taken several classes where the instructor's accented English was difficult to comprehend. "There were days when I would go home and have to study the material that they had taught, for the simple reason that I couldn't understand the things that came out of their mouth," he says. "It's one thing to go home and study a concept, another not to understand what the professor was saying."--from the Chronicle of Higher Education

Gee, he had to study, too? What a terrible shame.

American technical dominance didn't just happen: it resulted from a combination of a huge public commitment to education and generous treatment of technically skilled immigrants. I'm deeply worried that we seem to be weakening both.


Blogger Moss said...

While I certainly see where you're coming from, I must point out a personal experience I had.

My freshman year of college, I took a low-level math class. My professor, whose name has escaped me, was Japanese.

The first problem was that I could not understand his heavily accented English. I have never had trouble understaning most anyone, but I was lucky to catch one of out ten of his words.

The other problem is that what English he COULD speak was limited to the very basics required to convey the information in class. I recall numerous times that students asked questions and he was unable to answer.

I ended up failing that class, the only class I've ever failed in my life. I sure would have liked a refund.

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too enjoyed an extended education, and some of my instructors and professors were foreign, as my university had a higher per capita, and perhaps absolute, foreign population than any other university in the area. Without exception, they were difficult to understand. Without exception they were excellent instructors, despite the language, er, accent barriers. Without exception they were a better choice than all but a few. Said another way, they were better than three-quarters of my instructors.

My opinion is this proposed legislation is just the latest incarnation of any immigration is good, so long as those immigrants came from Europe more than 100 years ago.

2:44 AM  
Blogger NoTONoEagles said...

Help Mommy, there are Liberals! underneath my bed!!! (No, seriously, that's the name of the book...) Don't believe me? The dang thing's on Amazon, not some hippie-press bullcrap ;) Anyway, thought you might enjoy, pinko ;)

8:06 AM  

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