Back then, the quality of Southern schools was, in fact, far lower than that of their Northern counterparts. At both the K-12 and college levels, what was demanded of students and learned by them did not compare favorably with even their mediocre competitors.
But times change. Over the last several decades, the New South has become the engine of national development — which includes its academic institutions. Thus, where the University of Georgia was once a parochial backwater, today it is in the front rank of state universities.
Meanwhile, Kennesaw State University has over the course of 50 years grown from nothing into one of the best regional universities in the land. Starting as a tiny community college nestled in the Georgia pines, it is today a favored destination for even international students.
Yet now, for some unfathomable reason, many Georgia politicians want to turn the clock back. In the name of progress, they are proposing to tear down what has been accomplished and replace it with high-tech ignorance. Intoxicated with promises of a brave new computerized world, they mean to substitute electronic dazzle for genuine knowledge.
Let me explain. Currently on the fast track toward implementation is something called the “e-core.” This is intended to allow lower division students to take their first two years of college strictly online and then transfer to any University System of Georgia school for their junior year.
Standardized online courses are to be taught not by old-line professors but curriculum specialists. Because the materials imparted are to be homogenized, and simplified, all that will be needed to deliver them are the equivalent of teacher’s assistants.
Why is this problematic? Why are my objections something more than sour grapes coming from a professor attempting to save his job? The answer lies in the nature of online teaching.
One of the things we have learned about this medium is it works best with well-prepared students. Yet this is exactly what many recent high school graduates are not. Likely also intimidated by entering college, they are to be thrown into the deep end of the pool, struggling, in isolation, to cope with unfamiliar demands.
On the other hand, at schools like KSU, younger students are allowed a period of orientation. They are initially introduced to the studying, writing and research skills that will be required of them as they proceed into more arduous scholastic territory. With this foundation under them, they are subsequently prepared to succeed.
But what of the e-core learners who arrive on campus with an inferior preparation? When they fail, and they will fail in large numbers, what will be the response? Will the curriculum be further dumbed down to accommodate their needs? And if it is, will they later be prepared to meet the needs of the modern economy?
The politicians want to save money. They assume they can do this by cutting back on brick and mortar institutions. This, however, is penny wise and pound foolish. It saves a few dollars today only to ensure many more will be lost down the line.
This is why we at KSU are adamant in our rejection of the e-core. Our faculty and administrators are on record as nearly unanimously rejecting this demonic innovation. This may sound self-serving, but we believe in higher education and do not wish to see it sacrificed on the altar of false economies.
So I have a modest suggestion. If the politicians want to return to the bad old days of Southern parochialism, why don’t they just shut down the state’s university system entirely? This will save a lot of money in the short run. Come to think of it, closing down the high schools would save much more.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.