Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

Total Pageviews

Saturday, June 16, 2012


I too have some doubts about the necessity for random choice of the students in the Pilot Program, but since that method will achieve exactly what I was aiming for anyway, I am happy to accede to the wisdom of my betters.  Now, however, things get really interesting.  Dania will select a control group of sixty students from the remaining 120 or so -- also randomly.  In the coming year, we will interview each first-year student who decides to leave Bennett, whether from our group or the control group.  We will then be able to match students who leave from the control group with students who stay in our group, according to economic condition, family problems, love interest, acdemic troubles, and any other factors influencing the decision to drop out.  We will, of course, do everything in our power to keep our sixty students in school.  By the end of a year, we ought to have a pretty good idea whether we are actually making a difference, and -- what is even more important -- why we are making a difference.

There is, of course, a possibility that we will succeed in keeping more students in school simply because we are paying attention to them, regardless of the details of the program I have devised.  This might be called the Elton Mayo or Western Electric effect, for reasons I shall explain momentarily.  But unlike Elton Mayo, I don't care.  All I care about is keeping those students in school and seeing them graduate with a good degree from Bennett.

Who on earth was Elton Mayo?  In the late 19th century, a chap named Fred W. Taylor made a big splash with a theory of scientific management of industrial enterprises that was supposed to rationalize production and increase profitability.  In the 1920's, the Western Electric Company recruited a social science researcher named Elton Mayo to apply these theories to its Hawthorne plant.  Mayo and his associates interviewed the workers, analyzed the layout of the floor where teams were assembling electrical units, studied the rate at which the piecework was proceeding, and then made some minor adjustments to the lighting.  Lo and behold, production went up.  Then they left, and production slumped to its previous level.  It took them a while to realise that their success had nothing to do with their scientific analysis or the adjustments they had made to the lighting, and everything to do with the fact that the exploited, underpaid, regimented workers were so grateful that anyone was paying attention to them.  [That is my language, of course, not theirs.]

But I really do not care whether the precise details of my pilot program are the cause of such success as we may achieve.  Indeed, it would not surprise me at all to discover that any program that requires the faculty to pay close attention to the students and take responsibility for their success or failure will work just as well.  If we succeed in dramatically raising the retention and graduation rates, and if other schools, replicating our efforts, find that alternative programs embodying these elements work even better, I will be delighted and consider myself to have been vindicated.

The entire effort is premised on my conviction that every young woman admitted to Bennett is capable, under the right circumstances, of completing the undergraduate program and graduating.


P. J. Grath said...

I remember reading about that study. When light levels were brought up (more illumination), production went up. After several rounds of that, illumination was decreased, and--again, production went up. I like your attitude. If paying attention is what keeps them in school, well and good!

Jerry Fresia said...

If the goal is a certain retention rate and if the insight is to convince young women that someone is paying attention to them, it seems to me that the program thus far leans too far toward the goal bringing these women into a world (scholarship) that itself needs transformation. With the above criterion and insight in mind, perhaps it would be better were the program to lean toward bringing scholars and scholarship into their lives.

In 1986, I was in Nicaragua on a harvest brigade. One day, I found myself walking on a “road” that must have had a foot of sand and dust. Only tractors could navigate it properly. It was incredibly barren. It was 104 degrees. It was hell on earth. After a few hours, a few others and I came upon a shack and stenciled on the shack was a logo that symbolically showed two people reading a book. The logo indicated that the “house” had been liberated from illiteracy. I was moved.

Which brings me back to the concept of a Sunnyside Progressive School. Might it be possible that such a school, as a chapter of the Willa B. Player Scholars, be a school organized by these same young women (who could also serve as teachers) and who would go into appropriate nearby communities to teach what that they have learned or are learning, something, anything (literacy?) And the reverse? Teaching to the scholars at Bennett (to lessen the intimidation factor) what they already know? The meaning and significance of Rap, maybe? I don’t know. Or performing a play, the purpose of which would be to teach “us” who and what they are now? To get them to embrace what they love and know and to articulate to “us” what moves them. To get them, in effect, to touch others.

Teaching scholarship to young women is a wonderful thing. Maybe more wonderful is teaching them ways to become more of who they already are. Within the Sunnyside Progressive School, there could be very small teams: the Harriet Tubman Team (or Sojouner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, or Assata Shakur or whomever inspires them today [the Whitney House or Oprah Team – not my choices!]). I guess the question, which I know the Professor has thought about forever, is how to make scholarship transformative so that its purpose is larger than penetrating the current rotten system: “Come On Up, I’ve Got a Lifeline!”

Seems to me that if you want to boost retention, education must make these young women feel “larger, more beautiful, more powerful.” (To borrow from Emma Goldman) Care about them: good. Go to them: better.

Just brainstorming.