What the fuck, Kansas?

I really hope that the legislature in Kansas is ramping up for a big April Fools joke, because otherwise the shenanigans they’re pulling are the opposite of funny.

In a typical Math 002 class, you might find an 18-year-old freshman sitting next to a 35-year-old mother of two. The freshman might be there because he didn’t score very high on his ACT math section, and the mother because she is returning to school after years away. Both are there for the same reason: to learn the basic algebra necessary to qualify for Math 101, a class required to graduate from the University of Kansas.

Some lawmakers say those students should be working on their math skills elsewhere—at the state’s community colleges, not its universities.

To that end, a bill approved by the Kansas House and on its way to the Senate would bar state funding from going toward remedial courses at public universities.


If Math 002 is eliminated, the roughly 900 students who take it every semester might have to straddle enrollment at both KU and a community college to get the help they need. That would “put a burden on students,” said Ingrid Peterson, director of the Kansas Algebra Program at KU.

You’re supposed to empower your citizenry!  That’s your job: to make our lives better!  That is your only fucking job!  Why make education harder?  What’s the point?  We’re already eating the dust of other civilized nations in the education department.  Do our legislators really look at America and say…

"If we just don't care if Americans are uneducated we can save all kinds of money! And probably get re-elected while we're at it."

“You know what wouldn’t help at all for securing a better future?  You know what investment wouldn’t have a positive affect on quite literally every problem facing us? ”

“What’s that?”

“Education.  What’s the point of an informed populace?”

This measure would really impact the non-traditional students (like me), who return to college after a few years in the work force (away from education, so they have time to forget things) to work for a better career.

To people like me, this is what the message from our leaders sounds like.

“Sorry we tanked the economy so that raising a family on entry level pay is tough.  What’s that?  You want to put in tons of your own effort to try and forge a better life for your kids rather than relying on the economy we fucked up?  Sorry, not gonna help you there.   Oh, you just want us to not make it more arduous to go back to school?  About that…”

Or, for the incoming students, how about…

“Oh, public education, for which our government has dedicated an entire department (what with it being the government’s responsibility and all) sucks so bad you need remedial courses in college?  Look kid, you think we became a politicians to be accountable to you guys?  Wait, you’re ok with us nixing funding for remedial courses after we fix public education?  Look, a career in fast food is just some people’s lot in life.  Remember to vote for me!”

Have academic standards, by all means.  But realize that some students, especially in the subject of math, are going to need extra help.  My brother, for instance, is a phenomenal writer (he’s in college for it now and has a stellar GPA) and, frankly, one of the more intelligent people I know.  His ability to write makes my most exceptional work look like it should’ve been written in crayon.  He also was in the army for five years before heading back to college.  That time away from academia didn’t help his math skills.

In college, honing his writing ability, is exactly where he needs to be.  However, he sucks at math.  He’s horrible at it.  This type of legislation impacts tons of people like him who may be brilliant at all manner of subjects, but who may still need tons of help in just one.  Keep your academic standards, but realize that not everybody is going to be great at every subject (or will have studied it recently).  In order for people like my brother to display their perspicacity with other subjects, they are expected to pass math.  Their inability to jump into collegiate algebra does not mean they are not academics or that they should be confined to a community college if they want to be a part of a particular well-respected university program.

Then again, after reading what’s going on in Kansas this week, I suspect their politicians probably do worry about the repercussions of an informed populace.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • http://sbsoapbox.blogspot.com/ Susi Bocks

    welcome to my world! and people wonder why i’m on my ‘soap box’ all the time! this.has.got.to.stop … PERIOD!

  • Zugswang

    Many conservatives are self-deluded, covetous parasites. All too happy to benefit from the largesse of more liberal economic and educational policies when they are young, only to refuse support for them later when such policies stop benefiting them directly.

  • aaron

    I think legislators have realized that fixing our math ed system is a monumental task, and have decided to simply destroy it entirely instead.

    Seriously. Wtf.

  • Bob Jase

    Kansas is just next to Oz, maybe its contamination by Winkies or something.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/Erulora Erulóra Maikalambe

    I really hope that the legislature in Kansas is ramping up for a big April Fools joke,

    As a resident of Kansas let me tell you, our legislature has been a joke for quite some time. Unfortunately, it’s of the terminally unfunny variety.

  • fastlane

    Why would a writing course at a Community College be ‘beneath’ someone compared to the same course at a University? I found the quality of education at my CC much better than the University, in general.

    Frankly, I wish more CCs would offer 4 year degrees that focused on the education aspect of things, and universities would mostly do post grad work, and research, which is how many seem to want it anyway.

  • http://www.facebook.com/llamagirl kevinbutler

    What’s wrong with Community Colleges? I’m sick and tired of the shit that they constantly get. Are us community college students not worth as much as ‘normal’ college students? Should I just trash all the work I’ve done because it’s not ‘good enough’ for you?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      Absolutely not.

      I will change that part of the post.

  • http://damnedhippie.wordpress.com Sid

    Third vote for not poo-pooing community colleges. I started out at cc and am now a Ph.D. grad student. The classes were definitely not “beneath me”- they were the only option I had at the time considering my location and financial situation. If I had taken such a snobby attitude towards my studies then, I definitely would not have gotten as much out of them as I had.

    The only aspect in which you may be right is that community colleges do not offer 300 and 400 level courses, which indeed are more rigorous than 100 and 200 level course. I imagine there is an advantage to freshmen and sophomores who have access to those courses earlier.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      You’re 100% right. That was wrong of me to write.

      I fixed it in the article. :)

  • Bertha D Universe

    Having been through the system in California (K-12, CC, private and public universities, and finally as an instructor at a Ca. CC), I just don’t see an issue with this. This is exactly one of the areas CC’s are expected to serve, and having the Uni’s doing so is redundant.

    Now I cannot speak to the specifics for Kansas, but in Ca. you are kind of expected to use the CC system for this and, recently, to some degree, for part of your core.

    Given a decent GPA in CC, Ca. CC students get preferential acceptance to the CalState and UC system colleges.

    In fact, the budgets are so tight in Ca., the only new students allowed into the CalState system this spring are CC students with a good GPA.


  • lizdamnit

    Hum. I’m genuinely torn on this. My initial reaction is to add my voice to the pro-CC crowd, since I got my start at a County and am quite proud of it (especially when I bandy that about during cocktail talk at conferences – teehee!)

    I’d like to know more about how the state treats its Communities and Counties. Can they realistically absorb the students once the Uni can no longer cover these vital courses? How’s the CC funding? Is it stable? How many people are they employing, and are they treating them well? Are there enough physical resources to go around? In my state the quality of your two-year experience is dependent on two things:

    1) where you live/how far you can reasonably commute
    2) if you know what kinds of questions to ask, how to work the system

    If the CC’s can handle this, and if they have enough support staff to guide students through before they transfer, and help keep them from being trapped in a netherworld of repeated coursework, *and* ensure those credits will to go the U if the student wants well, ok, then.

    I’m feeling cynical tonight, so I can presume that none of my rather tall order will be filled. Any Kansas residents – please fill me in/correct as needed.

  • Jacob

    Yeah, love those Kansans.

    I have been to a number of Atheist Meetups in Kansas, and the MERE SUGGESTION that you have relgious belief brings ridicule and insult. And worse.

    The groups in Overland Park Kansas are dominated by two particulary vicious ones.

    Thats probably why their membership is not growing.

    Seriously, I wonder if Aspergers Syndrome runs among atheists.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      What I see:

      1. Personal insult to atheists in the exact same breath you tell us how put out you are by personal insults. I hope the irony of that strikes you.
      2. Complaint that religious beliefs are disrespected.

      What I don’t see, what I never see accompany complaints of derision:

      1. Why religious beliefs of any stripe should be respected rather than laughed at.

      Can you fix the thing I don’t see?

      • Moe

        So its improper to respond to personal attacks by stating the facts about those delivering the attacks?

        Amazing double standard, JT.

        Its nothing personal, and it has nothing to do with arguments between theists and atheists, but you really are a little prick.

        • Spencer

          So its improper to respond to personal attacks by stating the facts about those delivering the attacks?

          No, it’s improper to respond to “personal attacks” by making ill-informed guesses at the mental condition of those people.

          Amazing double standard, JT.

          Pot? Kettle? After saying how awful it is that certain people are insulting others and leveling “personal attacks”, you insult another person.

          What’s your standard? Is it okay to insult people or not? If it isn’t, then you’re being a hypocrite by calling JT a “prick.” If it is, then you have no place to complain.

          Amazing double standard, Moe.

          • Spencer

            Oops, I did not realize that Moe wasn’t the same person who started the comment thread.

            My apologies. I should have paid more attention.

    • ischemgeek

      Don`t use the implication of ASD in a derogatory manner. Those I know with Asperger’s are amazingly sweet, strong, intelligent people who face a lot of bullshit and social stigma because they can’t read social cues as well as most people.

      It pisses me off when people are all, “he’s an asshole so he must be an Aspie hurr hurr hurr.” It’s ablist, degrading, and insulting to those with the disorder.

      • Mark Erdell

        Yeah, but its funny!

        And its not all about atheism with JT. Maybe he IS just a little weasel.

        If only he would do somthing about that spot on his forehead and that stupid bandana. It must smell worse than a dirty diaper by now! Hahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Shelley Mountjoy

    As a Community College Professor, I agree with Kansas on this one. Developmental courses (typically English and Math) are *so* essential to college success in those cases where the student needs them. A poor developmental curriculum doesn’t set a student up for success. Community Colleges are the “experts in the field” when it comes to college preparation and closing the gap some high school educations have sadly left our college-bound students in.

    If I had a son or daughter who needed developmental math courses – or I needed them myself – I would pick up a schedule of classes at a local community college. Community Colleges already afford smaller classes with instructors whose main focus is teaching (as opposed to research, etc.) at a hell of a financial bargain. We know students who need even just one developmental course are less likely to complete their college plans as opposed to their colleagues who jump right in with credit classes. Across the country there is an movement to redesign developmental education and this is a step in that direction.

    The only problem with the article you reference is the use of the word “remedial” where the proper terminology is
    developmental” – however I’ll assume the author went with language that the average reader would relate to and let that slide.

    JT, I know you might be upset at what you think is providing less options but I do get the impression that even though you went back and changed the wording, this post was written with stereotypes of junior colleges at the forefront of you mind. That’s a shame. Community Colleges are so integral to the economic fabric of our nation and this is only one example. With regards to developmental education, community colleges offer smaller class sizes, individual attention and course times that take life into consideration. You might see this as an option being taken away but in reality this legislation is widening the options for a student’s future by providing a solid foundation to build upon as lifelong learners.

  • inflection

    There’s a comment to be made on this but I seriously doubt it’s what Kansas legislators had in mind.

    A recent study which has been making the rounds of mathematics educators — you can find it at Launchings, the blog of the President of the Math Association of America (that link may need to be corrected for people linking from America, I can’t make it work without a Portuguese domain) — has raised the worrying possibility that remedial education in English and mathematics is not only ineffective, but negatively impacts degree completion.

    It’s difficult to think about how to respond to that. Obviously, if there’s something we can fix about remedial ed to make that work, that would be best. However, two of the possibilities I’ve seen raised involve scrapping remedial courses. One is to have an alternative to the traditional calculus-oriented sequence that focuses on statistics and probability, which have some significant utility for modern citizens. Another is to give all students below a pass-out level the entry-level 101 course, slightly increased in class size but with the additional faculty thus freed assigned to out-of-class reinforcement for the weakest students.

  • smrnda

    Community colleges might be much better equipped to handle students who need remedial instruction and they also tend to be much more accommodating towards non-traditional students. I’m glad to see people give them some credit here.

    I think the issue in Kansas is whether this move will make things better or worse.

  • http://predelusional.blogspot.com Stephen

    In my experience, people who have a tough time with nearly any subject generally don’t need another class. They need a tutor. The information retention rate for a lecture is something like 20%. That’s not a passing grade. Not everyone gets the lecture. Homework helps. Everyone loves homework, right? But interactive approaches do quite a bit better.

    In math at least, the fact that exams matter seems detrimental. It encourages students to cram. But advanced math builds on previous, more elementary skills. You learn arithmetic before fractions. You learn all of that before algebra. And you can’t go on without the basics. We need systems where the obvious short cuts lead to competence.

    The more demanding the standards, the smaller the pool of competent tutors. Tutors are expensive. Fortunately for my kids, i still remember math. So i can get them through it, whatever it takes. I feel for the kids without such parents. That’s got to be what – the majority?

    I worked the help desk when i was at school. It was pizza money. I answered student’s hardest questions, a dozen an hour. Competent upper class students ought to provide cheap tutoring. It shouldn’t matter much if it’s at a community college or a University.