How to Improve Journalism Education

By Johnson, Michelle | The Quill, August 2000 | Go to article overview

How to Improve Journalism Education


Johnson, Michelle, The Quill


I have great respect for John C. Merrill as a scholar and teacher, but I thought some of his comments on the state of journalism education in the June issue, "Lessons learned: Evaluating J-education," lacked context.

The main problem in journalism education - and probably many other fields - is that universities ask professors to produce luxury goods at discount prices, with the currency used being professors' time. Today, professors at nearly all colleges and universities are asked to teach, conduct research and do community service. This is nothing new. But what is new is the amount of work in each area that professors are asked to do.

In the area of teaching, professors are asked to teach larger and larger classes. I know people who now lecture to classes of more than 400 students. Then we criticize teachers because students have poor critical thinking and writing skills. How can one person possibly teach 400 students to think and write in a class that meets, at most, three hours a week for 15 weeks? In my case, I taught four small classes each semester, which meant that in a given week I graded between 60 and 120 papers. That leaves little time to do more than correct grammar.

And, as Merrill noted, our students' grammar is poor, largely because they come to college poorly prepared, just as they did high school, middle school and elementary school. We have a crisis in American schools in that students often come to school not ready to learn. My mother retired last year after teaching kindergarten for many years. In the past decade, she's had students who were hungry, not toilet-trained and suffering from the effects of their parents' drug and alcohol abuse. It's hard for students to learn when their basic needs are not met.

Second, Merrill claims professors' research is largely useless. Again, the field suffers from the demand for quantity rather than quality. …

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