Here’s what David Laude thinks professors need to stop believing in: Weed-out courses. A sink-or-swim approach to education. Their own importance.
His message doesn’t always go over well.
But to Laude, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas at Austin, changing these entrenched views is central to whether a university — especially a public flagship like his — is holding up its end of the bargain to the students it admits.
In the bigger picture, it’s also how professors can be moral actors, he says. They should be helping to narrow society’s divides, not double down on them.
He finds it strange, for example, that professors, especially those who teach big introductory courses, are essentially told to line students up and measure them by who does best on tests and who does worst. We mostly know by middle school, he says, who’s going to win that game (students from higher-income families whose parents have higher levels of education). Why should professors just reinforce those divides?
“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” he says. “And the poor are getting poorer because people teaching classes are giving them Ds or Fs.”
A Grade That Still Haunts Him
Laude has a talk he gives called “Everybody Can Get an A.”
He’s not saying professors should go easy on students or reduce rigor. He’s saying professors need to do more to help their struggling students learn and — more importantly — to help them believe they can learn.
He was one of those students. His freshman year he got a C in chemistry. It still haunts him. It’s part of why he’s not a podiatrist. The C moved him off the medical-school path. More fundamentally, Laude says, the grade made him question whether he belonged there. “That C broke me.”