Members of the St. Andrews faculty discuss Colvert's doctrine
If they didn't learn it, you didn't teach it
Associate Professor of Biology John Knesel served to facilitate a discussion with fellow faculty members regarding the doctrine of C.C. Colvert, If they didn't learn it, you didn't teach it, during the February Faculty Brown Bag sponsored by DeTamble Library.
"Colvert was the president of what is now The University of Louisiana at Monroe for the first 13 years of the institution's existence," Knesel said. "He came during the depression and was able to get four buildings added plus a football stadium. He was a visionary and he inspired people. He was always in motion with connections all over the place.
"Based on what we know about him, I believe he meant exactly what he said," Knesel added. "I am no C.C. Colvert, but that statement is exciting as a doctrine. It shows how important what we do is but it is also an albatross."
Assistant Professor of Education Rona Leach McLeod agreed that Colvert's doctrine is in line with what teachers in the primary and secondary schools face.
"Their performance is under the microscope," she said. "Teachers are accountable for student performance and when there are low scores by the students it is put on the teacher."
Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness William J. Loftus believes it is more of a shared accountability at the college level. "What a student learns or doesn't learn is partly the responsibility of the student. We have lost track to some extent of faculty accountability. The student should only fail despite my best effort to help him or her succeed. It is a faculty obligation to help the student learn and students are obligated to work."
Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus George Melton also believes that there is a third component in the educational responsibility.
"We need to take into account the administration," he said. "It is key that the administration create an environment of learning. It is important that the administration be willing to take part in helping with a problem child."
Associate Professor of Psychology Pam Case pointed to one of the differences between the students today and the students Colvert was serving in particular.
"The people Colvert's faculty were teaching wanted to be there," she said. "They had come to the school motivated to learn."
Knesel agreed, "They were expecting 50 students the first day and 400 showed up. The students were under stress as they expected the countryside to flood but it was a different mindset."
The group also addressed the idea of testing as the sole indicator of whether the students have learned the material.
"If I give a test, it is a sign based on the number who score below a 60," Loftus said. "My immediate response if they all did is I blew it. I will look at what I did wrong. I would not let it go down in a record book and I would not let it happen again absent a dramatic descriptor."
Distinguished Professor of Politics and Asian Studies Larry Schulz stated, "It seems that once you buy into the testing system, the burden shifts heavily to the teachers."
"But it is easy to use testing for a fact," said Associate Professor of Chemistry Michael Morton. "But it is a bit harder when trying to determine critical thinking skills and creativity. How do you measure that level of skill?"
"At the college level, tests are not the only way of evaluating how students learn," said Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of English Edna Ann Loftus. "It is a reminder of our responsibility to determine how the students are connecting with the material and the ways to evaluate that connection. It is a reality that when more than one is performing poorly we all have a sense of trying to connect and at some point we will have to wrestle with. We are all becoming more aware that we can not reach all our students in the same way and that is a dimension of the challenge."
All present agreed that there are challenges present with this doctrine that they wrestle with, but they know of colleagues that believe quite the opposite.
"It still gets to me that it is still not uncommon for a professor to view a large number of students doing poorly as reflecting how challenging their coursework is," said Dr. William Loftus. "There are those of us who start with the idea that it's my fault. I truly believe in the village idea. If you took an at risk student who succeeds and look at how they reached that success you would see that the student tried harder and the teachers, faculty and advisors made adjustments to make it work. You would also see several different collections of people."
This animated discussion left the group with a general consensus as summarized by Knesel.
"Colvert was everywhere and I have never heard from anyone who didn't like him," he said. "I think from our discussion today, we're all pretty far along the road of believing it is a good doctrine but it is hard to live up to."