My dissertation proposal was probably twenty-five pages; it took the form of an annotated TOC. The department clearly felt that if the proposal was solid, then the dissertation would not be a problem. My dissertation was based on a seminar paper which had then already been accepted as a journal article. There’s a lot of variation in dissertations in the Humanities. Mine was heavily data driven, more so than most. This was in the early days of computing in the Humanities. Classics was one of the first disciplines in the Humanities to take advantage of computing, and pretty much all of classical literature was on a dedicated search engine by about 1990. In a few months I was able to compile data that would have taken fifty years before computing. (One of my professors said, “Before there were computers, there were Germans.” This may be an in-joke for classicists; German dissertations were famous for being exhaustive.) In fact, I think the phenomenon I wrote about would not even have been noticed without easy computer searches. Then, of course, I had to interpret the data, and that took another year and a half.
This is a question, not a challenge. If your sister is having her daughter taught by certified teachers following the curriculum, what’s the advantage of keeping her at home rather than sending her to school? I can think of a potential disadvantage: lack of interaction with other people. What advantage compensates for that potential disadvantage?
Sometimes people who aren’t competitive are thrust into competitive situations. Not fun.
I remember when I had taken my qualifying exams in graduate school I was told what grade I had received, and I was surprised that they gave a grade; no one had ever mentioned that it was a graded test, and the students who had taken (and passed) the exam never talked about their grades. The grade never appeared on my transcript. Bascally, the point was either “Yes, now you can go on to write a proposal for your dissertation” or “We think you need more time before you start to write.” The biggest test we faced was the defence of the dissertation proposal. A friend of mine had to redo her proposal three times before her committee accepted it. But we didn’t get a grade for that, so far as I know; it was either “Accepted” or “Not yet accepted; keep working.”
There are cultures which don’t emphasize competition even in athletics. I remember the anthropologist Edward Hall discussing a culture which regularly held races, but the group racing would be quite disparate, and the point was not to come in first, but to do better than you had done before.
Teaching is hard work. There are very few parents who would be able to cover all the material in all the courses. How many parents can teach Trigonometry and Precalculus? And World History? And English? And Geography? And Music? And French? (Just thinking of some of the courses I took in high school.)
Why are we so obsessed with ranking everyone? I talk to my students about this every year, because they worry so much about grades. I dislike grades, and I give grades only because I would be fired if I didn’t. Evaluation is fine, but that’s different from grading. Evaluation might say, “This part of your essay was very interesting; I think there’s another issue you need to consider. Your grammar is better this time, but keep watching out for sentence fragments.” This kind of evaluation notices improvements and problems, but it does not rank the student’s work by comparing it to the work of the other students. I want the students to do their best, and to get better, no matter where they are in some ranking system. How many times will a student in our system get a grade? Hundreds of times, hundreds. It’s just not necessary to grade people all the time.
I think a lot are in that boat, but we don’t hear about it.
I usually don’t agree with Bok, but if I understand him today, I do agree. Biles is not a goat, she is the greatest of all time. And her achievement can be honored whether or not she wins one particular competition. It’s very sad that we push people so hard to compete and we make them feel that they don’t count unless they are the very best. Excellence is excellent, but there’s something sick about the way value people by their position in some ranking.
Thanks for an informed comment. You are a treasure.