Last night one of my classmates in an Education and Public Policy class shared a video about the flaws in remedial courses, courses that are designed to “remediate” students who are struggling: a remedy. I have used the term remediation before, and was surprised when I was asked to clarify…remediation, to me, had meant only one thing: to remake, re-mediate information in a different medium so as to present it in a newly illuminated way. Here was a positive connotation, the only meaning I knew, and yet the term carries with it such a lengthy history that is at best hopeful, and at its worst, ruthless.
Revision is reconsideration is redesign, is rebirth – with regards to, in connection with – to give new life to something.
As my classmate pointed out, remedial courses can destroy a student’s success – the more remedial courses that an individual has to take, the less likely they are to complete a college degree. And who can blame them? With the cost of tuition rising exponentially, having to take several courses before one can even acquire college credit is an unfortunate circumstance. As someone who did not take any remedial courses, I still carry the weight of more student loan debt than I am morally okay with. To be awarded only enough semesters worth of Pell grants to make it through a Bachelors degree puts these students at a serious disadvantage, if they have an additional year or so of schooling to complete before than can even enter the credit-bearing curriculum. We also know that students from low-income backgrounds perform worse on tests than their middle and upper-class counterparts; these are the students (as well as immigrants/ELL students) who need these resources, and yet they are not positioned to succeed.
When I was 16, I got my drivers license and I wanted a car. My mother told me that I needed a job to get a car. True, but I needed a car to get to that job.
Likewise, parents (especially single parents) need childcare in order to work, but need a high paying job in order to afford childcare costs.
And so I am sort of enthralled with this idea of remediation, or really, the thought of mediation in general. To mediate is to intervene, to facilitate, to moderate. We talk in my Computers and Writing Theory class about how technology mediates our world; for the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) we are taking, we watched this video and were asked to consider the utopian and dystopian frames through which technology is perceived or understood:
We also watched this one:
I am thinking about other ways in which our actions are mediated by the tools and technology available to us. I am making a mix cd to convey meaning that a series of words in a row could not. I am sharing food with friends as a way of making connections, making meaning. I am typing in this box in order to share my thoughts with you. Digital environments mediate in such a way that makes interaction between a single person and tens of thousands of others possible, it expands the reach of ideas so quickly and so vast that I’m not sure there are words to describe accurately what this means for society (and I’m not sure we can account for that yet).
When I think about remediation, I think about taking one idea and shifting it into another form, another genre, another mode. I think about alternative education programs, such as MOOCs, online high schools, or even specialized face to face classes that are discipline or demographic specific (ie: STEM or Magnet schools, charters, arts academies). I think about how remedial courses are viewed pejoratively, and I wonder why. I wonder what has earned them this reputation and what strategies we might use to shift that perception.
I also think, again, about this idea of being reborn, and just how much it interrupts the linear trajectory we, as a society, push for. Graduate from high school. Go to college. Get a job. Love that job. Make a lot of money. Of course, it isn’t that simple.
I think that the idea of remediation, of interrupting the straight and narrow path, of the beauty of failure and the messiness of creating, is incredible. I know, however, that I am also an idealist who could benefit from more pragmatic experience. Still, I wonder what reconsidering these concepts – mediation, remediation, and rebirth – might do to shift the frame through which we view (and teach) these courses, the students who take them, and the future – especially in relation to technology.