I wrote an entire dissertation parsing out questions like that. Let me digress, just for a moment, to complain about working on genre. At bottom, everything’s a damned platypus.

So. There’s this piece that’s gotten a lot of play on the internet: Is Our College Students Learning?. It’s a send-up of ratemyprofessors. It may not be satire at all. Maybe invective is a better word, or heavy-handed contempt. Perhaps it’s just a screed.

The quotations are cherry-picked. There’s a slant. It’s obviously biased.

If we were aiming to be absolutely fair, we’d dismiss this piece because it doesn’t consider the other side of the equation: all those great students who take an active interest in their education. They’re always impressive, especially because they find ways to make what they learn matter–and not just in the rather narrowly disciplinary ways that their professors bring to the table.

On the other hand, now that we’re being fair, we have to ask if there’s any accuracy to the slant? Probably. I’ve spent some time poking around the site, and I’m guessing that easy professors have an easier time getting good ratings. Which isn’t to say that all highly-rated professors on the site are easy or inferior–in fact, I’d be very surprised if students weren’t able to recognize quality and willing to praise it when they found it. But I also know that there are professors in my department who have a terrific reputation among our students, yet have only a middling good rating on the site.

So this satire does tell us something, if we read it critically and don’t just accept it entirely at face value. In that way, it’s not unlike ratemyprofessors itself. As I tell my students, I think those ratings are more or less all true–if you read them with a critical eye.

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