I have already discussed why I find my new university a much better place of employment for a young academic than my previous, superprestigious Ivy League schools. Three months have passed since that post, and now I have had many opportunities to observe (to my great surprise, often bordering on incredulity) that what is being offered to the students of my new state university is a whole lot better than anything my Ivy League students could have ever hoped for from their overpriced schools.
Let's take our Foreign Languages and Literature program, for example. Anybody who has done any language teaching at all knows that this is not a subject you can teach relying 100% on your textbook. The "let's-open-our-books-and-do-exercises-on-page-14" approach to language teaching is extremely outdated and ultimately unproductive. In order to teach a language successfully, you have to make it fun, interactive, and add a lot of cultural content. When students have a chance to watch films and television programs in the target language, sing, dance, and interact online, their curiosity towards the language and their performance in it improve dramatically. Simply put, it's incredibly difficult and often outright useless to try and teach foreign languages without all these things.
This week has been dedicated to watching Spanish-language movies in my Spanish classes. While I was looking at my students who assembled at the Plasma Lounge of our amazing Languages Lab, I was thinking about how surprised they would be if they knew that I couldn't have offered anything resembling this experience to my Yale students. Watching a film on a huge plasma screen with surround sound makes it an entirely different educational experience from trying to make out the images on the screen of an ancient TV-set stuck in the corner of a large classroom.
Next week I am planning to introduce my students to Spanish television. This is possible through the satellite dish programming which is also available at our language lab. It is needless to say that such an opportunity was unheard of at my Ivy League universities.
I'm sure that if I were to ask my current students whether they feel more privileged than Ivy League students, they would think that excessive work made me psychologically disturbed. This just goes to show how strong the power of the name (and, of course, of the price) still is. If it costs a bundle and everybody knows about it, it has to be superior to things that cost less and have a less prestigious name.
Of course, prestige matters. But if you are more interested in getting a quality education than sporting a fancy name on your baseball cap, remember that Ivy League schools often lose out massively to state schools in terms of what they can offer education-wise.