In a world filled with ‘soft’ college degrees that barely require a heartbeat to attain, Sociology is often targeted for mockery. Often, this mockery is unfair, but sometimes, there is a kernel of truth to it.
The ‘soft’ nature of the behavioral science of Sociology came to light when a student taking online courses had the audacity to proclaim Australia to be a country. The professor’s response was to fail the student for the assignment, and to reply that Australia is not a country, but a continent.
The truth of the matter, of course, is that Australia is both a country AND a continent. A simple Google search or Wikipedia browse would confirm this for anyone interested in getting to the bottom of the debate.
The assignment that the student’s professor failed her on is a simple one. The project required that Ashley Arnold, a 27-year-old stay-at-home mom who was taking classes online to improve herself and her earning potential, compare a social norm in America with one in a country of her choosing.
When Ashley’s professor returned her assignment on February 1, however, it was marked as a failing grade.
Her professor, who has a Ph.D. in Philosophy, suggested that Ashley failed because Australia is not a country.
In response, Ashley Arnold wrote her professor a lovely email, including citations to support the idea that Australia is, in fact, a country. Some of these citations were taken directly from the school (SNHU) and its online library.
Again, the professor, with her Ph.D. in Philosophy, replied that, and I quote: “Australia is a continent; it is not a country,” continuing on to say that the “error” made it “impossible” for accurate research to be done on the week two research outline.
Once again, Ashley Arnold retorted with further internet links to prove that yes, Australia is a country, filled with kangaroos, koalas, and some of the most deadly snakes and spiders on the planet.
That time, she even included an authoritative link: the ‘about Australia’ section of the official Australian government’s website.
Finally, her professor promised to ‘research’ the issue and update Ms. Arnold’s grade accordingly.
Rather than wait for that to happen, Ashley filed a report with her college, ensuring that it would be taken care of.
A few days later, her grade was updated to a B+.
A spokesman for the Southern New Hampshire University said they were ‘investigating’ this egregious lack of knowledge on the part of a Ph.D. professor.
That ‘investigation’ resulted in the replacement of the Ph.D. professor with someone who ostensibly knows that Australia is a country, and Ashley Arnold is set to receive a full refund for the cost of the course.
We live in a world where people still deny that the Earth is round, so this isn’t surprising so much as it is sad. Someone with a Ph.D. should know better. Someone with sense should realize that Google is a thing that exists, and that they can turn to it for the answers to their problems.
What may be more disturbing is that someone could get a Ph.D., which generally requires close to a decade in academia, without ever finding out that Australia is a country.
Most people learn that fact in childhood. Many of my generation learned that Australia was a real place when a wild man known as the Crocodile Hunter had a television show where he would showcase (or harass) wild Australian creatures.
How someone gets INTO college, let alone winds up a college professor without knowing that Australia is a country boggles the mind.
But to be so obstinate in refusing to even do the barest research into the issue is even worse.
We live in an age where we carry around the combined knowledge of mankind in our pockets.
To refuse to even utilize that knowledge, that technology, is absurd.
It is important to learn and to remember, but it is more important still that we make a concentrated effort, as people, to confront our own ideas.
That’s the basis of debate, after all, to have your ideas challenged. And when the ‘idea’ being challenged is a basic one, one not based on opinion but rather on solid fact, it should be simple to confront and review that idea.
Let us never become so intransigent that we refuse to take an honest look at our own ideas and beliefs. It’s not healthy, and it’s the sign of a dead intellect.