Sunday, April 29, 2007


I see the brilliant minds on the higher education commission in our small, Southern flyover state want to once again dumb down the standards by which our students can be eligible for what we hilariously call the "Hope Scholarship." It seems many of the poor children aren't maintaining the requisite 2.75 GPA their first year of college, or keeping a 3.0 every year thereafter to keep getting state lottery-racket money. The Tennessean has the story.

Now I can't speak to the experience of those who go to Vanderbilt or Rhodes or maybe a handful of other private institutions in our little state. It probably is at least somewhat more difficult in some of those places. But I can speak with authority about the lack of standards in our state institutions. Do you have any idea how easy we've made it to keep a B average in one of our universities? Can you write a complete sentence? Then you're years ahead of some of the students I've taught. If you can write a simple, one-page business letter without completely mucking it up, then you're years of ahead of most of my students. If you can write a coherent three-page paper about your experiences in high school or if you can write a five-page research paper that accurately documents the sources you use without committing plagiarism either inadvertently or on purpose then congratulations! You would earn yourself an A in my class!

The fact is the vast majority of students I've taught--and I've taught at our state's flagship public institution and at one of the second-tier universities--have very little ability and even less inclination to communicate in writing at even a very mediocre level. More than this, even the precious few who are willing or able to learn to write well have not the slightest inkling of why they would ever need to learn to do so. They just do it because we tell them to.

Then there are the ones who can't tell the difference between a noun and a verb. Some of these students--who are in college--can barely even read.

I believe that the situation is worst with regards to learning to read and write because I've had the following experience several times: Many of the students who struggle to meet even the very minimal requirements in my class struggle with other courses as well. But they at least see the value of these areas of study, and more than once have I been asked by a failing student to pass her because she needed to spend more time studying for her nursing or early childhood education or physical therapy course--you know, on the things that really matter.

All through the system--from the elected fools who devise criminal scams to pay for handouts to the doting parents of mediocre students in order to have boosted statistics they can exchange for votes; to the parents who push their immature, poorly-prepared kids to go to college immediately after high school in the belief that increasingly devalued bachelor's degrees will be meal tickets for their progeny (if indeed they've even thought about it beyond the meaningless, media-proliferated platitudes like those found in the Leaf-Chronicle and Commercial-Appeal last week); to the students themselves; to the teachers who have found themselves unable to explain to their students why they need to learn to read and write and who don't have the courage or the energy to demand that their students meet higher standards--I can see the abdication of responsibility from everyone involved to prevent an unmitigated catastrophe.

Pay attention: If you have kids in a public university in our little state ( especially if they graduated from one of our even more poorly-managed public high schools), the chances are that they are inarticulate little boobs who think that they are just brilliant, because you always told them that they were, because I held my nose and gave them B's in Freshman Comp, and because the state legislature thinks it's wise (or at least politically expedient) to dumb down the standards.

Now they want to dumb them down even more. So we'll all just continue to tell ourselves that everything is fine. And none of us will ever know any different until it's too late.

1 comment:

Jeannie said...

I totally agree. While I do have the pleasure of teaching our college students an academic suject, I see enough of it in the residential realm of college life to know that I would not want to. Even our so-called student leaders can't handle responsibility or follow the simplest of instructions - and good luck trying to hold them accountable for any of their actions. I'm not completely sure where we went wrong, but I do know that we need to do something to shift the tide. My children will not be coddled or told they are perfect. They will be disciplined, given responsibilities, and there will be consequences when they fall short. Teachers will not be called when little Sally comes home with a D on a paper, but you better believe Sally will be grounded by her mom and dad. Here's hoping that if we can raise our children in a more appropriate manner, the next generation will not be quite so insipid or entitled.