Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Decline of the West

There’s a great but disturbing op-ed in the Washington Post today about the poor vocabulary of college students. Michael Skube, who teaches at Elon University in North Carolina, laments that his students don't know "impetus," or "brevity," or, for that matter, "novel."

How does one explain the inability of college students to read or write at even a high school level? One explanation, which owes as much to the culture as to the schools, is that kids don't read for pleasure.
You may be thinking you've never heard of Elon and it must be a lousy school. No, it's a small, quality liberal arts college. I actually interviewed there once and was quite impressed. The fact is, students don't read any more. Heck, I have students who, largely for financial reasons, don't even buy their textbooks. And their lack of reading limits not only their vocabulary, but their critical thinking skills. I'm certain that this has a lot to do with why the increasingly conservative media gets away with so many lies and distortions. People who don't read will not develop the skills needed to see through the mendacity. It makes them terrible students and poorly informed voters. And I don't have a clue what to do about it.


Anonymous said...

If anyone has a clue as to what to do about functional illiteracy – please let the rest of us know.
While the younger generations are prized by corporate America – we, who have a command of language, are considered old-fashioned and virtually useless.
As a former professor of business administration, I know that this problem of functional illiteracy has been in the making at least a quarter of a century. When will it end? Ignorance will end only when employers learn that you are what you think – and, we only think with the tools of language.
Most of our educational systems are broken and it should be clear that more money is not the way to fix the problems.
Perhaps it is time to re-educate the teachers, the politicians and the voting public.

Dr.T said...

Past time. My ideas for change are not terribly original. I have two basic thoughts - 1) Pay teachers more to attract the best and brightest. 2) Dismantle all education colleges. All teachers should get substantive degrees and learn the art of teaching through apprenticeships - maybe a class in adolescent psych or something – but the current system of that emphasizes process more than content and analysis is, I believe, a failure.

The Clicker said...

I was a high school English teacher and I agree with parts of both comments but I'm not really sold on Skube's argument.

Snotty professors have been editorializing on the state of freshmen since the beginning of time. If it were true, freshmen would be slobbering apes by now. I don't doubt his anecdotes, and they are alarming, but I don't see this as a sign of a major change in society.

I don't see how NCLB is helping the situation any, although Skube seems to. None of those words are on the test.

Surely a good liberal arts college should have them read enough to know a few words by the time they graduate. I'm not that worried.

I'm with you all the way on dismantling education colleges. I went back to school to get my teaching cert. With the exception of some night and weekend classes taught by working teachers, my education classes were awful and worthless.

Your two part plan would have helped me. I left the field for something that paid much better for half the work.

Dr.T said...

I've heard that Aristotle used to complain that Alexander wouldn't do his readings...