We are in deep trouble, educationally speaking

August 18, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More

I just spotted this on Slate: “Less than one in four high school graduates in 2010 who took the ACT college-entrance exam were found to have the skills necessary for basic entry-level classes.”

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Category: Education, ignorance

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Tony Coyle says:

    I sometimes really don't understand America.

    There are the ongoing 'grassroots' complaints about 'elites' and disparagement of anyone not seen to be 'just folks'. However, you can't be a sports star without going to college, and these same 'middle americans' predominantly vote for politicians with corporatist agendas, which leads to offshoring and reduction in low-skill (and mid-skill) jobs at home. The resultant is that the only way to get a job is to get a college degree and join that supposed 'elite'.

    Then there are people patently unsuitable for college, wasting years of time and garnering massive debt only to graduate and take the remaining un-skilled and semi-skilled jobs that should go to non graduates – since their ineptness makes them otherwise unemployable in their degree field. These people lend some credibility to the idea of the uselessness of further education, and make it harder to truly assess the worth of a graduate.

    There is also the ongoing inflation of job requirements – when everyone has a degree, you then need a degree for everything. Entry level in business used to allow high-school diplomas. Now even junior level roles, that require zero academics beyond simple arithmetic and basic literacy, demand an associate's degree – and progression requires a full bachelors, a PHd or a Masters!

    What happened to apprenticeships and vocation-based training? What happened to working up through the company? What happened to experience versus 'education'?

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Tony: What concerned me about these numbers is that these are students who consider themselves to be "college bound." I agree that we should rethink the extent to which college is necessary for a good and productive life; I do like your point about experience versus education. But it is a terrible situation when 3/4 of the people who think that they should go to college lack the basic skills to do college work.

  3. Tony Coyle says:

    Erich – I think that the expectation gap is there because we failed to educate kids about (and in) reality.

    We constantly tell them that they can do anything they set their minds to! That there is nothing they can't do or achieve if only they try! Unfortunately, reality intrudes, and it exists on a (mostly normal) curve.

    We, the parents, the educators, the communicators, the leaders, have failed an entire generation – because it was easier to tell the little lie than tell the honest truth.

    Be the best you can be – is a great mantra for life. Be *anything* you can *imagine*, is a recipe for misery and failure.

    If you are unprepared for college, then you are not college material. It's axiomatic. You *might* be college material if you apply yourself academically – but that's not guaranteed (that pesky bell curve again). But you can't take someone who who is incapable of advanced math, and 'cram' them to make them college ready, nor can you make them successful in college. Ditto for almost any other college discipline you might care to examine.

    I would love to play guitar better – but I recognize that I've reached my pinnacle. Could I get 'better' with practice? Sure! Would I *ever* be the equal of even the most workmanlike output of a College of Music? Most likely not. I know where I am on that particular bell curve (and it's not very high). Likewise with languages, arts, and on and on and on for the entire gamut of human endeavor.

    The focus on college and academics in the US is so fucked up it would be funny if it weren't so sad. We have destroyed potentially functional and productive people on the altar of 'higher education', thinking that education somehow magically translates into intelligence or ability. In doing so we have devalued the foundations of the economy, leaving a population seemingly capable of little more than consumption.

    Sometimes I feel that my voice isn't enough.

    Then I realize that at least I have a voice – and that I must therefore use it.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Tony: I very much agree with what you have written. I often wonder how things could have gotten so bad. I suspect that Americans so often douse each other with self-esteem, that they develop massively unrealistic expectations. In one science museum, there were demonstrations regarding DNA where the kids needed only to go up and push a button and watch an animation on a monitor. A couple of them ended with "Congratulations! You are now a junior scientist!" I'm thinking, bullshit. All they did was push a button and watch a cartoon; and there is no quiz to see if they even understood the lesson. How about the long nights studying, and discussing and reading and conducting tests? The devil is in the details in many things these days. Can the people who claim they can do important things really able to do these things? Many of us sit back (me included) and take credit for the incredible scientific (and artistic and athletic) accomplishments of others, because we "support" these activities.

      I also think that the incredible amount of TV watching (something like 4.5 hours a day) leads many people to confuse reality with fantasy. Instead of talking about real life things (like the massive ecological challenges we face) they talk about their TV friends and TV adventures. Instead of having real friends, they have TV friends. When they have people over, they choose to watch a show or a movie rather than engaging in a meaningful conversation.

      Too many of us are deluded that we are highly competent, when we are completely untested and untrained. Hence, 3/4 of the people who think they can do college work can't even do basic course work. They need to go back to high school, and I've heard from many college teachers that huge numbers of college courses these days are essentially teaching high school English and math.

      Your paragraph about guitar is a good example. I've played most of my life, and I'm actually a performing guitarist (I get paid to play). This has taken ENDLESS hours of practice. Joyous hard work. A constant stream of self-critical moments to improve minute aspects of the way I play. Compare what it takes to really perform to the millions of people who spend hours playing "Guitar Hero" instead of the real thing. I think that Guitar Hero taps into that gray area–people playing guitar hero think they can (or at least they could) play the guitar well, if they only put a bit more work into it, but the reality is that they would not be stage-ready for years. Their reach is greater than their grasp.

      This gap between desire and ability is common in politics too. People swagger in on complex issues without a factual basis. Sarah Palin suggesting that drilling for Alaskan oil will be a major part of solving the American energy crisis is a classic example (when the reserves of Alaskan oil would only run the U.S. for six months).

      We need to be hard-working self-critical reality-based people if we're going to improve the human condition. But it too often seems like that's asking too much.

  4. Tony Coyle says:

    We need to be hard-working self-critical reality-based people if we’re going to improve the human condition. But it too often seems like that’s asking too much.

    Yep – and it flies in the face of that same normal distribution (this time the axis is willingness to expend effort on future goals)

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