“You can get into school. That’s not a problem. But you can’t succeed.” — Michael W. Kirst, a Stanford professor, on students unprepared for college work.
“Community colleges are being deluged with hundreds of thousands of students unprepared for college-level work.” — Diana Jean Schemo, At 2-Year Colleges, Students Eager but Unready (New York Times, 2 Sep 2006)
The public schools, in their efforts to show good results on standardized tests while giving students unearned self-esteem, have forgotten their fundamental purpose — to educate.
I had to take a remedial math class when I went back to school after retiring from the Air Force, mainly because I’d been out of school for 20 years and hadn’t used many of those skills. The remedial English class is another story. It wasn’t that I hadn’t mastered grammar or that I couldn’t express myself well on paper but because I was psychologically unable to write an essay with the subject A Day That Ended Too Soon.
I’m sure that kids fresh out of high school have many happy memories, homecoming, the prom, family vacations, and the like. Sometimes, after 20 years in the real world, you see and experience a lot of things that aren’t so happy, things that sometimes overshadow the happy moments of your life and leave scars that never heal. At the time I was asked to write about a day that ended too soon, I honestly could not recall such a day. Those memories were, and still are, buried beneath the rubble of destroyed hopes and dreams. I had just completed the second half of my military career, 10 years in circles of Hell that Dante couldn’t have imagined in his worst nightmares. In many respects I am still in Hell and, to this very day, I still cannot write that essay.
Don’t get me wrong, I have memories of the happy moments of my life but they are isolated memories. I am unable to connect them into a cohesive set of events that would comprise a single unit, such as a day, in my life. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to clear away the rubble of my past and find these treasured memories, more or less in tact, so that I can write about them and share them.
Whoa, I guess I got a bit off track. We need to educate our children and give them the tools they need to survive in the real world, be it college or the work force. The real world is a place where self-esteem is built through accomplishment, by challenging yourself and meeting that challenge. No one can give you self-esteem; you must earn it yourself. No one in the real world cares how you feel about yourself; they only care that you produce results, that your do your job. Feel good about yourself on your own time.
The difference between high school and college is incredible. In high school, students are expected to sit quietly, absorb information, then regurgitate it for a test. The teacher is always right and there is no tolerance for questioning anything. Then these students graduate from high school and enter college.
Suddenly, they are responsible for getting themselves to class and learning their assignments. Professors, instead of merely giving out the information, want them to form opinions and be able to defend them. Education is suddenly a two-way medium. Student must not only receive information but must process it, understand it, use it, and reach sound, defensible conclusions. In order to succeed, they must actively participate in their own education and for many of them, this is an alien concept.
These skills are not generally taught in high school. Instead, parents, teachers, administrators, legislators, and the entire public education system coddle students, spoon feeding them the answers to standardized tests that are meaningless. Real learning takes place after graduation for those who are able to adapt to the real world.