Literacy and the college student, devolving into curmudgeonery (as usual)
According to CNN.com, they report the release of a new study assailing the real literacy of college students.
More than half of students at four-year colleges -- and at least 75 percent at two-year colleges -- lack the literacy to handle complex, real-life tasks such as understanding credit card offers, a study found.
The literacy study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the first to target the skills of graduating students, finds that students fail to lock in key skills -- no matter their field of study.
The results cut across three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips.
Without "proficient" skills, or those needed to perform more complex tasks, students fall behind. They cannot interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.
My students and I talk about real-life applications of what we are studying all the time. When we had a lesson on credit and debt, they were spellbound. These kids need practical knowledge.
I just sat through a staff development presentation which talked about teaching the kids through their interests. I agree with the general idea, although the day that I play the Black-Eyed Peas in class will be a very cold day in Jamaica. (I don't want to know about anyone's "humps." In fact, I would be so appreciative if you would keep those things covered at all times, before you put someone's eye out.) Anyway, my idea of "teaching thorugh their interests" is "teaching them stuff that they don't know by starting with stuff they do know." (Note my complete lack of educrat-ese doublespeak. It's not because I can't; it's because I don't wanna.) I can talk all day long with kids about Death Cab for Cutie or Keane or coldplay or Audioslave or System of a Down, or even Wilson Pickett (rest in peace) or Jimi Hendrix or the Go-Go's or Bob Marley or the Clash.
But I shouldn't. Not if I want to call myself a teacher.
Too much classroom time is spent on tripe like this-- fun tripe, but tripe nonetheless. Real education is uncomfortable, since it requires one to stretch one's boundaries and be willing to attempt to grasp the unknown. It is difficult. But the difference is, I believe the difficulty makes it valuable. Here's another secret: no one can give a student an education. Education is what YOU, the student, make of the opportunities presented to you.
I had to have my beginning of semester gentle chastisement of my students today-- you know, the one where I tell them they actually have to STUDY for a regular level course when they've been acclimated to doing a bunch of banal worksheets and getting their "Gentlemen's B." By catering to the lowest common denominator, to the "interests" of kids who live in a world that is drowning in unlimited access to information but with so little meaning, we trivialize the business of learning.
I have a feeling that these college students are the unfortunate products of this same feel-good system. And isn't that why we are here, in this school, spending these minutes we will never have again and these thousands of dollars? I'll teach you how to read John Locke and FDR's first fireside chat, and from there a credit card offer is child's play.