Gabrielle Bisset

Monday, November 28, 2011

The State of American Education

As some of you may know, I teach college history.  I always teach an American history class, either to the Civil War or from the Civil War to present.  I've done this since 1999, and I can tell you without equivocation that the students I'm seeing at the major university I teach at are less and less educated each year. 

I gave an exam right before Thanksgiving and the majority of students failed.  What was the subject of this exam?  American history from the 1820s through the Mexican War in 1848.  It contained questions on topics like manifest destiny, the Mexican War, and a map on the roads Americans took when they moved west. The question on manifest destiny should have been a giveaway, but the majority of the students got it wrong. Manifest destiny, for God's sake!  How can a person who has graduated from an American high school not know what manifest destiny is?  WTF?  And the map?  A total debacle.  Thank God for GPS or they'd be perpetually lost.  (Actually, things like GPS are part of the reason why students today are so intellectually backward. They don't have to think. Machines do it for them.)

However, two things stuck out on the exams.  One was that more than a handful of my students wrote messages to me either explaining why they did poorly or wishing me a happy Thanksgiving.  This is juvenile, but it's begun to happen more and more in my college classes.  I can tell you that when I was in college, none of the people I knew would ever have done anything so childlike.  I even had one student draw me a hand-traced turkey and ask if he could have extra credit for this. (Maybe if you were in 1st grade...)

But the other item, the one that made me shake my head and ask WTF? was this answer about the failure of the Mexicans to defeat the Americans in the Mexican War: 

Mexican leader had under estimated the Amexican's they were Full of Dem self's and didn't plan stastic befure going to war.

Forget about the run on sentence for now.  That's an epidemic in this country, and particularly in bloggerland, although the run on that shows up online is usually the comma splice.  No, let's go with the bigger problems.  This person doesn't know underestimated is a single word.  They don't know we're called Americans. They have invented a new word (I have no idea what stastic means here.) They can't spell (before has no u). They have no idea what the job of an apostrophe is (another epidemic that is also found online).  They are infected with the random capitalization disease that many students have. But worst of all is the fact that they think Dem self is the way to say themselves.  That's pathetic. 

Long gone are the days when someone saying they graduated from college meant something.  That ceased to mean a thing over a decade ago.  Now it simply means they paid their money.  The student who wrote that answer won't be passing my class, but I can bet you sound money he will be passing other classes and move right on to graduation.  He did in high school, and they were pleased to give him a diploma.  I'm sad to report my university may just do the same thing.

Education in this country is a tragic mess.  It would have been more useful if this student and many more had skipped high school and gone to work.  At least there would be a chance they would have learned something.