Switters’ Blog

It should not amaze me but it does.

Posted by hibbityjibbity on August 12, 2007

So I went back to college this spring to work on a business finance degree with a minor in accounting at a local community college, Santa Monica College. I was taken aback at the other people in my classrooms, not the ones who are like me returning to education for career shifts etc… Rather the 18-20 year old students fresh out of high school and the absolute lack of basic skills of reading and writing. I learned this the hard way as I had my 1st paper due in one of my classes and there was no page limit on the topic, the instructor just said to cover the topic. I turned in a paper almost 10 pages single spaced size 10 font, which much to her dismay was entirely too much and my next paper should be double space 12 point font and try to cover the topic in 6-10 pages. In talking with the instructor she said she assigned the papers to make the students write and try to string together a few cohesive paragraphs conveying their ideas. I found out the hard way in a group assignment with 3 other students that most of the people in the class had a difficult time putting together 3-4 paragraphs in a cohesive, thoughtful and communicative fashion. I got a bit frightened at the fact that these are the future of this country, I mean I know they are in school to learn, but in my mind, albeit perhaps too harsh, I would think that a person would be able to write at least a little better. Now some of the students English was their 2nd language and those students could write better than the kids that that only knew English.

Has our lower education system gone into such a state of decline that the product that is being put out to college, I mean I know it is a community college but still, I just shake my head. Are the kids in Sayville better than this I hope, or is it more of a national epidemic?


13 Responses to “It should not amaze me but it does.”

  1. dakeeper said

    Lol guy- you are surprised?!! Just look at the forums and see what people of all ages write! I also went to night school awhile back and I was surprised at the lack of writing ability of the other students. I pride myself on being able to not only write but to also have a good grasp on the latest tech, wherein these idiots can only text each other but they cannot write a simple essay.

    Similarly, I work a job that requires me to review reports from colleagues. I am often humored by the quality of writing turned out by my fellow co-workers- it’s disgraceful! I would be embarrassed to hand in some of the shit these people do- sometimes it goes before a grand jury and I ask them if they realize that before they hand it in. I mean, we’re talking small time crap sometimes but it’s sad how poorly some people write.

  2. switters said

    Congratulations on your first post on this blog – and it’s a great topic.

    Keeper is dead-on that you only need to look at forums like Sayville.com and at samples of what many adults write at work for proof that what you’re talking about is not limited to youngsters on the west coast.

    The problem is far too pervasive to have a single cause but I can suggest two:

    Creeping acceptance: We are simply allowing more and more poor syntax, grammar, and spelling to go unchecked. In addition to online forums, drive around and look at signs in store windows and such (there’s a local florist that for years advertised “$5 bokays,” the local golf course promotes “water front” weddings “over looking” the Great South Bay”). Kids learn to read not just in school, but from their environment. Seeing errors everywhere not only teaches improper usage but reinforces the notion that accuracy is not important.

    A screwed up education system: A lot of people will lay the blame on teachers, and lets face it, there are some crappy teachers out there (my kids have had some). But the real problem is that our education system has always been so-so at producing students who can think and reason for themselves and the current trend is to push them further and further away from that goal. Because the cost of objectively assessing each students’ deep understanding is prohibitively expensive, we use tests that measure only the most surface level of knowledge. And if that ‘s what’s being measured, then guess what’s going to be emphasized in the classroom? Even the written portions of these tests reward formulaic writing and punish creativity and originality. You can’t blame George Bush and NCLB for creating the problem, but it should be clear that his supposed cure will actually exacerbate the problem.

  3. vt_photo said

    I was the editor of my college newspaper, and it never ceased to amaze me that so many people who aspired to be professional writers could, in fact, write so poorly. One of the pervasive problems is that so many people write in their “speaking voice.” This is compounded by the general acceptance of various levels of slang and colloquialism in everyday speech. And your point, Switters, about the everyday insults to the English language that we see around us is well taken. Do people (adults and children) these days not read enough to see properly written English or are they just too dense to absorb it?

    You mention the NCLB which is something I always had a problem with. I’ll admit to being an unabashed elitist, but there are children who are just not cut out for academic success and to prentend otherwise is folly. At what point should we be more concerned about teaching life skills than techniques for “passing” a core competency test? I think we see the results in the current immigration debate. When children are told from an early age through high school that they have a white collar future, regardless of their academic performance, should we be surprised that they don’t want any part of the hard work that we’re now importing people to do?

  4. hibbityjibbity said

    Vt_Photo I can not agree more with you about the speaking and written voice. Entirely too many people write they way they would speak and that is just, well wrong. I am fairly young early 30’s but when I was in school learning english grammer and such my teachers were old school and I learned diagraming sentences. I brought this up to a student who was on my project team, and they were fascinated and asked me to show them so I did. The wide eyes as I took one of the longer sentences from our paper and mapped it out and identified for them all the components. It fightened me that all they could pick out of the sentence was the subject and the verb, and it took them two tries to identify the verb. When I went on to explain ajdective, adverb and prepositional phrases they looked at me like I was an illegal immigrant forcing them to learn my language.

    Now to tackle core competency tests. We do need some standard testing for general purposes but school is supposed to do more than “learn you from books”. I think a year of life skills should be required for every student to graduate highschool in america. Things like balancing a checkbook, understanding a mortgage and your credit. General life self skills, like sewing, cooking, eating well proportioned diets. I know some of this is covered in health class, home economics etc. I am biased as I think we should make sure every student that leaves highschool has a basic understanding of economics as well as the economic way of thinking and decision making, opportunity cost, diminishing marginal return etc. I think for many students these things will serve them far better in life that cramming stuff into thier brains for a stupid exam.

    Of course this is an improbable task to do, since much of what I described above I was taught by teachers and parent and family, and my insaitiable reading appetite.

    This all being said I am a huge proponent for those graduating high school that are not 100% focused on a college education, I know I had some friends that knew exactly what they wanted to do and the path to achieve it, choosing military enlistment (this is a hard subject but let us not tackle it here), or one of the many programs like Jobcore, or such that allow a young person to work and even travel to another location to work, to open thier eyes up a bit for a year or two.

    I know I thought I was certain I wanted to be a genetic engineer only to go to college, party a bit too much with unabashed freedom, and “learn” myself for awhile. Only to find that when I was a junior I took a job in one of the university genetics labs, we were researching food crop alternatives and genetically modified food crops, and after a few months I hated it with a passion and could not see myself doing this for the rest of my life. More than a decade later, I have returned to school to get a business finance degree with a minor in accounting because I found my passion. If I had perhaps explored a bit more before going to college I would not have accumlated debt, although in hindsight I would not trade those years of wandering for anything as it has made me what I am today.

    I guess perhaps our educational issues can be traced to “family values” I hate to say that, but if parents were more involved in their childs education and more importantly honest with thier children about life and money and things like that (I think much of americas youth has not been broached with this subject in a family setting) perhaps they would be different.

    I know school is a public thing here, and it is a basic right of everyone to get a basic education, so I am going to throw another peice of meat for debate out there. When was the last time curriculum in schools was massivly overhauled. I mean there is so much more knowledge out there today than there was twenty or thirty years ago. Who sets the guidelines on when students start learning what they learn. I mean I understand some liberal arts things like social studies need a certain level of english comprehension, but mathematics and science are started way too late. I was lucky in that I had a family that embraced my curiosity and helped me learn way beyond what was taught in school, although given the chance to skip a grade or two in elementary school the choice was made to leave me be with my friends as social developement would probably have been stunted by skipping me ahead.

    Kids are smart period, the younger they are the more capable they are of learning new concepts and ideas, and I think we need to embrace that. Languages spanish etc, should be taught at an elementary level while they can still grasp the concepts quickly.

    Sorry I have raved on a bit long here and strayed off my initial point. Thinking is what education is all about, not memorizing facts and figures and regurgitating. We need critical thinkers, creative thinkers, people that are willing and able to explore thoughts and ideas and communicate them effectivly to each other for forward progress, and this is where I think the education system fails us, I believe they are still trying to spit out “carbon copies” ready for imprinting by a university/governmental system.

  5. vt_photo said

    I can’t really address the curriculum question, as I have not set foot in a school for (too) many years. I do know that my kids enter kindergarden knowing how to read, when I can recall just learning letters at that age.

    There are two points here; one in which I agree wholeheartedly and one where I disagree. First, the disagree part. Your point that kids are smart, period. I see the friends of my children and remember the kids I knew growing up, and there are (and were) obvious differences from very early on. It may be unpopular to say, but some kids just aren’t that bright. Neither are some adults (I’ve been dealing with one particular mental deficient today, so maybe I’m just cranky). But the assumption that all kids start their academic career on a level playing field is where I believe we’ve gone wrong. It encourages situations where some kids get pushed through despite their shortcomings, and also ties an anchor around some smarter kids who should be more free to explore.

    The “family values,” for lack of a better term, is a very good point. I see a lot of the hand-wringing that goes on over education as missing the point. Schools can do a good job of laying the foundation for education, but it is so important that as parents we encourage and indulge our children in their interests. So much about life can be learned from delving more deeply into whatever your child is interested in. Schools can’t tailor their curriculum to individuals, but parents can. I fear that sometimes gets lost in the debate over education.

    Time magazine’s cover story this week is on how schools fail to push the smartest kids. I haven’t read it yet myself. Good topic, Hibbity!

  6. hbty said

    Did not sign in for this one, at Jiffy Lube getting oil changed would not let me sign in.

    Okay good point, I did not mean to say that all kids are on an equal playing field because they are not. Just like adults some are adept at things and some are not, but hopefully curriculum can address this some kids need to go slower than others to master the information. I do believe though that we can foster the potential of any child for thier own betterment though.

    I have set foot in too many schools, the company I work for does principal for a day, and a few dozen other programs to help bring business education to high school students, that they otherwise would not be exposed too. It horrifies me at some of the schools I have been to and classrooms I have spoken in and taught for a day.

    Most of all I think every child should be put in an environment that challenges them to excel and achieve. I know for me personally I went to a private catholic school for gradeschool then went to sayville Jr High and highschool, which were for the most part a joke, I coasted through with an A average graduated like 90th in my class of 260, and never had a challenging moment. It sucked, at least now I have lived a life that has proven to be challenging and rewarding although I would have never dreamed that my life would have taken this path 20 years ago.

    I am not a teacher only a businessman so I can only do what I can do.

  7. switters said

    Jiffy Lube, huh? I used to use them in a pinch, but I always found it so exhausting to constantly have to decline all the “absolutely necessary” services that my car needed if I didn’t want my engine to seize up in the next 500 miles. Maybe they’ve gotten better with that. In any case, you’re a little too far out of range to use Michael’s.

    Here’s the link to the Time magazine article.

    You can take a lot of different messages from this article, but I think it illustrates the problems of a system that tries to be “all things” to, quite literally, all people.

    VT, when Hibbity says “kids are smart” I don’t think he means to say that all kids have equal mental ability. What IS true is that young children have an incredible capacity to learn that diminishes somewhat as they age (albeit not as much as we once thought).

    HJ, you ask about curriculum, but you are making the mistake that most policy makers tend to make – you are not starting in the right place. Use what you’re learning in your business classes and think this through (I assume you have to take marketing and bus 101 for a finance/acct major).

    A successful company does not start by asking what it needs to do to succeed or how it is going to achieve its goals. It starts by deciding what its goals are in the first place. This is such obvious common sense that nobody ever gives it any thought. Nobody designs a business plan without first knowing what they hope to accomplish.

    And yet everyone talks about improving education and changing/revising what is taught and how it is taught without ever getting into the fundamental question of WHY WE ARE TEACHING KIDS in the first place? Is our goal to train the workers of tomorrow? Is it to teach life skills? To maintain the status quo in our society or to improve our society? Should the ideal outcome be measured by collective individual success or success of the whole?

    Each of these (and many other) perspectives has vastly different implications for how and what is taught, and yet I have NEVER heard anyone beginning a public conversation about this. How can we possibly make decisions about, say, the desired balance between analytical skills and factual knowledge (let alone which facts should be taught) when we don’t have a clear view of what the purpose of school is?

  8. vt_photo said

    I think most people can agree that after your basic literacy and math skills, very little of what you learn in school is useful in any meaningful way. So I would put the goal of education (post-elementary) in two categories. The first is to expose students to a broad range of ideas and practices. Kids need to get a taste of what the world has to offer before embarking on their own path. The second goal is to have a system to judge children against their peers. Going through classes and tests filters students so that each may find his or her own strengths and weaknesses. I believe the socialization aspect of school is important as well, although from my own experience it gets perverted in a ‘Lord of the Flies’ type of way. The extreme cliqueishness (is that even a word?) that I remember from school is nothing at all like the common social situations we encounter as adults.

  9. switters said


    The problem is we can’t really discuss whether or not your ideas for what should be taught are correct or not because, as I’ve said, we first need to come to agreement on what the purpose of school is.

    Think of it this way. When a child is born in this country he does not have a guarantee that he will get proper nutrition, have a decent home, decent clothes to wear or toys to play with. There is no guarantee he will be given adequate (or any) health care, be treated kindly, or taught manners and basic interpersonal skills. All of these things are assumed to be provided by the parents. So we need to ask, what it is about school that is so important that it too cannot be left to the parents? Why does the government (i.e. the taxpayers) foot the bill for universal education but not universal nutrition, healthcare, or housing? Especially when you consider that those other things are all more important to individual survival than anything that can be taught in school?

  10. vt_photo said

    I guess pulling back on what I said, the purpose is to identify the best and brightest of our children, regardless of what it is that they may be best at. And further, to encourage them to develop their skills at whatever it is that they excell at and to bolster their deficiencies. In the sense that this can only be done in a group setting (back to judging vs peers), the government has an interest in being an organizing body that can bring the children of many families together for common purpose. We can see this in fragments of your examples: there is no guarantee of universal health care, but vaccinations create a collective health security so they are available to everyone, and mandated by law. And while homes and food may not be mandated by the federal government as education is, there is almost zero malnutrition and children living on the street that isn’t a direct result of parental negligence. So why the guarantee of free and equal education? I think it probably goes back to a combination of optimistic forward-thinking in our land of opportunity, and some nod to the civil rights that the government has a vested interest in legislating to all people (mostly because left to their own devices, there was a time when many municipalities would gladly exclude any minority from the local schoolhouse).

  11. hibbityjibbity said

    Jiffy Lube, huh? I used to use them in a pinch, but I always found it so exhausting to constantly have to decline all the “absolutely necessary” services that my car needed if I didn’t want my engine to seize up in the next 500 miles. Maybe they’ve gotten better with that. In any case, you’re a little too far out of range to use Michael’s.

    Yeah they are bad at that, but it is not my car, it is my best friends I only have it when he is out of town so I can drop him off and pick him up at the airport. I don’t own a car I am a 10 minute busride from the office I work in, 10 minutes to Santa Monica beach, and a 10 minute walk out my front door to anything I need. Good thing for me I have rebuilt truck engines in a past life, and know a good deal about cars, also his lease is up in December so of course I do not pick any of thier must have services.

    I guess all in all our education system is not perfect but it could be worse. Truly talented students will shine, and others will just get by. I think most schools just try to get as many students out with a minimal education, some people require more effort to teach than others and more resources.

    I think the roots of a free and equal education start back to government realizing that you need an educated population to make a democracy work, thank goodness women and minorities won the right to vote.

    I guess overall in this land of freedom and choice, people who are motivated to excell will and those that are not or fall short of this due to personal fears or whatnot will not. Healthcare and nutrition are things that linked, but you can not dictate what people eat, freedom of choice activists will be all over that one like a fly on shit. National healthcare is something that I do not want to comment on, maybe I will make a new topic.

    (mostly because left to their own devices, there was a time when many municipalities would gladly exclude any minority from the local schoolhouse).

    Have you traveled around the US? I have had the experience of traveling extensivly throughout 44 of the lower 48 states and there are still many places that prevalent attitudes are those of 100 years ago. This scares the hell out of me, one of my most memorable was being in a southern state a few years ago and having someone call me a yankee, rambling on about the sadness of losing the war of northern aggression, and strongly suggesting that I might just want to drink my coffee and move on and go eat breakfast in the next county. That is what I get I guess with NY plates on a car.

  12. vt_photo said

    Ha, sounds like something out of ‘Two Thousand Maniacs!’ I have some romantic notion about someday traveling the country and seeing America, but I’ve really only been around the perimeter (MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, DE, MD, VA, NC, GA, FL, LA, TX, AZ, CA, OR & WA). I’m sure there’s some ugliness to go with the beauty.

  13. Anonymous said

    I have not done WA, ND, ID, Montana but that will change soon, as I am hoping to do a driving/camping tour of those states next summer for a few weeks.

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