Do Students Care About History?
Mr. Henriksson is Professor of History at Shepherd College and author of Non Campus Mentis: 569 Mangled Moments of Western Civilization from Today’s "Brightest" College Kids (New York: Workman, 2001).
Civilization woozed out of the Nile about 300,000 years ago...Old Testament profits include Moses, Amy, and Confucius...Plato invented reality...During the Dark Ages it was mostly dark...Machiavelli wrote The Prince to get a job with Richard Nixon...Spinning Jenny was a young girl forced to work more than 40 hours a day...Westward expansion ended at Custard’s Last Stand...Few were surprised when the National League failed to prevent another world war....Hitler, who had become depressed for some reason, crawled under Berlin. Here he had his wife Evita put to sleep and then shot himself in the bonker...It is now the age of now.
Welcome to the past as a really foreign country. Yet it is familiar terrain for anyone who reads undergraduate prose, as this daring reappraisal of history comes verbatim from college exams and term papers. The exuberant inanity of this genre has an addictive pull; and I admit to being in the thrall of its madcap insight into the human condition. Do most people really listen to everything they hear? Attention spans are finite. The names and concepts in history class are so... foreign. Students, moreover, are busy people. Studying takes so much time. It’s handier simply to fill those empty blue book pages with things that can’t be actually wrong--The Assyrian program of exterminating various ethnic groups generally failed to promote cultural diversity. And there are at least two sides to every argument. It’s safest to show that you have grasped this without committing yourself-- The Anglo Dutch Trade Wars broke out because of trade and possibly not.
Anxiety and time constraint can also elicit mind-numbing absurdities from people who (one hopes) know better--Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Truman were known as the Big Three. Others fall prey to the perilous assumption that spell-check programs provide a proof-reading service--Von Falkenhayn was right. The French would breed themselves to death in order to retake Verdun.
Is there a deeper message here? It is clearly possible to finish high school, get into college, and still not know how many World Wars there have been or that Spain and Mexico are actually two different places. The results of a brief quiz I administer to freshmen on their first day of class at Shepherd College are, at the very least, sobering. A majority consistently fails to place the Second World War in the right decade or the Civil War in the right century, to identify Mohandas Gandhi or Winston Churchill, or to name the countries where one would find Dublin and Shanghai. A recent visit to the campus of Manhattan’s elite New York University confirmed my suspicion that Shepherd students are not alone in their confusion. A sample of NYU students, randomly selected by New York Times reporter John Tierney, were thoroughly stumped by the same quiz. An Economics major, for example, thought that Adam Smith was an American President. Another student guessed that the Civil War began in 1770.
It is also wise to assume nothing about freshman writing skills. One young scholar, for example, explained the forcible conscription of the title character in Voltaire’s Candide by observing that, “The Prussian Army would surprise young men by grabbing them in unfair places.” Others reproduce misheard phrases hastily scribbled in their notebooks-- warning, for example, against the perils of taking anything for granite or describing the need for escape goats in totalitarian systems.
It is easy, and not entirely fair, to blame the schools. Some educational systems would do well to consider greater emphasis on history and geography, not to mention English grammar. It is disturbing to hear from students that these subjects have sometimes been reduced to elective status. The level of basic knowledge among entering freshmen, however, is actually so mixed as to defy characterization. For every aspiring scholar who thinks that, “during the Middle Ages everybody was middle aged,” there are others who are passably clued in. Formal preparation is also not the whole story. The schools operate in the wider context of a society so focused on where it’s going that it has little patience with learning how it arrived at where it is. “Why,” an eighteen year old might ponder, “should I bother with this Benjamin Franklin Roosevelt person when tomorrow is dawning on a microchip.” Our social mobility and increasingly disconnected family lives are another source of ahistoricism. How many kids still grow up hearing older relatives’ stories about World War II or life in the Old Country?
Are young people the only ones who don’t know things they probably should? A century ago educated people shared a body of common knowledge ranging from literature and religion through classical languages to history and natural science. The frontiers of knowledge, though, have advanced dramatically; and we have become a society of specialists, tightly focused on our own turf and struggling to keep up with the latest. The Internet revolution, for all its advantages, has compounded the problem by offering instant access to blizzards of detailed information. Even (heaven forfend!) historians are likely to be no better than selectively aware of the world around them. How many history professors can describe a zygote or solve an algebra problem? A befuddled student of mine once concluded an exam with the desperate observation that, “Thus has our stream of consciousness developed a waterfall.” I confess. Faced with a high school general science exam, I would soon be hearing the thunder of my own Niagara..
1. Who were the following people?
a. Winston Churchill
b. Otto von Bismarck
c. Mohandas Gandhi
d. Nikita Khrushchev
e. Benito Mussolini
f. Sigmund Freud
g. Florence Nightingale
h. Adam Smith
2. In what countries are the following located?
f. Pearl Harbor
3. When did the following events occur?
a. The end of the US Civil War
b. The Communist Revolution in Russia
c. The end of the First World War
d. The beginning of the Second World War
e. National Women's suffrage in US elections
f. The first successful airplane flight
g. The Boxer Rebellion
h. The Nazi seizure of power in Germany
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michael tyler snowden - 4/28/2007
I am currently enrolled in Prof. Henriksson's class, and I must admit that I received a 57% on the first examination this semester. After realizing my mistake and talking to the professor about the test, I received a 98% on the next exam. Anyone can learn anything, all you have to do is try! Professor Henriksson and others like him are not necessarily "hard" professors, they only want you to take good notes, study those notes, and explain the information on the test. People assume that these teachers are out to make their lives miserable, but in reality, they only want you to apply yourself. I have truly learned alot from this man, and am proud to have studied under him.
George Robert Gaston - 4/3/2007
It really does not matter that they care about it, or like it. One of the most valuable things a young person can learn while getting their education is the fine art of doing something they neither care about, or like, and doing it well.
If you do not think that is an important skill, consider your job. Our jobs call on us to do some things that we do not care about, and that we dislike. It is unfortunate but true, that your future employment is often linked to how well you do these kinds of things.
The study of history as a part of secondary education should at least improve reading and writing skills. If it accomplishes this it is valuable. However, if at the end of the process the student can spout all the dates, but does not improve those skills the teacher has just put a little more lipstick on the pig.
As to your test: If my 15 year-old grandson could not ace it, I would kick his tail from here to five-points.
Jason Blake Keuter - 1/26/2007
All true. But staff schools with a bunch of dumb kids with great teachers and the great teachers will go crazy or leave and the students will still be dumb. There are Horatio Alger like success stories of miracle schools but those are all bull. Some people have what it takes to learn academic disciplines and most people don't. The facts (i.e. the actual people themselves) will continue to point to this conclusion and those beholden to enlightenment notions of perfectable man will obstinately resist accepting the obvious. Meanwhile, public education will fail and fail and fail.
Further, the biggest failure is the colossal waste of resources on those who really can't. Those resources could be used on those who could.
But how do we measure these things and make these determinations? Test the kids. Those who fail stay behind. If they can succeed and they want to (inspearable things really), then THEY must try again.
Moreover, I call for a total ban on parents from high school. Parents corrupt public education. Involved parents are the worst. Grades will be mailed home. If you get a C, work harder. Learn more. A's are for people with clear and obviously fulfilled potential.
mike miller - 8/11/2004
I'm currently a sophmore ate Jacksonville state University (I got put on academic probation from Shepherd, also I failed history but that was mainly because I hated my profesor and I was stupid and rather than dropping the class I just stopped going)but I can answer your questions and I have only taken US History 1 and 2 at my current school (I got A's)
1. Who were the following people?
11Winston Churchill-prime minister of England during WW2
11Otto von Bismarck-Kaiser of Germany who helped make Germany a pre-WW1 power house
11Mohandas Gandhi-Indian who helped free his nation from British rule through peaceful protest and hunger strikes
11Nikita Khrushchev-Premier of Russia for part of the Cold war I belive during the Cuban Missile Crisis
11Benito Mussolini-Facist dictator of Italy who led them into WW2
11Sigmund Freud-the father of modern psyhcology
11Florence Nightingale-one of the first female nurses in history who aided injured soilders
11Adam Smith-wrote the Wealth of Nations still considered one of the greatest economics books ever written
2. In what countries are the following located?
11Warsaw-poland but also USA so that question could backfire on you
11Caracas-darn Pakistan? you got me some middle east country
11Pearl Harbor-USA in Hawaii
3. When did the following events occur?
11The end of the US Civil War-1865
11The Communist Revolution in Russia-1917
11The end of the First World War-1918
11The beginning of the Second World War-1938/9
11National Women's suffrage in US elections-1930 something Roosevelt was in office
11The first successful airplane flight-1903
11The Boxer Rebellion-1890? in china
11The Nazi seizure of power in Germany-1932
alfred - 7/20/2003
Dear Professor Henriksson,
I had known about your book for quite some time and had read excerpts from it, but it wasn't till today I actually purchased it. I too feel an almost irrational attraction to your collection of inanities. I am enjoying your book immensely.
My take on the causes of the proliferation in the number of the creators of these gems is like this:
There may be any number of factors influencing a growing ignorance of History, Grammar etc, among college students, but there is no factor that -all by itself- has as much weight as what could be called the "de-europeization" of Europe and America.
In other words, the acceleration of societal decay your book describes so well, coincides perfectly with the era of Political Correctness; The decline in the numbers of white students at all colleges and universities (racial quotas); The Africanization and Jewdeizing in the popular culture of America and of Western Europe.
These are all part of a single phenomenon: A larger process which could be called "the dissappearance of the white race".
Katie - 7/7/2003
I feel sorry for the "poor" gentleman who responded to you, he is obviously a very narrowminded individual. I am glad to see you replied so professionally despite the contemptuous manner in which he delivered his speech.
Pierre Troublion - 3/12/2002
I suppose Professor Sellars is well-meaning in repeating the standard comment about more of the population graduating from high school than in the past. It is a lame cop-out nonetheless. The proportion of the population attending selective colleges, working in the news media, or, certainly, sitting in the House of Representatives, has NOT risen, vis-a-vis past decades, yet there has been a palpable deterioration in the ability of people, in THOSE prominent venues, to think and express themselves clearly. We don't need a lot of hand-wringing, but we don't more buck-passing or excuse-making either. Undereducated college students need carrots of help in recovering from slipshod high schools, and sticks of failing grades if they can't hack it.
Nigel Sellars - 3/12/2002
Whether or not students are getting dumber -- I personally doubt it -- I still find these items hilarious and have even collected similar items from US hsitory exams. I should note, however, that virtually identical items from student tests were reprinted in a series of books called Boners, More Boners, etc. in the late 1920s and 1930s.
The problem of "dumb" students is hardly new. But now we also educate students who just thirty odd years ago would never have gone to college, let alone finish high school. Please recall that as late as 1950 about half of all students dropped out of high school. The number is much smaller now.
So when we use examples like this, we aren't really saying anything. We're talking about kids with little maturity and few expectations. They think they can slide through life and get a degree that will insure them financial success. After, that's how they've always done it. Yes, they have no knowledge of history, grammar, geography, you name it. But I suspect that neither did their parents or grandparents. To assume all what we, as historians, know is common knowledge and common sense for everyone amounts to chronic self-delusion.
Tthe only way to improve the situation is to make education our number one priority. Alas, as long as the public won't spend the money on real education and instead invest in buildings and athletic programs which are all shiny surface with nothing underneath and as long as politicians who refuse spend money on education can still decry the state of American education (which their own foolish policies have created) then we shall not see very much improvement.
We will, however, see lots of hand-wringing, complaining and whining from all sides. There are times I think that's our real national pastime.
Assistant Professor of History
Christopher newport University
Newport News, Virginia
Erin Huntzinger - 3/12/2002
I do believe in myself and have endured many hardships to be in school today. My age gives no indication as to whether I am naive or otherwise, if that is what you are implying. Just because I got to where I am today without being confined for life to a wheelchair or not having suffered from a life-long disease does not mean my struggle for education has been any less difficult. If I had given up on my education and "bigger better, and faster" was what I was all about, would I have spent the last 7 years in college? What I have given up on is finding a good challenge after high school. I was blessed to have a few great teachers. Being over burdened and feeling challenged are completely different. I have learned quite a lot from my college education, unfortunately most of what I have learned has come from a select few classes. I have only given up on finding a teacher who can talk to people and capture their interest, not just talk at them and assign multiple books to get across a point that can be made in more productive ways. As for your personal experiences with me, they are so few and far between that for you to venture that you know ANYTHING about me to be fact or fiction would be wholly an assumption on your part. For you to publicly attack me is unfair and uncalled for. If you have a personal vendetta against me for whatever unknown reason it is something that should be discussed behind closed doors. I know I have much more to learn in life and I have not given up my search for knowledge.
Duby Diggs - 3/11/2002
Mr. Sanfranski's comment strikes near to core of the problem, but a vicious circle of under-educated educators, ill-informed voters, and incompetent legislators hinders direct progress along these lines. Faster improvements may come by reversing the grade inflation which has accompanied the dumbing-down of curricula. See the views attributed to Harvard President Summers in the "Economist" of March 9, 2002, p. 74.
Marq Koontz - 3/10/2002
Truth is subject to slippage.
While many students work, live their lives, and attend college, many must endure hardships unheard of by most. Some are affected by severe life-long illness - sometimes crippling. Yet they persevere. Why? Not because they fit some imaginary "student mold" but because they believe in themselves, in the quality of the education they're receiving, and they possess a genuine desire to acquire that education.
I'm extremely insulted by Erin's over-generalized, prejudiced, and unwarrented so-called facts of education.
Many of us have degrees, and many of us learned a great deal from our classes. It seems, however, poor Erin believes in the Disneyesque fantasy of bigger, better, faster, more, and obviously was unprepared to deal with the issue of quality at the university level, which is the one of the points of a university education. I would advise her to quit pretending her high school honors somehow compare with or superintend university standards, and take a hard look at what her motivations are for her behavior. If she wants to give up on her education perhaps that is only her decision, and perhaps her interpretation of the facts is likely just a defensive rationaliztion to justify her giving in to her fears (very likely, in fact, since I can attest from personal experience that many of them are manufactured facts)- and let's not forget the education she's forsaking by assuming she already knows everything she needs to know. It is, after all, only her ignorance of all there is to know and understand that allows such a limited and naive perception.
Mark Safranski - 3/10/2002
One aspect of this discussion that has gone unremarked is the generally anemic level of content area preparation future teachers receive at the hands of colleges of education. This is particularly true of elementary education majors who can usually graduate without ever encountering a high level history, social science or hard science course. Instead, a potpourri of unsystemically selected 100 -200 level " gen ed ' classes suffice to meet most state licensing requirements.
Even with high school teachers, generally required to have subject matter competence because high schools are organized departmentally, we see the bland designation of " Social Studies " employed to allow principals to staff what should be rigorous history, political science or economics positions with minimally qualified ( or unqualified ) football and basketball coaches. This pattern is actually being encouraged by state legislatures, such as in Illinois, which are watering down university course requirements for licensing in order to broaden the pool of potential teachers. The purpose is to keep a teacher shortage from arising that might possibly force districts to raise salaries in order to compete for qualified teachers. Any system's priorities can be assessed by what it spends money and time on - staffing schools with content area experts, least of all in history, is not a priority in American education.
Thomas A. Hoff - 3/10/2002
Gee, you must be a blast at faculty functions. Have you ever considered taking the stick out of your ass? It makes it easier to sit down and relax!
Erin Huntzinger - 3/10/2002
This article sure hits the nail on the head. As a modern non-traditional student I face many challenges in today's college system. By non-traditional I mean I am not a woman in my late teens early twenties "doing the college thing" on my parents dime. I am 26, a mother of an extremely active 4-year-old boy, full time UW evening degree student, intern at this fine magazine (I created the Student and Teacher's Editions), small business owner, and a wife. In a single day I attend preschool for 2 hours, study 1 hour (if I'm lucky), keep my home clean and my husband happy, attend class 6 hours straight 2-3 nights a week (with a 45 minute commute each direction not including babysitter drop off time), and work from my home computer. Somehow I manage to barely keep a B average, with no thanks to my professors. I am not whining about how much work I have to do or how much stress I am under, I am just trying to express how busy some students' lives are these days. Anyway, I entered college feeling ready to take on the world. I was an A student in the honors program at my high school in Seattle. My teachers were very adamant in reinforcing that they were preparing us for the "real world of college". Let me tell you, from my first day on I struggled. As a senior majoring in history with 2 quarters to go, I probably could not tell you 3/4 of the dates, names, and events I supposedly learned in my college career, and I don't care. Most professors do nothing to make lectures interesting or interactive. Having somebody talk at you for 3 hours does nothing for a person’s intellect. As for writing papers, each history professor has their own style they like and will grade accordingly. Case in point, my junior year I wrote a term paper that received a 3.8 grade and praise from my professor, the very next quarter in a similar class, the same paper, completely unrefined, same department and school, received a grade of only 2.1 with the pages practically dripping red ink! After that incident, I made the decision that college was no longer a priority or a concern. I need the degree to further my career and support my family, but the effort involved in worrying and studying, I decided, is not worth it. Since then I have barely attended class and read a maybe a tenth of what I was supposed in each class, with hardly a dent in my GPA. Not to say I am not interested in the material, I have just given up trying to conform to the student mold. I have taken refuge in the belief that I am smart, I try hard to be a good person and parent, and that in the near future I will have the silly piece of paper that says I am a graduate of the University of Washington and am now worthy of being hired at a wage above the minimum required by law. I have a friend from high school who can name all 9 continents and she has an engineering degree from a big University too, she is now an engineer at Boeing. We all have our specialty and we are all human. Not being able to name a president or the dates of a war does not mean she is not great at what she does. My husband has never even stepped foot inside a college classroom and yet he can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about European, Asian, or American history. He can recall the important dates, names, and events and their significance, but he could not write a paper to save his life, barely graduated high school, and would surely flunk out of an academic college. He delivers furniture for a living and is one of the smartest people I know.
Peter Mark Williams - 3/9/2002
A few things occur to me as a read your correspondence. First, you all are a touchy bunch. But seriously folks, you all are as right as you think the others are wrong and vice viersa. Primary and secondary education have changed. Those teachers have much more to teach in less time and for less money. Now factor in the emphasis on "test scores." I have friends who teach and they complain that they teach "Kaplin-style." Too much of their year is spent teaching the kids how to take standardized tests. The curriculum is now based on the test itself. So, don't look for much "enrichment" reading. The students scores are higher, but they know less.
Yes, more people can avail themselves of higher education, but increasingly, they learn less in college than in generations past, as education is more specialized than ever. (I studied policial science in undergrad in the 1980s and have yet to read Candide. What can I say, it was never assigned in any class I ever had).
As a TA in a history of technology and societies survey which was targeted for engineering students, I learned that some very bright students, with very high mathamatical and analytical skills could be surpisingly weak in writing. Sixty-three students and maybe two good thesis sentenses among them. I adjusted. They didn't know how to write simple essay form when I met them...but they do now. And I know more about what it means to teach then I did going in.
Arnold Pulda - 3/9/2002
It is a shame that you take it upon yourself to teach basic skills to your students when you plainly lack them yourself. It is a sad situation when teachers who can't write try to teach students how to write. You use ellipses when you should use a colon, you think the Volstead Act was the Volstad Act, you think the noun "command" needs the plural form of the verb "was," you eschew the simple and clear "I think" for the cute "methinks," and so on almost ad infinitum. And what exactly is "they system?" All this in a little forum in which we are discussing clarity in thinking and writing. It is not a surprise that your students can't write. I repeat: stop whining. Cease blaming other teachers further back down the line when it appears that you aren't doing the job.
Thomas A. Hoff - 3/8/2002
In regards to the quality of education 100 years ago I have a little story...my grandmother was a first generation German-American (she would have abhorred that, she was American) who grew up speaking German until she was about fourteen, which is when she left school. Economically the family was lower middle class, up until the Volstad Act which impoverished them. My grandmother's command of math, geography and the English language were far above that which I see in classrooms each day. The interesting thing is that all these skills were based on an education she received as a child in an urban setting. Methinks the Chicago Public School system was a tad more exacting prior to the First World War.
Thomas A. Hoff - 3/8/2002
The sad thing is that my 200 level US history students are victims of they system. Many were promoted through elementary, middle and high school under the theory of social promotion. As a result they lack the basic skills to do many things, beyond my history class. I find I spend a good deal of time teaching basic skills that they should have developed years ago. If their weakness in these areas continues to be brought forward, maybe, just maybe, they can get a better education at an earlier age.
Joan O. Holmes - 3/8/2002
'Quid dicam de scolaribus artium qui nocte incedunt armati et frangunt domus muliercularum, violentiam eis facientes, de quibus meretriculae quotidie querimonium deponunt, aliae quia ab eis verberatae sunt, aliae quia vestes earum laniatae, aliae quia crines earum amputati, et alia plura in acrimoniam veniunt quae etiam dicere verecundum est.' (Prevostin, chancellor of Paris, in A.D. 1210)
Some things (at least) DO change...
Joan O. Holmes
Pierre Troublion - 3/8/2002
Okay, give me a flunking grade in the spelling category. It is better to learn by doing wrong than not to learn by not being corrected. Thanks for not sparing the rod.
Rod McCaslin - 3/8/2002
Of course, at the time of TR and before those who had access to higher education came from a more narrow sub-section of society than the students who attend college now. It would be a great surprise if the quality of writing was less skilled than that of today. On the other hand, I'm not sure we have many tests taken by teenagers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that we can compare.
Arnold Pulda - 3/7/2002
Either you are joking with your post to this list, or you should have stuck with Remedial Writing 101, and 102, and any other such courses offered in the schools you have attended. Or maybe I should say "attended." I hope that you don't deem yourself "up to par with university requirements," as you said. Your paragraph is appalling, full of spelling errors, subject-case disagreement, and general evidence of sloppy thinking. Fortunately for you, you seem to be in good company with others who should know better -- none of those who have commented on your posting appear to know how to spell g-r-a-m-m-A-r, either.
Arnold Pulda - 3/7/2002
Stop whining and teach. For how many years, over how many generations, have we heard this same refrain, that our students are stupid? Enough.
You generalize: "They do not know what a verb is." Then teach them what a verb is. "They cannot spell." Then get in there and teach them how to spell. It's not too late. "There is very little I can do to improve their writing, notetaking or comprehension skills in one 15 week semester." Perhaps many of their previous teachers threw up their hands and said the same thing. Shame on them. We teachers do a terrible disservice to ourselves and our students when we laugh at students' malapropisms. Do your job and cease ridiculing your students.
Derek Catsam - 3/7/2002
I think you missed much of the gist of my point -- so many more people go to college now who never would have gone in the past. The fact that you teach at a community college is indicative of this trend. Inevitably, many of these students may be subpar, but they are not necessarily any dumber than their cohort of generations past except inasmuch as they are now furthering their educations where they would have been unable to do so in the past. As for "academic paradise," I surmise that many, many people reading HNN at state universities and colleges and private institutions have in fact had "lots and lots" of good students. That you haven't experienced good students is a sad testament about your experiences, and I do know that others can match your stories; it does not, I am happy to say, impugn an entire generation of students (and their educators)across the country doing good work, writing effective papers, and generally taking advantage of the array of educational opportunities before them.
Pierre Troublion - 3/7/2002
I doubt whether Anders Henriksson or anyone else is advocating "perfection" as a standard for grammer, spelling, or clarity of writing style. But take a look at the speeches of, say, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and see whether you don't detect a difference between those two and today's politicians. Or, if you dislike those two past AHA presidents, then choose some other subset of high school graduates 50 or 100 years ago and compare it to today. That there have always been gripes about students does not make all students or all historical eras the same.
Being "loath to generalize" is all well and good but not if we miss the forest for the trees. Of course, nuance and detail are also important, but if students are taught that facts don't matter, then it should not come as a surprise that so many are unable to handle Mr. Henkrisson's simple quiz.
p.d. swiney - 3/7/2002
Who is the "we" who have "lots and lots" of competent students, Mr. Catsam? In what academic paradise are you working? I teach in a community college, with an average of 200 students a semester. They do not know what a verb is. They cannot spell. They are not stupid, but their written work brands them as ignorant. There is very little I can do to improve their writing, notetaking or comprehension skills in one 15 week semester. Of the 200 over 5-7 different classes, I might have a dozen who can perform competent college work. So I laugh at these examples in recognition and despair, because if I don't laugh I might cry.
Anton Schulzki - 3/7/2002
Well it is a good thing that there are editors out there to catch those little mistakes...such as 'alot.' As far as high schools not teaching the students how to write, think, or how to work with primary sources; this argument is as tiresome to those of us do endeavor to bring academic rigor to the minds of sixteen, seventeen and eighteen year olds. Remember that there are some excellent programs that are preparing high school students to deal with the high academic standards of university life. Students from programs such as Advanced Placement classes and the International Baccalaureate Program are, in the main, better prepared for the expectations of university professors, no matter what type of writing style is demanded. The discipline and accountability that are hallmarks of those programs show that not all students who enter university are doomed to be held up as examples of ‘the failure of the high schools to educate the students.’ As a teacher in the IB program, I am confident that students who are successful in that program, are those students whose answers are used as models of good writing, not the writing that drives teachers and professors crazy.
Rod McCaslin - 3/7/2002
High Schools seem to have been doing poorly for quite a long time as this kind of mocking compilation of student mistakes has been going on at least since the nineteenth century, and probably before. The problem seems to be with teachers and professors who continually seem surprised that their students are not absolutely fascinated by the subject or wrapped in attention by their lectures.
Face it, students will always write such gaffs. I can imagine that most of us would be appalled by some of the things we said and the way we wrote when we were eighteen. Of course, I'm sure that if President Bush were more articulate he could solve all this and all our students would be writing like E.P. Thompson by the time they graduated secondary school. Hmmm....
Derek Catsam - 3/6/2002
Is anyone else tired of this? How many of these mockable examples come from hour long blue-book exams when students furiously scribble to encapsulate an entire semester's work? We all get these from our students. And we all giggle amongst our colleagues and share these gaffes. But so what? We also all have lots and lots of students who convey their thoughts well on paper and in class. In an era when more and more students go to college, I am loath to make generalizations about the decline of modern students and don't take especially seriously books written by supposed scholars based on the misstatements and misunderstandings of students.
Trevor Fisher - 3/6/2002
I agree that high schools are not teaching the students properly, but universities are falling short of their duties also. Most universities offer courses in math and English for those students that are not up to par with the university requirements. I had the delight of wasting my time in these courses that taught me nothing of grammer or proper writing skills. The majority of skills that I did obtaine came from upper division history profesors. The problem is that almost each profesor has a different writing style they look for in their papers. As for the lack of spelling, I have seen many a profesors notes that lack grammer, spelling, and at times the English language. I have yet to see a person who writes perfectly each time. If this perfect person existed, then alot of editors would soon be out of business.
Rene Luis Alvarez - 3/6/2002
Why doesn't Mr. Henriksson post his quiz so we can see how we would fair?
Frank Rotsaert - 3/5/2002
I agree. I have somewhat of a reputation at the small liberal arts (now known as General Education core requirements)university where I teach English, as a "hard and demanding" teacher. Having just read a short paper where a student proposed that he "needed to better interrupt literature" this semester, and recalling the student who wanted to work outdoors at a place like "Carl's Bad Cavern," I too am aghast at the students' lack of preparation for a college experience. College instructors seem to be helpless to stem the tide of ignorance when faced with the Admissions people and the need to retain all freshmen.
Why they aren't prepared to be better writers? ONE of the answers, I suggest, is that high schools are not teaching the basics and have gone over totally to the "personal experience" essay and the "creative spelling and writing" school. Check out the NCTE's stance on this. Now they are arguing for the personal writing in academia. It is, I think, a matter of culture and that today there is no room or patience for teachers who want to see grammatically correct papers and thinking that is based on facts and objectivity.
Yet, many students, I think, are appreciative of those teachers who try to get them to better writers and thinkers. We cannot afford to give up this effort.
Pierre Troublion - 3/5/2002
Mr. Henriksson articulates an important (as well as humorous) problem, rightly pointing to deficient high schools as the nub. It is a national crisis, yet one would look in vain to a mealy-mouthed President or a half-educated Congress for remedies. But why, oh why, can't more tenured professors show a little responsibility and start dishing out the Cs, Ds and Fs ?
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