One more class meeting to go.
The 102s’ Phaque Phinals are graded; for that section, final grades have now made themselves evident, and I have instilled the same in the District’s official grading system. All that remains now is to administer the extra-credit Phaque Phinal to the 101 class, score it, let Excel tote up the final grades, and report them online to the District.
Hum. I forgot that the odd 9:30 final exam meeting time will conflict with my networking group’s Thursday morning breakfast meeting. Damn. That means I’ll have to keep an eye on the time and leave by about 10 to 9. Nuisance: I’m cooking up an enterprise with one of the guys in that group, and I need to meet with him after the chatfest.
The final exam period for that class runs until 11:30, but I have a BNI meeting at noon in Scottsdale and will need more than half an hour to fly across town to that.
Understand: the Phaque Phinal consists of ten, count’em (10) rather MickeyMouse questions.
• What is wrong with this sentence? If you can’t articulate the problem, just show how you would fix it.
The cat ate it’s food.
• Here is an example of a fallacy:
The dog grabbed my steak off the kitchen counter and gobbled it down. Two hours later she barfed. So, the steak must have made her sick.
What type of fallacy is this? Why?
Not a single one of the 102s scored 50 points on the Phaque Phinal. The highest score was 40, and that was with me fudging the answers to give them a break.
Nothing on the PP was new. None of it covered anything we had not discussed in class. All of it was addressed in class, covered in the textbook or handouts, posted on our website, and explained on Internet sites to which I provided links. If you couldn’t follow my explanation, or you couldn’t keep your eyes open through the class discussions, then you could figure it out by reading the textbook or else go to some other expert’s interpretation and hope for words of fewer syllables.
So, it’s dismaying when even the best of them fall short of 100% (two A students showed up to take the Phinal, even though they were home free without the extra credit). Especially so, because last semester several classmates nailed 50 points, and the “exam” has not changed.
Whence the abysmal performance on what is essentially grade-school material? How is it possible that second-semester college freshmen can’t recognize when proximity is confused with causality? How can they not know what it’s means?
Part of the problem — in my opinion the largest part of the problem — is poor academic preparation. Large numbers of bright and theoretically competent young people leave high school utterly unprepared for college-level work. Or, come to think of it, for any kind of white-collar work. I don’t know what’s going on in the lower grades, but whatever it is, it ain’t workin’ for enough of our children.
Another issue, which probably is part of the same problem, is poor study skills.
Despite my taking them by the hand and begging them to start working on their papers early — particularly on the difficult 2,500-word paper, a project all the more difficult for students who have never written a sourced paper in 13 years of K-12 schooling — a week before that paper was due, student after student would admit to not even having framed a topic, much less started research and drafting.
Several students came up to me a few days before the major research paper was due and asked me what date it was due and what they were supposed to be writing about — this, after having taken a quiz on the syllabus early in the semester, which asked them to state when the papers were due and what their topics were to be. And after a prewriting assignment was due. And after an oral report on their topic was due.
Some classmates never purchased the textbook.
Knowing that they would not, I offered a workaround: links to websites providing the same information as the material in the assigned textbook readings. In spite of my regularly having pointed these out in class, many students evinced no awareness that any such things existed.
Do remedial courses help? I don’t know. I do know that many graduates of Heavenly Gardens remedial English and writing courses arrive in my English 101 and 102 courses utterly unprepared to perform at the college level. For those students, at least, remedial classes clearly didn’t do much. But how many students experience success in their college courses after remediation?
Some figures say as many as 60 percent of incoming college students need remedial training. Peter Bahr studied the results of math remediation and concluded that those students who experienced success in remedial math courses functioned about the same in later college work as did students who didn’t need remediation. However, a majority of remedial math students do not succeed in such training, and for those students, outcomes are less than positive. Typical community college students who need but do not complete remediation have only a 21% chance of transferring, and they face a 73% chance of neither completing a course of studies nor transferring to a four-year school.
Little is known about the effectiveness of remedial training for college students. Some studies have indicated that remediation may be helpful in math but has little effect on reading deficiencies. In any event, results are consistently mixed. No one really knows whether these programs do anything for students.
But anyone with any common sense should be able to guess that it would be a great deal cheaper for the taxpayer, a great deal more effective for our young people, and a great deal more sane for colleges if students showed up at the door with ordinary study skills and reasonable proficiency in reading, composition, and math.
Is that impossible?
I doubt it.
Back in the Dark Ages when I went to school, few first-semester freshmen were relegated to what was then unkindly called “dumbbell English.” I went to a public university with average rankings in most programs other than the top-rated astrophysics and cultural anthropology. Few of us were products of elite homes or private schools: I was a first-generation college student, and so were almost all my friends and acquaintances. Having skipped my senior year in high school — my father contrived to get me admitted early so he could quit his job and retire to Sun City, whose rules required that one’s youngest child had to be over 18 or enrolled in college — I started my freshman year shortly after turning 17.
I had no problem keeping up with the coursework. Neither did any of my dorm-mates or my classmates or my boyfriends or my cronies. We arrived on the campus understanding that we needed to buy the required textbooks, read the assignments, and submit written work on time. We knew how to prepare research papers and lab reports, because they were not very different from the kind of work we’d been doing in high school and junior high school.
Today I meet college students who have never written a sourced paper of any kind. High-school graduates tell me their English courses required them to write poems, essays, journals, and short stories, but never a research paper. Some students tell me they didn’t even take an English course in senior year. A few have said they hadn’t been in a library since middle school. Colleagues who require students to read more than a few anthology entries report that students go to their dean to complain about the unreasonable reading load — on some occasions arguing that if a course is not listed as fulfilling a literacy requirement, no substantial reading assignments should be expected.
Bright students tell me they’ve earned A’s and B’s in K-12 courses without studying and in some instances after cutting a large number of class meetings. They don’t see why that shouldn’t apply in college, too.
Having led many a horse to the Pyrrhean Spring without much luck at getting them to drink, I can’t bring myself to blame K-12 teachers for the present state of affairs. I do blame educational theorists who pushed through wacky ideas to the effect that formal training in usage, grammar, and style does nothing to build and polish language skills. And I do blame trends that have changed our schools from academies of learning into institutions of social work. We need to change our thinking about what ought to be taught in American schools, and how. Ideas that have become politically incorrect in our brave new world need to be revisited, and parents and taxpayers need to ask why strategies that worked to train our grandparents effectively were relegated to the dustbin.
I’m not suggesting that we go back to the Dark Ages. I ask only that we figure out what worked during the Dark Ages and consider whether those approaches should be revived and adapted to our kids’ present circumstances.
We know that most high-school graduates once were prepared for college-level work. Why are 60 percent of them underprepared now?