10 May 2008

Waiting To Learn Until After Graduation

I just got another gem of an article from my wife. According to a local Dallas news channel (WFAA), “over the last three years, an average of 75 percent of the [Dallas Independent School District] students enrolled in classes [at Dallas area community colleges] took at least one developmental education course.” That’s more than a little high. That’s astounding. But it makes me think that perhaps one of two things should have happened. First, the bulk of those students should have spent more time reading, writing, and practicing math while they were in high school. Second, if students are unwilling to master those skills, then perhaps they deserve to be in remedial courses…and paying for them.

While I fully admit that there are bad teachers out there – teachers who are simply occupying space and time - the majority of teachers would love to have motivated, engaged students in their classes. Even if those same students struggled and worked and needed lots of tutorials, many if not most teachers would be up to the task.

The reality is that many students just don’t think an education is worth the time, the effort, or the dedication. It’s not cool. It’s not “fun”. It’s “boring”. It’s something that will happen to them at some miraculous point. This is evident in a quote from the above referenced article. A former DISD student, regarding the need for remedial education, says, “I get so frustrated. Don't know why I wasn't taught those skills before coming here and having to be at this point in my life and start all over.” Note the passive sense of the quote. Like so many, this student does not understand the active nature of real learning…or rather discovered it now that it costs money.

My guess is that those skills – reading comprehension, vocabulary, proper grammar and diction – were taught at some point. The problem is that these lessons probably weren’t deemed very important at the time they were taught. Also, the lessons probably weren’t reinforced outside of the classroom, either through homework or normal, daily use.

Yet when asked how many students plan on going to college, most answer affirmatively without hesitation.

There is a bizarre disconnect, a wickedly self-injurious Orwellian doublethink in the student who professes a desire to become a doctor or lawyer, yet who cannot bring himself to remain conscious for the entirety of a 90-minute class.

The rest of the WFAA article discusses TAKS (state testing) skills, teaching to the test, et cetera. The superintendant of Dallas schools says, “We don’t need to blame people. We need to fix [the situation].” I would disagree with his first statement. People do need to be blamed. It may be said that teachers, administrators, students, and parents can all share some of the blame. There may be some truth in that. But too many students are encouraged to think of college as mandatory and an entitlement. Too many parents allow their children to slide through high school, or kick and scream when their student doesn’t succeed. It is disastrous and costly to allow both students and parents to believe that real education begins after graduating from high school.

No comments: