Monday, March 24, 2008

It was a simple question...

which focused on whether or not we were convinced slavery was a profitable or not-profitable institution during the antebellum period. It seems simple enough right? So why then did so many talk instead about everything but that? Many of the essay answers were about the morality of slavery and anything else the writer could think of--anything that is, except profitability. I read a few and was bored by the rest. Did anyone put as much time and effort into their essay as I did? Some do, but sadly most do not.

Several students wrote their essays about their personal beliefs regarding the morality of slavery but never once touched on the actual question which had NOTHING to do with morality!!! The question was purely one of economics.

Besides the whole issue of these students not being able to actually write on topic, there is the more pressing issue of lack of grammar skills and the inability to write in the simple format of the five paragraph essay which one learns in freshman comp. If you can't master that, you shouldn't move on to the higher level writing courses.

Dr. Derek Bok, professor Emeritus and former President of Harvard wrote a book titled "Our Underachieving Colleges" and he touched on this very issue. You should read it, it is very interesting.

I've worked in higher education a long time now and while I have seen some phenomenal college level writing, most of what I have seen or heard at the undergraduate level is appalling. When a student in heavy writing courses in the areas of history, philosophy or even religion turn in papers which couldn't pass muster in 10th grade english, I often wonder about the grades they earned early on in their English comp courses. If a student turns in shabby writing at the upper division levels, and earned poor grades in their comp courses, they never should have even made it that far without some remediation to help them. And if they turn in shabby writing at the upper division and they earned high grades in their comp courses, then something just isn't right--like maybe grade inflation. An "A" used to mean superior and excellent. But when everyone in the class receives the A even the ones who didn't put in the effort, the A isn't an A anymore is it?

Yeah so I'm only slightly anal-retentive about this subject. I'm not obsessive about it but it's something that bothers me. I feel very strongly about education and I feel that we should expect more of ourselves and not just settle for what is merely "ok".

I'll admit that like mom, I am a natural born speller and the written word comes easy for me once I get going. Fortunately my writing only improves with age. My academic writing and my editorial stuff I submit to the newspapers is serious for me. When I write an academic paper or letter to the editor or something in which I want to be taken seriously by the audience, I focus and am careful in my writing because I believe what I submit is a direct reflection of who I am and I want to be proud of it and I want to earn respect by putting forth my best effort.

The funny thing is while I enjoy writing and am good at the use of vocabulary and written placement of my thoughts, the spoken word doesn't come as easily to me. Oh I can talk, but I can't speak the way I write. I wish I could, but I can't. Why fight it? Go with what you know and do best. For me, it's writing. Ask my folks, they'll tell you that I've been fascinated by words since I began reading at age three, I read everything I could get my hands on and still do!

I feel that most undergraduate students can do better, and those guiding them have to expect more from them and lead by example. It begins at home and extends to the professor in their courses. We (yes, WE) have to do a better job. I say that as a student, as one who works in higher education and as one who would someday like dabble a bit in teaching history at the high school level.

I expect more of myself because I know I can always do better and I suppose I assume others should expect that of themselves too. Some do, some don't. This isn't about being perfect, that is impossible, no--this is about being proud of yourself and the knowledge that you have put forth the very best that you've got.

If you don't have the desire to do that, then don't waste your time in college.


  1. You said it, that is why I am taking a writing class every year to make sure that I get what it is that I am suppose to already have and have while in school!

    A lot of people just sit and think that everything is fine and they are really lacking a lot of tools.

  2. True. The reason to get those writing courses done with at the beginning--and DO well in them is so one can write well in the rest of their college coursework!

  3. Jess,
    One of the reasons I love your blog, is your excellent command of the language and of course, your subject matter. I, too am an excellent speller, and I consider myself to be a fair writer. At least technically. Not that I have any flair for drama or prose. The lack of writing and/or spelling skill you are seeing is endemic in the education system and I believe it stems from the trend in primary schools these days, to reward children for everything. I attend many of the award ceremonies that my kids participate in at school to see my kid get his/her award for being on the honor roll with straight A's and I sit through 45 minutes of awards like "best smile" and "friendliest helper" etc. Lucky our last name is early in the alphabet or God knows how long I'd be there. Then of course, there are the awards for ESL students, congratulating them for slowing the education process for the rest of the class as everything has to be repeated in their native language. Luckily in our school, much of this is done in seperate classrooms, but not all. There are a few of the teachers who also do not subscribe to the awards of mediocrity, but not many. It is this lack of incentive to excel that drives the eventual failure to grasp the simplest concepts and skills later in life. This initial lack of standards is followed later by social promotion, to keep the kids from developing low self-esteem by being held back. It goes on and on. Here in California, they tried to implement an "exit exam" to insure that graduating students had at least minimal skill levels in the basics. This was immediately challenged by every special interest group and the standards were lowered, and the tests were begun earlier in school so that those who failed would have a couple more years to get up to speed. "No child left behind" has turned into "Fix it so no child has to work too hard and fail" And that just sucks. That leaves it up to parents to make sure our kids work hard enough to excel beyond the simple requirements. I'm all for working with my kids to improve their grades, but if I have to do the teachers job for them, I'd rather keep my tax money and homeschool (which they're trying to outlaw here in CA now too) Everytime the sad state of education is trotted out for the media, the Teacher's union screams for more money, even though they get more than anyone else, and education gets nowhere. I keep hoping school vouchers will make a comeback for us to vote on. We'll see. Meanwhile I coach my kids past some of the more meaningless homework, correct them on some of the leftist crap they hear from SOME of their teachers, and try hard to emphasize what's important. It's up to us to make sure that our kids aren't turning in the off topic crap you are seeing now. A lot of work to do.


  4. Hi FMD! I've been hearing some of what's been going on in California and it scares me.

    Since you live in CA you know all about Fields v. Palmdale School District which stated a parents fundamental right of control over their children "does not extend beyond the threshold of the school door,".

    Then of course we have the second District Court of Appeals who ruled recently that parents have no right to homeschool their kids because they aren't credentialed as teachers by the state.

    Now Oregon is deciding the fate of homeschooling.

    Show me homeschoolers that don't do well. My good pal Susan (ST) homeschooled two of her children and they are two of the brightest kids I know. But smarts isn't all--they have good solid values, they are family-oriented, caring, kind and honest people.

    I'd say homeschoolers have it pretty damn good.

    The education system in this country needs overhauling but NOT by the federal government but by the local populations served by those schools.

    Right now in Florida the dumbass legislature is trying to pass the bill banning baggy pants.

    What? They have nothing else to do? Last I checked school boards have DRESS CODES--maybe it's time to enforce them. Of course they're too busy enforcing zero tolerance and kicking kids out of school for eating candy or having a swiss army knife in the glove compartment of their car. Oy vey!