Five Reasons Why American Kids Falter in Higher Education
After a good four plus years in college, I’ve had enough time to evaluate the whole professor-student dynamic. And after all this time, I’d have to say that I’m walking away with the most sympathy for my instructors, and not my classmates.
A lot of people say that U.S. college students are really, really dumb. And for the most part, I would say that not only are they right, they’re probably underestimating the aggregate stupidity of the American collegiate.
In my generation’s defense, however, I would like to emphasize that it really isn’t our fault that we’re so dim, dull and generally oblivious to the world around us. In fact, there are a litany of factors that have resulted in my cohorts turning into mush-heads, and if you’re an irked teacher anywhere within the higher education system of the U.S., it would behoove you tremendously if you took the following five realities into consideration when mulling why exactly your pupils seem so unapologetically moronic in this day and age.
REASON NUMBER ONE:
We have virtually ZERO understanding of history
While it’s not exactly news that U.S. college students know next to nothing about math and science, the aspect of general education they are most lacking in is a notion of history. Not only does the average college student have a deficient understanding of history, his or her perceptions of history are so terrifyingly off-the-mark that you wonder if the next generation will even be able to tell you the difference between Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler.
The misunderstanding of history is really troubling here, because this means that students not only don’t grasp the importance of charting a timeline of important events, they don’t grasp a basic understanding of things like geography, causation, or even rudimentary social systems, like politics and economics. You may be thinking to yourself, “yeah, well, so what if kids don’t know who Oliver Cromwell is, or why the Council of Nicaea happened,” the same way a pissed off eighth grader rationalizes a misunderstanding of algebra under the assumption that he or she will never use it as daily event. Granted, very few of us will have to answer questions about the Battle of Verdun on a job application, but the fundamental skills you need to truly grasp historical events are absolute prerequisites for success in ANY of today’s job markets. History requires students to understand causal relationships, and how things are correlated, and how things have influence way beyond their original occurrence. It requires you to understand logic, and ideologies like religion, philosophy and sociological movements - i.e., political beliefs and how technology changes human existence. It requires you to understand human beings, and their motives, and why the believe what they believe, and act the way they act. . .not to mention that it explains the importance of time and place, two constantly changing variables that shape absolutely everything on this planet.
So what happens when you have students that think “Hiroshima” happened in the 1970s and World War I was fought to save the Jews from extermination? And don’t laugh too hard, because I’ve heard students in senior level classes say both of these before.
Well, you end up with a population that doesn’t know the first thing about geography, other people’s perspectives, or even a fundamental understanding of who they are or where they came from. But most troubling of all is that you end up with a population with no appreciation for the factual - meaning that most students either don’t care that what actually happened happened, OR they are content in accepting that what they believe IS what happened, whether or not such ACTUALLY happened.
In other words? You end up with an entire generation that has no earthly idea what “reality” actually entails. And when that is the backbone of your general worldview, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that we’re generally deficient in just about every other educational category, too.
REASON NUMBER TWO:
We don’t grasp the importance of globalization
My university passed this sweeping initiative a few years ago, with the intent of turning the college into a bastion for worldwide learners. Fundamentally, it was an attempt to get all of us dumb ass American kids to understand that the world doesn’t consist solely of the United States, and that ultimately, we’ll probably end up working for some non-American entity before our careers are over.
Globalization is an undisputed reality, but since we don’t know what the hell reality is, we simply think that things will remain consistent and dependable throughout our lifetimes. Generally, students think that their town is the nexus of civilization, and think that they will never have to travel more than thirty miles in one direction from where they are now to make a living. And although technology is the greatest indicator of globalization out there, we STILL aren’t able to connect the dots on the big picture before us.
The modern college student has no clue how personal finances work, let alone the unfathomably large domain of international economics. We can’t name our own mayor, so understanding how international trade, policies and regulation affects domestic affairs goes out the window, too. Instead of becoming holistic thinkers, we’ve become even more reductionistic than the generation before us - simply put, we’re so unprepared for entering a global market that we’re akin to blind, deaf and drunken zebras waltzing into a cave of starving lions.
There’s this thing called “listener bias,” a concept you should be quite familiar with, because we all do it. In college, students go into a course unwilling to change their perspectives on life, no matter what evidence is presented to them. Essentially, this is why U.S. students suck at science and history - they want to believe what they already believe, so instead of actually soaking up the information (and by association, the skills therein) in class, they just sort of let the info float over them, perhaps retaining just enough to make a 70 on the next exam.
As a paradigm shift in pretty much everything we know about the world, we aren’t perceptive to globalization claims, for that specific reason. We don’t want to let go of our notions of national identity, nor do we want to reconfigure our ideas about how industry and society operate. In effect, we’re ignoring reality as a means of maintaining our CONCEPTUALIZED notions of reality - meaning that, as a general population, we’re more than happy not addressing the elephant that’s rampaging throughout our own living room.
REASON NUMBER THREE:
We DON’T have liability for our own actions
As a culture, my cohorts are devoid of personal responsibility, regarding pretty much everything. No matter what we do, there’s always some sort of convenient excuse around to exonerate ourselves from wrongdoing. If we can’t sit down long enough to study for a test, well, we failed because we have attention deficit disorder, not because we didn’t take any notes and only showed up for a quarter of the class lectures. If we turn in a crappy exam paper, we fail not because our diction is horrible, our logic inconsistent and our apparent knowledge of the subject is virtually nonexistent, but because of cultural biases. I mean, standard English really isn’t spoken in a majority of U.S. households, so why should we expect students to know or care about things like grammar, punctuation or proper capitalization? Hell, if you think kids today speak English horrifically, I assure you that their written skills are perhaps four times as atrocious.
We’ve turned biology and sociology not into required subjects, but our “get-out-of-jail” free cards. Now, I’m not saying that behavioral disorders and social prejudices don’t exist, but I am saying that many students like to exaggerate - or in some instances, even fabricate - such issues as a reason for their academic failings. And because professors and administrators don’t want to step on any toes of a special interest variety by simply calling students out on their bullshit, more times than not, students with extremely lacking knowledge of subjects are given passing grades.
As Generation Debt, we really don’t have an economic impetus to take responsibility for our academic actions, because thanks to credit cards and predatory student loans, we feel - and in some aspects, sort of have - an unlimited pool of money to dip into, so no matter how many times we fail, we can just keep chunking money we don’t actually have at the registrar until the federales show up at our doorsteps. The thing is, we don’t necessarily grasp the idea that those same people that are lending us money kind of expect us to, you know, pay them back someday, and nothing short of a repo van driving through our dens can get us to accept such as factual.
REASON NUMBER FOUR:
We are COMPLETELY dependent on grade welfare to graduate
Not only are modern college students reliant upon a grading curve to pass their classes, it’s something they pretty much expect going into the course.
Last semester, I took a course in which the median exam score was a 68. Now, it sounds pretty damning to note that the average student in the class ranked just mildly above failing. . .that is, until you realize it means HALF the class did even worse than that. As a result of the academic bottom feeders (typically, the afore-mentioned students that have no qualms about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit to perennially suck it up on their fifth attempt at ENGL 1101), the mediocre-at-best-students are often elevated to passing status, simply because half the class is filled with people that just don’t give a rat’s ass about how they perform. Although grade inflation is one of those things that’s supposedly frowned upon in higher education, pretty much EVERY college in the country allows it, simply because the only thing worse than too many students graduating is too many students failing and clogging the arteries of the registrar for another half decade or so. As a result, most D students are guaranteed C averages, which is just enough to earn a diploma, even though it’s glaringly apparent that they have no understanding of what they’re studying.
You would think that principles of attrition would mean that, by the time you get to senior level courses, only the best and brightest of the discipline would have been filtered into the upper tier classes. Needless to say, I was SHOCKED to find out that a number of my classmates in those same courses were lugging around GPAs that hovered somewhere between a 2.5 and a 3.0 - when you need at least a 3.6 to earn a solid A. During the summer semester, I flipped through the graduation list for my department, and out of the 300 or so on the roll, I think only five or six graduated with GPAs high enough to earn honors recognition. For those of you good at math (and since we’re college students, we aren’t), that means a measly three percent of the class walked out of college with an A average. All in all, the university graduated more illegal immigrants than it did stand out students within my concentration.
The current grade welfare system celebrates students for being barely average, boosting them up when in all reality, they probably shouldn’t even be in the college to begin with. As mediocre American minds, our only saving grace - and really, the thing we’ll be relying on for the rest of our lives - is the fact that at least half of the people in the college (and by proxy, the national population) are even stupider than we are. If colleges actually gave half a shit about maintaining the country’s brain trust (which, surprise, they don’t), EVERY single college in the U.S. would cut its student body numbers by half - which would, in turn, result in probably half of the remaining student body flunking out of college shortly thereafter, because there wouldn’t be that other half of the bell curve to give them such unwarranted grade point leverage.
REASON NUMBER FIVE:
We think effort is totally optional
Most college students in the U.S. view higher education no differently than the common nightjohn views a prostitute - as long as you have the cash, you think you deserve a little something-something for your costs. Although we won’t come out and say it, deep down, just about everybody in my generation feels as if they should simply receive a college degree because they paid tuition costs. Actually learning something - and most definitely proving that we’ve learned something - is a needless superfluity. I mean, come on, what other product out there doesn’t give you what you want for the cost of your own investment?
U.S. college students see no incentives in actually attending class, or doing the assignments, or trying to, you know, learn shit at school. They really have no idea why they’re being asked to turn in research papers, and most of them could care less how well they do on assignments - that is, if they even do them at all. They feel as if it would just be easier to cheat than show up for classes, and if they get caught (and pretty much all of them do), they just take the class all over again, with the exact same material they had last semester…which means they’ll probably walk out of their re-do with at least a letter grade higher than the first attempt, which is often just enough for them to get by.
The average U.S. student has no interest in an education. The only thing they really care about is getting a diploma, which they think is some golden passkey that will allow them to live like upper-middle class suburbanites for the rest of their lives. Knowledge, or even a basic understanding of key concepts, isn’t necessary for their hypothetical careers - they just need the piece of paper, and magically, they’ll be able to do whatever the hell they want from then on out.
Excellence really isn’t recognized at most U.S. colleges. Yeah, you might get an oh-so-obviously-generated-by-a-template letter of congrats from the President’s secretary, but beyond being able to wear a couple of ropes on Graduation Day, most college kids think there’s nary a reason to care about what they do, let alone attempt to fully grasp the material presented to them.
When you examine college students that excel academically, they’re usually one of two possible varieties of students. They’re either the children of upper-middle-class parents that have some sort of moral reason to excel (they we’re home-schooled, their parents were super-oppressive, they have a crippling emotional disorder which gives them an impetus to excel, etc.) or they’re children of lower-class stature that succeed academically because they know that it’s the only way they’ll be able to escape from poverty. Most of these students are either foreign born or second-generation Americans, although there’s probably a few of your basic vanilla and chocolate flavorings on campus, as well. The commonality there is that they see academic achievement as some sort of means and not just an ends, which is how most college students in the U.S. view their “educational” stints.
You can teach students a lot of things, but you really can’t teach them to give a damn about what they do. No matter how much you try, you can’t convince my generation that things like scheduling or note-taking are really all that important, and when compounded by the above-mentioned deficiencies as a student body, you’re pretty much staring down an incorrigible, terminally ill patient.
Admittedly, the portrait I’ve painted here isn’t a very pretty one, and at times, it does sort of sound like the musings of an incredibly cynical human being. Even so, I stand by my allegations, and if anyone out there can argue to the contrary, I’d love to hear from them.
Is it possible to remedy the academic woes of my generation? Realistically, I would say no, which isn’t that big of a social problem because the turnover in college is so high to begin with. Every five years, you have an entirely new crop of students, with their own strengths and weaknesses, taking over as the new future of this country. As disastrous as the tendencies of one group of students, in five years, pretty much everything their generation stood for is eradicated, and a good ten years down the line, they’re completely forgotten. Technology has gotten so expeditious that, in all sincerity, the modern college diploma is practically obsolete a year after it is awarded, and in technological sectors like computer programming and engineering, most degrees are virtually worthless by the time the next wave of students graduate. The good, I suppose, is that the impact of my generation on the rest of the world is only going to last for a short period of time. The negative, obviously, is that there’s a high likelihood that the next generation will be even more brain dead than mine - essentially indicating that we’re on the fast track to idiocy ad infinitum, much, much sooner than later.
To conclude, I suppose I might as well toss a few pros out to offset the cons I’ve discussed at length here. In many ways, our mental stagnation really is a creation of the times more than it is a biological reality at the current. Obviously, we’re in a major, major transitional period as a global collective, and until some shit gets straightened out (which may or may not happen until after the dookie REALLY hit’s the fan), we’re a culture stuck in this vacuum, just DYING to escape and make the world a better place. Granted, it may take a long, long time (it really wasn’t until after World War II that you can say the last truly great intellectual revolution occurred in the States, mind you) but there’s good reason to believe that when that escape actually happens, we’re probably going to see a neo-enlightenment era that produces some of the most amazing technological, scientific, artistic and social breakthroughs in the history of humanity.
Of course, there’s going to have to be a lot of conditionals in place for that intellectual revolution to happen, though. Looking back on the LAST such revolution in U.S. history, you note something really interesting: the country had a major mental shift because the youth of the nation wanted one to happen. Poor ass farm boys across the nation used their G.I. bill grants to better their own lives, and when they did, not only did they escape from poverty, they also escaped from that cycle of inanity and intellectual encapsulation that drained the brains of oh so many a privileged youth in the first half of the 20th century.
The solution, if one is to be found, is probably no different than it was in 1946. You give the downtrodden - you know, the real majority of the country - an opportunity to succeed, and odds are, they’ll succeed and then some. The contemporary problem - quite obviously - is that while those that want to better their lives and their culture via education are stuck in stagnation, those that have no impetus (but enough money in their pocket) to take advantage of such services gum up the nation’s educational system so that there’s no way in hell the lower dyad gets that chance to pull themselves out of the gutter.
So, with all of that taken into consideration, of course today’s college students are going to be pretty damn stupid. After all, here in the good ol’ U.S. of A, they can afford to be both.