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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Dumbing Down of America

Are students today a product of the 'dumbing down of America?'  Were the Baby Boomer generation better prepared for college than students today? In my opinion the answer is an unequivocal YES.  The teachers in my past prepared me by not just teaching me facts and figures but by teaching me how to find the answers and giving me a desire to learn new things.

When I went back to college as an adult (40+) I was thrown into classes where the majority of the students were half my age.  Culture shock to say the least!  I came from being a stay at home mom of two to a full time student.  Most of the rest of my class were 20-23, and age I hadn't been in a long time! I quickly learned that age wasn't the only thing separating us.  They came from a totally different world.  One where correct English wasn't important, History wasn't taught, basic Biology wasn't understood and Art was an anathema. 

Their slang was different, their education had been different, and I ran into 'the dumbing down of America' first hand. 

The slang I could handle, although the constant parroting of 'that's so gay' took a bit of getting used to.  It was the lack of a good basic education that astounded me.  Their grammar didn't exist.  History didn't include some very basic important events.  And the concept of art appreciation was....under appreciated, basic biology poorly understood.

I was in a class where we were discussing busing.  It wasn't a history class, but it was obvious that to most of the class 'busing' had to do with how to take SEPTA (Philadelphia's local transit authority) and had nothing to do with civil rights.  I remember the professor (who was about the same age I was) looking at me as if to say 'you know what I'm talking about right? I'm not the only one who knows this happened.' 

I admit to being blown away at how ignorant many of the younger students were about current events or recent history.  I could understand if they didn't have a good grasp on the Crimean War... but busing? Come on!  So if you're a history teacher today, please take the time to bring your students up to speed on events that effect their own daily lives--like civil rights. 

Another example of the 'dumbing down' occurred when two of us were doing an oral report on making mobiles.  OK, mobiles, not rocket science, almost every baby has one hanging over their crib and most kids make them in preschool.  But we were talking about Alexander Calder's mobiles.  A little more advanced, but the same concept.  People kept interrupting and saying 'slow down, I don't know what that means.'  Have you been to the Philadelphia Art Museum? That giant thing hanging over your head in the lobby? Right, Calder, mobile.  Did they ever have an art history class?  Read Time or Newsweek?  If so they should have been familiar with Calder.  And even if they weren't we had photos so they'd be able to understand what we were talking about.  But they were so used to being spoon fed information using words with one syllable that they had a hard time following the presentation. 

Basic biology also seemed to present a problem.  One class in human reproduction seemed to stymie the men in the class. Out of nearly thirty students only fifteen passed the class--most of them dropped out after failing the test on human reproduction. Very scary.  After that class I no longer wondered how so many teens end up pregnant.

Another time a group of us were doing a oral presentation on Elder Abuse. A serious topic and one people working in health care need to be aware of. One student came to class for the presentation unprepared and with note cards written in English on the level of a 2nd grader. This wasn't a student who grew up going to poor schools or who had a learning disability. She'd graduated from Penn State. I guess I expected she had to pass a decent English Composition before she got out. 

Are students today as well prepared for college as the Baby Boomer generation was? In my experience, definitely not.  They are the result of 'the dumbing down of America.'  Unfortunately with the new 'teaching to test' mindset the actual education of our children and grandchildren isn't going to get any better. 

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