We’re in trouble in the good ole USA. Our academies of higher learning are giving in to the bad behavior of the students seeking to earn diplomas from their educational institutions. Our values as a civilization are under attack by leading educators who wish to dumb-down the curriculum to better suit students who are applying to colleges stupider, less talented, and much more self-interested than ever before. The disconnect between classroom realism and real life reality is enough to make your brain explode in flames as you come to realize our great nation of minds is quickly decaying into a leveling pit of repurposed mediocrity:
Last Sunday, in a New York Times opinion piece, I couldn’t believe I was reading a defense of dropping college math requirements as a way of getting more students into the system:
Shirley Bagwell, a longtime Tennessee teacher, warns that “to expect all students to master algebra will cause more students to drop out.” For those who stay in school, there are often “exit exams,” almost all of which contain an algebra component. In Oklahoma, 33 percent failed to pass last year, as did 35 percent in West Virginia.
Algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white. In New Mexico, 43 percent of white students fell below “proficient,” along with 39 percent in Tennessee. Even well-endowed schools have otherwise talented students who are impeded by algebra, to say nothing of calculus and trigonometry.
Sure, more students might not drop out if we drop math requirements — but at what cost to the rest of us who are relying on those behind us to be smarter and keener than us? Everybody deals with math and algebra every day. We need engineers and machinists and experts who know how to draw schematics and build infrastructure. That’s math. That’s algebra. That’s geometry!
Instead of holding the notion that students are too stupid to learn algebra, so we won’t require them to take algebra, we need to move the timeline backward into the reason for the failure to learn math at an earlier age and fix it in situ. It is irresponsible of us to claim, as a society, “Oh, we failed to help them learn math, so we have to excuse them now so they can pay tuition with student loans and collect a false diploma.” That sort of educational fantasy harms more than it helps because it attacks the common core of basic knowledge we each much covet to continue the forward movement of our society into the future.
Math isn’t the only part of the common core coming under attack. Some university systems are wholly removing the foreign language requirement for graduation, too:
“Foreign languages are now required at most CUNY schools and across the country, and they should definitely have been included in the Required Core,” said Luigi Bonaffini, chair of Brooklyn College’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. “The Pathways Task Force unfortunately ignored a host of requests from within and beyond CUNY” to include a foreign language requirement.
“One would suspect that omitting foreign languages from the Required Core would lead to diminished foreign language study throughout CUNY,” Alicia Ramos, the chair of CUNY’s Council on World Language Study, told Clarion. “It is possible for colleges to prescribe foreign language study in the College Option or in the Flexible Core. But because colleges will in all likelihood aim to preserve as much of their present structure as possible, the reduction of credits [for general education] will inevitably lead to some losses,” said Ramos, an associate professor of Spanish at Hunter.
In addition to dissolving math and foreign language study as graduation requirements, some schools also want to lower the English reading and composition expectations:
A recurring flashpoint has been the general ban on 4-credit courses in the “Common Core Structure” recommended by the Pathways Task Force on December 1 and accepted by Chancellor Goldstein on December 12. A limited exception is made for some Common Core classes in science and mathematics, but there have been faculty objections in these fields as well.
Discontent with the 3-credit limit increased after January 30, when CUNY’s Office of Academic Affairs distributed a set of “Common Core Guidelines.” This document affirmed that “courses must be 3 credits and 3 hours” (emphasis added).
At the start of the semester, CUNY’s English Discipline Council spoke out against “the recent suggestion that composition courses be revised as 3 contact hours/3 credits. The dominant pattern of these courses across the university is 4 hours/3 credits – both current and past practice as well as best practice.”
Our minds are under attack! Our stake in history and comprehension of the human condition are all under fire! To crumble the core of common knowledge that we all expect to share and understand is precisely how empires fall and civilizations wither away. We have been warned. If we only continue to give in to a devolving educational system, then we deserve what we fail to earn. Today’s students should want to be better than us, not less than us, but that isn’t happening.
We’ve willfully created a generation of under-achieving children — who now require, at the age of consent, that they do less and perform worse than those who graduated before them — because that is somehow their divine, but twisted, right to their share of the American Dream, and they demand to be given the same degree that more rigorous generations ahead of them earned with much more emotional discipline and intellectual dedication.
The USA is quickly becoming a one-tongue nation that cannot read, write or do simple math, but we can basketweave and act and sing and dance and play the drums — none of those skills are taught in the schools anymore, either, but mastering an artisanal performance craft, along with the magic of pretending, is certainly a simpler path than having to actually solve complex math problems, or having to communicate with people who do not speak your mother language, or having to actually prove your literacy in public on a daily basis.
As I may have written before, it all starts with home. My parents told us repeatedly that education was the most important thing we could do in our youth and that nobody could take it away from us. With that in mind I got all the way through Intensive Advanced Calculus at Rutgers even though my major was Communication. It’s extremely important to have these basics down. Can’t pass algebra? The teacher should assign tutors after the first test goes south.
I agree it begins in the home, Gordon, but sometimes the schools need to step forward and help fill the void if the home isn’t capable of making up the difference. I was told, when I was young, that “our family isn’t good at math” and so that meant there really wasn’t any pressure or expectation for me to do well in school in the hard sciences and, of course, I did not do well and I struggled and I did a horrible job because I didn’t care because my family didn’t care. They officially “cared,” but because they couldn’t really help me, they didn’t really, really, care off-the-record.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I reflected back on my poor math skills to wonder why I never tried to do better because I discovered on my own as an adult that I enjoyed the enormity of numbers and the reliability calculations and the rigidness of expectation that formulas can provide the mind, and so I sort of feel cheated by my childhood environment — a social circle of brilliant art and writing teachers made up my family across many generations — but none of them were in the hard sciences, and so I excelled in their genius in practice and, unfortunately, failed in their exceptions as expected.