Dysfunctional Literacy

In the two and four-year institutions of higher learning where I teach, they have "purchased access [so instructors can] attend a live online seminar on "helping Unprepared Students Succeed in the College Classroom." With "more and more students arriving on campus without the tools they need to succeed," they invariably drop out or fail their classes. This seminar promises to be a panacea for all these difficulties.

The seminar aims to introduce strategies that will "promote student engagement" in addition to getting "students to buy in to [the] course and its requirements." Ultimately the instructors will be able to "guide students to sound decision making by giving them choices with well-defined consequences." And, of course we are enjoined to "make content more relevant for students."

This culturally relevant teaching was made popular by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings in the early 1990s. Please note that "culturally relevant teaching is a pedagogy" which displays "cultural competence" or "skill at teaching in a cross-cultural or multicultural setting to enable each student to relate course content to his or her cultural context." Basically it "often deals specifically with instruction of African American students in the United States" but is not limited to this group.

And with these "novel" ideas, instructors will be helped to "respond confidently and effectively to performance issues such as partially or completely unread homework assignments," students handing in "incomplete homework" and "course assignments that are sloppily completed or completely ignored."

This is the state of higher education in America today! Of course, this is not about dealing with a student body that has no interest in higher education -- either because the love of learning is nonexistent or because the student is simply not capable of doing college level work; rather it is about the bottom line as these "schools have a lot riding on improved retention -- reputation, rankings, and financial stability [.]" So Kenneth L. Alford, Ph.D. and Tyler J. Griffin, Ph.D., who have entered into this entrepreneurial gold mine, maintain that they have "three recommendations--1. Increase relevance; 2. Increase relevance; 3. Increase relevance."

I kid you not. Instructors are now being directed to repeatedly ask students "So What" or "Who cares?" This is to "assist students in order to see the 'big picture.'" By asking a "so what" question, it will allow "students [to] have control over course decisions and direction [.]" Consequently, this will help "guide a class discussion on why this course should matter to them." As instructors, we are to "play a devil's advocate role."

Furthermore, if we "give unreasonable expectations" it will only "increase students' unpreparedness and decrease their motivation." But paradoxically, we are still to "have standards" as 'mercy should not be allowed to rob justice, or [we] run the risk of losing credibility -- contributing to increased unpreparedness."

After digesting this gobbledygook, I picked up a university school newspaper with the headline "Basic Algebra Remedial Classes Double in Size." This four-year university has "adopted the math emporium model for its Basic Algebra course, which is being taught using a Smart Board and laptop." Thus, students are bedazzled by the equipment and increased class size results in fewer adjuncts who need to be hired. But more to the point -- why are remedial classes needed in a four-year university?

In a September 23, 2013 Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled "Florida Colleges Make Plans for Students to Opt Out of Remedial Work," author Katherine Mangan describes how some Florida state lawmakers have decided to make these remedial classes optional for most students. Yet, many "community and state colleges, which all have open admissions, fear that an influx of unprepared students could destabilize introductory courses [.]" Ultimately those who struggle will fail. In fact, "colleges have become ground zero in a national battle highlighting the fact that remedial education is simply not working" -- something that even the most ardent supporters of such programs now acknowledge.

But with "less than half of the students who took the SAT in 2013 ready to succeed in postsecondary education" it is clear that something very fundamental is lacking. Victor Davis Hanson asserts that "[c]ollege acceptance was supposed to be a reward for hard work and proven excellence in high school, not a guaranteed entitlement of open admission. Yet, more than half of incoming first-year students require remediation in math and English during, rather than before attending, college. That may explain why... hundreds of million dollars later, about the same number never graduate." Increasing failure is becoming the norm and it is robbing young people of a hopeful future.

Not everyone belongs in college, yet, attending college is an incessant mantra being forced by "agenda-driven politicians, partisan ideologues and careerist technocrats." Sadly, this generation is being saddled with false dreams, financial nightmares, and neither practical nor humanistic knowledge.

Some of my more astute students will share that they appreciate my being "tough" on them because they maintain that too many instructors just let them pass and do not demand coherent writing. A widespread lack of academic rigor is too often the norm. But far too many students have not yet absorbed the idea that "constructive, even painful feedback" is necessary for growth. Instead, as instructors, we are supposed to "tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads. Projects and collaborative learning are applauded [whereas] traditional methods like lecturing and memorization are [often] derided as 'drill and kill'" even though these latter methods do work well.

The vocabulary base of many of my students ranges between the fifth and seventh grade reading level. The dictionary is a foreign object. Yet, incessantly, instructors are told to engage in peer-review; that is, students grade and evaluate other students' work. This is, therefore, not the peer review of experts assessing other experts in a specific discipline. Intense vocabulary drills would benefit these students far more than this feel-good group work since it is the "wealth of words" that assists in "real-world competence."

Content-based instruction is the attention to details that American students so sadly lack. This is the true road to making education "relevant." Instead, we are creating the "Stupidest Generation" so aptly described by Larry Eubank where "some Americans use such a rudimentary or shrunken version of English as to be incomprehensible."

These recent unedited passages by students in a two-year college depict this.

Marriage is a beautiful thing and should not be taken for granted. One of the biggest pros of marriage is having a dedicated lover. Someone who will love you with everything they have. Every human being lurks for love from another, same sex or not.

or

With the increasing popularity of social networking people are replacing actual connections with virtual ones. Interests of people change and people begin to seek a self-defiance. When these things happen, people begin admiring uncharacteristic traits. People fall in love and typically get married. But unlike in the past, people are getting married for a different reason.

and

From the study it was proven that even though the teen had an unplanned pregnancy, theirs evidence suggesting even though the teen got pregnant by accident they purposely don't use contraception because they would like to get pregnant.

In the four-year university where I teach "Professional and Business English" a group of senior students presented a Power Point presentation on Brain Plasticity. The other students were asked to evaluate the presentation. Responding to the question of whether the Power Point presentation was aimed toward the intended audience" one student replied that "It aims towards everyone because every living person has a brain."

As my father-in-law used to say -- 'Nuf said!

Eileen can be reached at middlemarch18@gmail.com

In the two and four-year institutions of higher learning where I teach, they have "purchased access [so instructors can] attend a live online seminar on "helping Unprepared Students Succeed in the College Classroom." With "more and more students arriving on campus without the tools they need to succeed," they invariably drop out or fail their classes. This seminar promises to be a panacea for all these difficulties.

The seminar aims to introduce strategies that will "promote student engagement" in addition to getting "students to buy in to [the] course and its requirements." Ultimately the instructors will be able to "guide students to sound decision making by giving them choices with well-defined consequences." And, of course we are enjoined to "make content more relevant for students."

This culturally relevant teaching was made popular by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings in the early 1990s. Please note that "culturally relevant teaching is a pedagogy" which displays "cultural competence" or "skill at teaching in a cross-cultural or multicultural setting to enable each student to relate course content to his or her cultural context." Basically it "often deals specifically with instruction of African American students in the United States" but is not limited to this group.

And with these "novel" ideas, instructors will be helped to "respond confidently and effectively to performance issues such as partially or completely unread homework assignments," students handing in "incomplete homework" and "course assignments that are sloppily completed or completely ignored."

This is the state of higher education in America today! Of course, this is not about dealing with a student body that has no interest in higher education -- either because the love of learning is nonexistent or because the student is simply not capable of doing college level work; rather it is about the bottom line as these "schools have a lot riding on improved retention -- reputation, rankings, and financial stability [.]" So Kenneth L. Alford, Ph.D. and Tyler J. Griffin, Ph.D., who have entered into this entrepreneurial gold mine, maintain that they have "three recommendations--1. Increase relevance; 2. Increase relevance; 3. Increase relevance."

I kid you not. Instructors are now being directed to repeatedly ask students "So What" or "Who cares?" This is to "assist students in order to see the 'big picture.'" By asking a "so what" question, it will allow "students [to] have control over course decisions and direction [.]" Consequently, this will help "guide a class discussion on why this course should matter to them." As instructors, we are to "play a devil's advocate role."

Furthermore, if we "give unreasonable expectations" it will only "increase students' unpreparedness and decrease their motivation." But paradoxically, we are still to "have standards" as 'mercy should not be allowed to rob justice, or [we] run the risk of losing credibility -- contributing to increased unpreparedness."

After digesting this gobbledygook, I picked up a university school newspaper with the headline "Basic Algebra Remedial Classes Double in Size." This four-year university has "adopted the math emporium model for its Basic Algebra course, which is being taught using a Smart Board and laptop." Thus, students are bedazzled by the equipment and increased class size results in fewer adjuncts who need to be hired. But more to the point -- why are remedial classes needed in a four-year university?

In a September 23, 2013 Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled "Florida Colleges Make Plans for Students to Opt Out of Remedial Work," author Katherine Mangan describes how some Florida state lawmakers have decided to make these remedial classes optional for most students. Yet, many "community and state colleges, which all have open admissions, fear that an influx of unprepared students could destabilize introductory courses [.]" Ultimately those who struggle will fail. In fact, "colleges have become ground zero in a national battle highlighting the fact that remedial education is simply not working" -- something that even the most ardent supporters of such programs now acknowledge.

But with "less than half of the students who took the SAT in 2013 ready to succeed in postsecondary education" it is clear that something very fundamental is lacking. Victor Davis Hanson asserts that "[c]ollege acceptance was supposed to be a reward for hard work and proven excellence in high school, not a guaranteed entitlement of open admission. Yet, more than half of incoming first-year students require remediation in math and English during, rather than before attending, college. That may explain why... hundreds of million dollars later, about the same number never graduate." Increasing failure is becoming the norm and it is robbing young people of a hopeful future.

Not everyone belongs in college, yet, attending college is an incessant mantra being forced by "agenda-driven politicians, partisan ideologues and careerist technocrats." Sadly, this generation is being saddled with false dreams, financial nightmares, and neither practical nor humanistic knowledge.

Some of my more astute students will share that they appreciate my being "tough" on them because they maintain that too many instructors just let them pass and do not demand coherent writing. A widespread lack of academic rigor is too often the norm. But far too many students have not yet absorbed the idea that "constructive, even painful feedback" is necessary for growth. Instead, as instructors, we are supposed to "tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads. Projects and collaborative learning are applauded [whereas] traditional methods like lecturing and memorization are [often] derided as 'drill and kill'" even though these latter methods do work well.

The vocabulary base of many of my students ranges between the fifth and seventh grade reading level. The dictionary is a foreign object. Yet, incessantly, instructors are told to engage in peer-review; that is, students grade and evaluate other students' work. This is, therefore, not the peer review of experts assessing other experts in a specific discipline. Intense vocabulary drills would benefit these students far more than this feel-good group work since it is the "wealth of words" that assists in "real-world competence."

Content-based instruction is the attention to details that American students so sadly lack. This is the true road to making education "relevant." Instead, we are creating the "Stupidest Generation" so aptly described by Larry Eubank where "some Americans use such a rudimentary or shrunken version of English as to be incomprehensible."

These recent unedited passages by students in a two-year college depict this.

Marriage is a beautiful thing and should not be taken for granted. One of the biggest pros of marriage is having a dedicated lover. Someone who will love you with everything they have. Every human being lurks for love from another, same sex or not.

or

With the increasing popularity of social networking people are replacing actual connections with virtual ones. Interests of people change and people begin to seek a self-defiance. When these things happen, people begin admiring uncharacteristic traits. People fall in love and typically get married. But unlike in the past, people are getting married for a different reason.

and

From the study it was proven that even though the teen had an unplanned pregnancy, theirs evidence suggesting even though the teen got pregnant by accident they purposely don't use contraception because they would like to get pregnant.

In the four-year university where I teach "Professional and Business English" a group of senior students presented a Power Point presentation on Brain Plasticity. The other students were asked to evaluate the presentation. Responding to the question of whether the Power Point presentation was aimed toward the intended audience" one student replied that "It aims towards everyone because every living person has a brain."

As my father-in-law used to say -- 'Nuf said!

Eileen can be reached at middlemarch18@gmail.com

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