The Ivory Tower Continues to Crumble

This semester I am teaching developmental reading at a local community college. This means that most of the students are reading at sixth-grade reading level. Their writing skills are, at best, very basic. Below is a sample of an unedited paragraph (replete with errors) that a student was asked to write after having been taught the meanings of autocratic, demolish, debilitating, hyperthermophile, perpetrators, and plaque. You will note that while the student incorporated the words into her paper, she does not really understand the meaning or the nuances of the words.

In the Atlantic Ocean there are tons of Hyperthermophiles hidden in the ocean.  These plants often are by the waters or in it.  Some sea creatures around this area are debilitating because of the warm temperatures.  The plants have to be in cold waters where it's below zero to stay alive.  They will demolish into the ocean once they are gone.  These pants will go into the colder parts of the ocean if they can make it.  The marine biologist can be autocratic when picking these plants.  They are just so rare in the U.S. that they don't want these Hyperthermophiles to go instinct.

A colleague of mine who teaches at a four-year university for the Transition to School program (euphemism for developmental students who have been accepted to this school) asked her students to write a response paper to Kurt Vonnegut's "How to Write with Style." The following unedited portion is the submission.

In "How to Write with Style," Kurt Vonnegut, argues that to improve a writers writing is to make sure that the audience is being keep in mind.  Vonnegut thinks that the author should not write like a reporter because just saying facts can become boring.  Vonnegut states how it's possible to do so by referencing William Shakespeare and James Joyce's simple writing style.  That by staying in an almost childlike way of writing and being simple can keep the intended audience's attention.

The irony of this last sentence would be humorous if it did not highlight the caliber of student who is now studying at an alleged school of higher learning -- and who will eventually graduate.

Then there was my colleague who teaches basic math. When explaining division she was told by a student that in "his country" they teach it differently. When queried as to what country the young man came from, the answer was Pennsylvania!

Another student of mine in the first-year composition class never heard of the New York Times. Another thought that the New York Times was the name of a book. No matter how many times I recommend that they visit the college library and actually touch magazines and journals, they never do this. So I bring in samples of academic journals, popular magazines, newsletters, and trade magazines. They had never heard of or seen Consumer Reports but this seemed to attract their attention when it spoke about sports equipment. Yet, they do not understand how advertising works, thinking that the various brands listed in Consumer Reports were actually advertisements for these products.

When attempting to teach these students how to compile a "Works Cited" sheet in MLA format, I have learned that when they read Cambridge University Press, they automatically assume that since press is in the title, this is a newspaper, rather than the name of a publishing house at a major university

When I asked who the Founding Fathers were and received blank stares, I prompted one young man by asking for the name of the first President of the United States. He did not know.

Because their language skills are so deficient, many students cannot appreciate the subtle humor of double entendre when asked to analyze advertisements. They truly try to decipher what I am saying, but it is a genuine struggle. 

When speaking of years, they do not know that to describe a century, they need to increase the number by one, e.g., 1279 is the 13th century. 

I am, however, making progress in their understanding of the pitfalls of raising the minimum wage, thanks to Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams.

Map skills are nonexistent. When asked to show where Africa was, a student looked at Australia, then South America and after two minutes finally figured out where Africa was located. Even when they have served in the military, many students do not have instant recognition of places on the map.

Apart from these breathtaking displays of ignorance, another serious problem is the preponderance of single-mother families. Many of these students are caring individuals who are shouldering enormous responsibilities that used to be the purview of a husband; thus, when their mothers become sick, they need to stay at home to tend to the mother. Sometimes it involves helping with bathing or medication. Other times, they are the only ones who can provide transportation for the mother to go to the hospital. And then there was the young woman who has been absent because she had  "to take care of her boyfriend's mother." Such absences create serious gaps in an already fractured learning background.

My students are, frankly, fatigued. It is a deep exhaustion based on working 30-40 hours outside of school, then being saddled with serious family obligations, and then attempting to understand school assignments and class-work, which as exemplified above, is often beyond their ken.

Rest assured, however, that all will be well because on October 10, 2015 in Baltimore, "teachers and school administrators focused on race and racism, featuring workshops on 'interrupting whiteness' in American schools, the 'dominance of White supremacy' in society, 'white privilege' enjoyed by Caucasian students, 'white domination of thought' and how to "decenter whiteness.'" Organized by the Pacific Educational Group, one workshop covered the following:

White Privilege, White Responsibility: Deepening Our Commitment as White Allies in the Struggle for Racial Equity in Schools.

To achieve racial equity in schools, all educators must be able to identify and communicate where their own personal whiteness plays out in classroom, school, and community systems. Deepen your ability to focus a critical lens on your own whiteness and privilege and see how they impact your life. Through the tenets of Critical Race Theory, analyze how society constructs whiteness as the dominant norm in the U.S. Explore what it means to be a white educator leading for racial equity without perpetuating a system of white dominance.

Join members . . . and share their journey to establish Culturally Relevant Classrooms using the Courage Conversation protocol as a tool for interrupting white-normed ways of teaching and learning. 

The current paradigm of classroom instruction has the potential to render our Black students invisible without explicit examination of the structural and cultural forces that reify racial inequities.

The hoax being perpetuated in the educational establishment should be a source of deep shame. To knowingly push unprepared students into college only leads to frustration for students and instructors alike. It is not just critical thinking that is sorely lacking. It is intellectual curiosity that is absent in most college campuses where I teach. Yet, this intellectual curiosity is a key ingredient that "sparks science, art, all kinds of innovation." What, then, does this portend for our country?

When vile leftist propaganda is added to the mix, we see the continuing diminishment of our once remarkable spirit of learning, discovery, and innovation. What will be created, painted, written, or invented if students passively sit and never ask a question while their minds are filled with a hateful philosophy more commonly understood by decent people as unvarnished racism?

Eileen can be reached at

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