Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker had an interesting piece on October 4, 2011. In the Toledo Blade, the heading for the article was "It's time to put 'education' back in higher education." Naturally, my interest was piqued.
Everyday at work I see college students who lack the motivation and necessary thinking skills to complete their education. But the "problem" is that they do graduate. Parker writes: "A study published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 87 percent of employers believe that higher education institutions have to raise student achievement if the United States is to be competitive in the global market. Sixty-three percent say recent college grads don't have the skills they need to succeed. And, according to a separate survey, more than a quarter of employers say entry-level writing skills are deficient [my emphasis]." None of this surprises me. What surprises me is that it is taking other people so long to realize it. But, actually, that doesn't surprise me much either--we're talking about critical thinking skills here, skills which many Americans don't possess.
Ah, yes, critical thinking skills. My final research paper for one of my grad classes this semester is about the education system and critical thinking skills (Are you surprised?). Parker states, "...the consensus is growing that young adults aren't being taught the basic skills that lead to critical thinking."
Parker is only concentrating on higher education though. While it's true that higher education needs some work, the problem starts much earlier than that. Poor higher education is inevitably a result of poor primary and secondary education. Colleges have had to lower their standards in order to accommodate students who have graduated from high school without the basic reading, writing, and thinking skills.
I link reading, writing, and critical thinking together. Students aren't reading or writing at high enough levels. Teachers are teaching at them and testing them, but the teachers are not giving the students the time to actually learn and apply what they've learned. English is a subject that crosses all disciplines. While grammar and language mechanics can be taught as a separate subject, reading and writing are part of every subject. Students learn best when they can research a topic of interest, write about it, and apply it to their own lives. That way their reading, writing, and critical thinking skills are challenged. Unfortunately, though, their learning is stunted when they are pushed through subjects, tested, and moved quickly on to something else, memorized facts soon forgotten.
So, while Kathleen Parker makes some valid points about higher education, she's missing the mark. The problem is in the K-12 grade levels. And, if those problems get resolved, perhaps higher education will begin to fix itself. Instead of searching for ways to "dumb down" the curriculum, professors will be able to challenge their students.
What a wonderful world that would be.