Monday, 13 April 2009

Dumbing down our universities

Yes, this is exactly the suggestion I heard summarized on a CBC radio program yesterday. The topic was: are today's high school graduates sufficiently prepared for university? Call after call came in about how universities were not looking at who their students were and what they had reasonably accomplished in high school, and how their curriculum should be built.

I actually started to have a heated debate with the car radio.

I completely agree with the consensus that most students are not prepared for the level of work expected at the university level. I DO NOT agree that the universities need to change anything. Our high schools (and also, therefore, public and middle schools) are where the problems are. Every decade we are gradually making the majority of our kids dumber by expecting less. Kids are coddled through each grade, with second, third, fourth chances, with special attention, with bell-curves, with the inability to fail a grade. High school students today would have no idea how to engage in meaningful debate or conversation or critical thinking on their subjects. Even the bright students at the top of their class rarely have a chance to work to their full potential; rather they simply provide what will get them their 'A' and loll around the rest of the time (I know: I was one of these).

Do you know most university students don't use a library? I understand the innovation of the internet, and completely promote the use of it for research. However, the lack of credible sources and the over-saturation of information has resulted in essays, papers, and presentations founded on faulty research. Most high school students (and perhaps even many university students) believe Wikipedia to be as solid a source as the Encyclopedia Britannica. For some reason, even in the world of Facebook and Blogging, kids believe that if it's online it must be true. Somehow even the "National Enquirer", which proves that even if it's in print it's not always truth, hasn't made a connection in their brain.

It makes me want to put my kids in private school. The only difference between private school kids and public school kids is the number of figures in their family income. Yet I wonder what the acceptance rate at the top notch universities is, private compared to public students. Most private schools have a general assumption that their graduates will go on to the top universities. Few public grads will even think of applying to them.

On second thought, it doesn't make me want to put my kids in private school; it makes me want to radicalize the public school system. It makes me want to get in there and push the kids and the teachers and the administrators and the curriculum builders to do better, to help these kids reach their maximum potential.

In ancient Greece, when a tutor took on a student, (or disciple, in a specific discipline) a contract was signed. The teacher agreed to teach and pass on the knowledge to his student, but likewise, the student agreed to do all he could to learn. The majority of students may be lazy today, but I believe this is a result of the system of teaching and learning we currently use. If each was challenged to their maximum potential (not ability, but potential), many more would strive for excellence, succeeding in high school, university, the workplace, society... There is a cycle of success that would be started and spiral upwards with each turn.

No comments: