By Professor Doom
After a good four plus years in college, I’ve had enough time to evaluate the whole professor-student dynamic. And after all this time, I’d have to say that I’m walking away with the most sympathy for my instructors, and not my classmates.
A lot of people say that U.S. college students are really, really dumb.
--the introduction to today’s discussion article.
It seems every few weeks I see another hysterical video demonstrating the awesome ignorance of the “average” American citizen. Considering over 80% of our citizenry now goes to college at some point, these videos serve well enough to show the awesome ignorance of our college students as well.
This leads to a natural question: why? What is lacking in our educational system that so many don’t know roughly when World War II was, can’t make change in a simple financial transaction, can’t find Russia on a map, or cannot even identify the historical figures on our money?
The whole point of higher education is to make well-rounded, “educated,” graduates, with no major gaps in knowledge that would cause such embarrassment in a street interview. Thus it was in the past that our college graduates were forced to take coursework in a wide variety of fields, all of which have been debased in our modern higher education system. Which of these fields is the most important? Is the debasing of this important field of knowledge responsible for the extreme ignorance that is more accurately described as everyday ignorance today?
While my field is mathematics, I readily concede it’s not the most important thing to teach a human being. An educated person should be familiar with the basics of math to be sure, and the modern world requires the educated to understand statistics (more accurately, to understand how easy it is to manipulate statistics to get a desired result)…but it’s still not the most important.
The most important thing to teach a human being is how to read. Reading is the gateway to all other knowledge, and all forms of ignorance can be helped with reading. Our public education system, with its emphasis on dull, miserable reading assignments where the protagonists invariably suffer and die no matter how goodhearted they are, seems designed to discourage reading.
Beyond the simple ability to read, however, what subject should be most read? Today’s article suggests one field is most important above all others, and blames the removal of this field for the increasing ignorance of our citizenry. The article gives several reasons for the ignorance, but foremost?
REASON NUMBER ONE:
We have virtually ZERO understanding of history
That’s right, History is the subject lacking. This field has quite possibly taken the worst beating in higher education today, relatively speaking. Mathematics has suffered the death of a thousand cuts, with “college work” being defined down now to 8th grade material on some campuses. English likewise has been reduced, from several papers and books a semester to a few small essays and very short stories assigned, answers to any quizzes relating to the latter provided via PowerPoint, making the reading optional in any event.
Other fields have faced execution, or nearly so. Philosophy is mostly consigned to the abyss of “electives only,” but admittedly philosophy departments were always small affairs on campus. Foreign languages likewise have been essentially destroyed, with departments being closed down wholesale; why bother learning about any culture that the current crop of ideologues insists is evil and of no value? Computer science has vanished in places as well, administration’s not about to pay for students to learn actual job skills.
But history, formerly hefty departments with hefty textbooks in the courses, has taken it from both directions. Such departments have been whittled down as the course requirements for students to know something about their own past were annihilated. What few courses remain are heavily diluted, with reading and writing requirements a tiny fraction of what they used to be.
Not only does the average college student have a deficient understanding of history, his or her perceptions of history are so terrifyingly off-the-mark that you wonder if the next generation will even be able to tell you the difference between Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler.
The result of this, of course, is our college graduates know little of history, and thus have essentially nothing upon which to base their knowledge of current events, either.
In a surprisingly eloquent rant, the essay highlights how History touches upon every other field:
History requires students to understand causal relationships, and how things are correlated, and how things have influence way beyond their original occurrence. It requires you to understand logic, and ideologies like religion, philosophy and sociological movements - i.e., political beliefs and how technology changes human existence. It requires you to understand human beings, and their motives,
The above is only an excerpt of the rant, but a careful reading of just that one paragraph shows History’s introduction to statistics, mathematics, theology, psychology, political studies, and a few other critical fields.
So what happens when you have students that think “Hiroshima” happened in the 1970s and World War I was fought to save the Jews from extermination? And don’t laugh too hard, because I’ve heard students in senior level classes say both of these before.
The gentle reader should not laugh at all, and be worried, as I’ve seen people that teach in community colleges with comparable ignorance of what really should be basic historical knowledge.
The essay addresses five reasons our college students are so stupid, but the argument regarding the foremost reason is very strong. Thus I amend my opinion regarding what the best thing to teach a human being.
First, teach that human being to read.
Then hand that human being a history book.
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