PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Dumb and Dumberer: Too Many of Today’s High School Students

  • By David M. Kinchen 
PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Dumb and Dumberer: Too Many of Today's High School Students
I had a “driveway moment” Thursday afternoon, Sept. 26, 2013: That’s what the NPR people call the situation when you pull up to your destination — often a driveway — and you sit in the car until the program segment you’re listening to is complete.

In this case it was NPR’s “All Things Considered”, with Claudio Sanchez reporting that the College Board — which developed and owns the SAT (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAT) —  is lamenting that SAT test scores show that that “roughly 6 in 10 college-bound high school students who took the test were so lacking in their reading, writing and math skills, they were unprepared for college-level work.”  http://www.npr.org/2013/09/26/226530184/college-board-concerned-about-low-sat-scores

From the program, which didn’t surprise me one bit because I believe that today’s students are far dumber than high schoolers in the 1950s, when I attended Rochelle Township High School in Rochelle, IL:

 “The average SAT score this year was 1498 out of a possible 2400. It’s been roughly the same for the past five years.

“‘And we at the College Board are concerned,’ says David Coleman, the board’s president.

“In a conference call with reporters, Coleman said his biggest concern is the widening gap in scores along racial and ethnic lines. This year Asian students had the highest overall average scores in reading, writing and math, followed by whites, and then Latinos. Black students had the lowest average scores. Coleman said it’s time to do something about it, not just sit back and report how poorly prepared students are for college and career.

“Simply put, the College Board will go beyond simply delivering assessments to actually transforming the daily work that students are doing,” Coleman says.

“Coleman wants to work with schools to make coursework tougher and ensure that students have access to more demanding honors and Advanced Placement courses, because right now, most students don’t. Most worrisome of all, Coleman says, ‘minority students, underrepresented students, have less access’.”

I’m painting a target on my back with the following statement — which some would say is simplistic: I believe that much of the blame for the poor results should be placed on parents — parents who don’t have books in their homes. We were dirt poor but, thanks in large part to my mother, reading was an ever-present activity in our house. We had books in our home and we were regular visitors to our excellent Carnegie Library. My mother was an omnivorous reader of books and newspapers (she favored the  Chicago Daily News — lamentably long gone —  and hated the then right-wing Chicago Tribune) and my two brothers and two sisters followed suit in varying degrees.

Reading and writing are the keys to learning and I wasn’t surprised that the Asian-American students — raised by the proverbial “Tiger Mothers” — are at the top of the SAT heap. That’s why they’re so good at learning. Yes, I know all about how Asian-Americans hate the “model minority” stereotype, but they should realize that behind every stereotype there’s more than a little truth.

Much of what Sanchez reports is true, including the need for more rigorous classes. History, for instance, is poorly taught. It should be a separate subject, not taught as part of a catch-all course called “social studies.” I know this may sound like the rantings of an old guy who remembers the past with rose- colored glasses, but I’m convinced that books and reading and library cards for all are vital elements of the learning process.

Show me a house with books and readers and I’ll show you a nurturing environment for good students.

 * * *

Note: The wonderful Flagg Township Public Library in Rochelle, IL, about 80 miles west of Chicago,  is pictured in winter. It celebrated its centennial last year.

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