Sad But True

I know I tend to repeat myself about the sad demise of education in what was once one of the the more literate countries on earth (?), but the evidence is “out there.” Our schools are simply not getting the job done, and cutting off funding is not the answer. On the contrary. But this brief note in a recent New York Times story pretty much puts the icing on the cake:

“Just how bad is our reading problem? The last National Assessment of Adult Literacy from 2003 is a bit dated, but it offers a picture of Americans’ ability to read in everyday situations: using an almanac to find a particular fact, for example, or explaining the meaning of a metaphor used in a story. Of those who finished high school but did not continue their education, 13 percent could not perform simple tasks like these. When things got more complex — in comparing two newspaper editorials with different interpretations of scientific evidence or examining a table to evaluate credit card offers — 95 percent failed.” 

I saw this in my college classrooms on a day-to-day level and started to do some research years ago to see if it was just in my experience. But it is not. It is a problem that is endemic in a culture that is increasingly disinclined to read and write and, of late, addicted to electronic toys. And it helps explain why our recent presidential election went the way it did. The only way out is to make a genuine commitment to education, including full funding; and one would like to see the Blob dismembered — the Blob being the huge bureaucracy that controls public education at all levels. If tiny Finland can get it right, we certainly can — if we want to!

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Sign of the Apocalypse?

In the face of scandals that have repeatedly rocked NCAA Division I Football and Basketball of late, it is sobering to see that Texas A&M just signed Jimbo  Fisher to a ten-year contract at $75 million. I daresay this is more than the Nobel Prize winning physicist on their faculty makes — if there is such an animal at Texas A&M.

Recent scandals have hurt the University of Tennessee so much that no one seems to want to go there to coach their beleaguered football team. They have already spent in excess of $13 million simply trying in vain to find someone willing to coach their team!

What this teaches us is that we all know semi-professional men’s sports at the NCAA Division I level are rotten to the core. We know that and further we know what to do about it, namely, reduce the obscene amounts of money that are being shoveled into those programs at the highest levels. But the golden goose is safe from the slaughter-house because money talks and there are sources out there that are apparently willing to pay whatever it costs to have a winning team — whatever it costs.

The costs to the academic programs at those universities are already beyond rubies, I suspect, as students increasingly find themselves drawn to the party schools where the Saturdays are filled with many beers and endless boola-boola (and most likely rumpy-pumpy) and the rest of the week is spent planning for the weekends.

Lost in the shuffle is the antiquated notion that colleges are supposed to prepare young people to deal with an increasingly disjointed world. They need to learn how to use their minds, not how to raise their glasses to the most recent success on the gridiron. And how is one to justify the millions of dollars being spent on mindless sports that are really nothing more, or less, than a diversion to allow us to escape from our dull, wretched lives?

As I write this I do wonder where the TV remote is. I don’t want to miss the games this Saturday. After all, the four teams that will play for the national championship will be  determined today!