College-prep expectations don’t mesh with realities

“I worked hard in high school, but they could have worked me harder,” said Belisle, now a sophomore. “Not only was I adjusting to new people, a new place to live and a new city, but I was adjusting to a new way of learning.” | From the U.S. Department of Education to the company that designs the Advanced Placement (AP) program, experts have described a growing problem: High-school and college expectations rarely connect. Most high-school graduates are not prepared to enter college, studies show. And when they do enroll, many are not prepared to succeed. —Cara SolomonCollege-prep expectations don’t mesh with realities  (Seattle Times)

I have great sympathy for students who have been told all along that they are bright, but who have never been asked to work hard until they get to college. In fact, I think it’s a tragedy that students like Miss Belisle (quoted above) weren’t challenged to reach their full potential.

I remember that some idealistic part of me died when, a few years ago at my previous job, I was teaching a freshman composition course and made a reference to “when you used to do homework for high school,” and the class burst out laughing. When I asked them why, they said they never did homework beyond cramming the night before an exam (or more likely the lunch period before an exam). They watched movies during English class instead of discussing books that they read outside of class, and their English papers were summaries of the plot that they remembered from the movie (or that they got from Spark Notes). The very idea that an instructor would read their essays and check them for logical consistency and critial content, rather than simply for grammatical correctness, floored them.

Last year, National Geographic published an article about dorm life, and one college student reported spending eight hours a day entertaining himself with games, TV, or the Interent, three hours a day in class, and an hour or two a day on homework. I don’t care how “bright” this kid is, or how much time and effort he puts into charming his teachers — he’s not going to succeed in college for long.

I don’t mean to presume that every student who isn’t doing well is wasting their college tuition in this manner. Seton Hill University has numerous resources, ranging from tutors to in-class note-takers to financial aid to counseling of all sorts, to help students who are struggling. Yet I am stunned to see that some students react instead by simply not showing up in class.

4 thoughts on “College-prep expectations don’t mesh with realities

  1. I’m going to agree with both of you here. I’m going to be an English major, and I’ve often said that my Brit Lit class seems like an ammalgamation of History, Politics, and English.
    However, before succumbing to extremes here, I would also think that moderation in any case would be a key factor,dont you think? To spare the stick and to spoil the child is true. But equally true is that all work and no play makes Jack’s and Jill’s dull boys and girls. Discipline shouldnt be allowed to stifle creativity. And the system shouldnt be allowed to be lax either. The first 12 years should be all about infusing creativity along with self discpline. After that, there’s absolutely no reason for spoon feeding. The whole point of college is to make people go out into the world and discover on their own.Also, taking away calculators in school wouldnt hurt either.

  2. Hey, I know you were being self-depricating to make your point, but I think English has plenty of “risk and challenge” and it ain’t all “amusing” and “comforting,” either. If not, those students you mentioned would be showing up to your class. Also: English IS pre-law, in many ways. I know two English grads from SHU who went straight into good law schools upon graduation.
    I >hatedcan

  3. Re: “Not to say that every student was an ideal one” — right, and of course to be honest, not every teacher is an ideal one, too. The old “drill and grill” style of education didn’t churn out innovative thinkers; in fact, in some sense that style of education conditioned young people to accept unquestioningly the rote, mechanical jobs they were expected to do in the industrial era. And I confess that, by choosing English for my major — something that I loved doing — instead of something that I knew would be less enjoyable but in the long term more financially lucrative (like pre-med or pre-law) — I am not unlike the students who prefer amusement and comfort rather than risk and challenge.

    I seem to have developed a strange habit of waiting for someone to post an agreement to my blog entry, and then posting a rebuttal to my own blog entry. Thanks, Neha, for helping me develop my ideas… I hope I don’t come across as being willfully intransigent.

  4. Sad isnt it? I used to be an English tutor at Tunxis CC, and the amount of effort that students put into their work would very easily fall towards the negative end of the number line. Now I think I was fortunate enough to go to school in India and the Middle East because all we got (through 12 years of schooling) was grilled. There simply was no excuse for not doing homework. We were taught to not work for class is to not respect the teachers. Not to say that every student was an ideal one, but the one’s who worked hard carried their lessons with them well through college and life.

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