Thursday, April 03, 2008

Generation X, Meet Generation Zzzzzz.......

A reminder that as bad as things are, they can always get worse:

Three out of 10 US public school students do not graduate from high school, and major city school districts only graduate one out of two students, according to a study released Tuesday.

In a report on graduation rates around the country, the EPE Research Center and the America Promise Alliance also showed that the high school graduation rate -- finishing 12 grades of school -- in big cities falls to as low as just 34.6 percent in Baltimore, Maryland, and barely over 40 percent for the troubled Ohio cities of Columbus and Cleveland.
"Our analysis finds that graduating from high school in America's largest cities amounts, essentially, to a coin toss," the study said.
In the country's city schools, the study found that in urban areas generally, just 60.4 percent graduate, and in the principal school districts of the top 50 cities, barely half graduate.

Detroit, Michigan's main school district scored a graduation rate of 24.9 percent.
On yesterday's Hugh Hewitt radio show, Hugh asked columnist Christopher Hitchens for a comment on these depressing statistics. Hitchens grew even more despondent than usual as he spoke about his current experiences teaching a university class on English Litterature; with a sigh he explained how he has had to turn it into a history class, due to how little general knowledge his students possess about anything he is trying to talk about.

One example he offered was the shock he received when he discovered that his students had no idea that Mark Twain lived well before Ernest Hemingway.
Hugh countered with similar examples from his own current teaching experiences at law school, having to add considerable material on the US constitution at the start of his class now, in order for his students to understand the context for the rest of the curriculum he delivers.

There was only positive note to emerge from their exchange, and it's one that I've seen in my own limited experiences training and working with teenagers at our company. Many of them simply have no idea to what degree they are being short-changed in their education. Some know their schooling was of no value whatsoever, and they are fine with that, content with their lack of curiosity and lack of ambition. But some get angry, they get very angry, when they start to see just what they've been cheated of.

In that anger there is hope. Hope that one generation will not let the next one become satisfied with the low expectations and lower standards that they seem to have been hobbled with. Somehow a link in the chain has been broken, where parents were short-changed and therefore can't tell to what extent their children are being cheated in their turn.

Christopher Hitchens mentioned that after his extreme negative reaction to his discovery that not a single one of his students had ever heard of Henry James, his puzzled students went home to ask their parents, and their previous instructors, why this would make Hitchens get so angry. They went looking for an explanation for the extent of his negative reaction.
Neither their parents, nor their previous instructors, had ever heard of Henry James either.
That made the students very, very angry. And very determined to fill the hole they could now plainly see, since true wisdom tends to come from knowing what we don't yet know.
We need more of that kind of anger in students, and a lot less of the paralyzing cynicism they tend to be afflicted with, if we are to see any change in this ongoing downward spiral.
What's next... nobody graduates from high school...?


Dag said...

I'm going to take a wild guess that some of our reader won't know of Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer. I'd be highly surprised if many or even a few do know of him. The point is that he could be know about. One could find out a little bit. And in the finding out, one might come to a different vision of reality, one not completely strangled and lifeless, the so-called multi-cultural vision of life-- a life without meaning, a life aggressively unexamined, a life lived in seeming contempt of daring, both intellectual and physical; rather, one might come to vivid if epiphanic understandings of Humanness through the rigourous pursuit of learning for the sake of ones own good life and being therein, a celebratory life free of enslavement to fashion and pre-determined responses. Imagine, for example, the howls one would hear if our readers actually found out who and what Evelyn baring is in our history, and that I, like many Muslim intellectuals who have whispered to me on the sly, like him and wish for the return of such a man to current affairs in positions of power. Imagine the breakthrough and the noise of the shattering of constraints of the mind if our students today could actually grasp the sense of Baring and his colleagues! As is, he'd be dismissed with a cliche, a trite insult, a sneer at best. Such is often the encounter people have with life itself, never knowing more of themselves and their own existence than the thin vapours of the zeitgeist.

And then there's Lord Curzon....

maccusgermanis said...

"But some get angry, they get very angry, when they start to see just what they've been cheated of."

"Hope that one generation will not let the next one become satisfied with the low expectations and lower standards that they seem to have been hobbled with."

Might low graduation rates actually be a sign of correction? At least failure is being acknowledged before they end up in Hitchens class. Next, I would hope to see an understanding that failure should be acknowledged without being submitted to.

“This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.” ~ WC

maccusgermanis said...

I'm going to take a wild guess that some of our reader won't know of Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer.

Never heard of him by name, though as I now famaliarize myself with him, it would seem unwise to suggest that I haven't been influenced indirectly by him.

Dag said...

I haven't looked it up but I think Churchill was responding to ... I forget, Spencer? or Sheridan? or someone, who took it upon himself to prescribe that no English sentence should end with a preposition. In today's p.c. climate, I think the rule is 'no sentence should end with a proposition.' And in that kind of pedantic and moronic educational atmosphere who'd want to continue?

Imagine a nation in which one of our finest literary figures is basically unknown to students, i.e. Henry James, and then wonder what's the point in reading Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, knowing as we do that those who read it won't be familiar with James' cousin, William.

As someone witty once said: "Those who don't know history are condemned."

maccusgermanis said...

Actually, I think the prepositions ending Charles Henry's sentences should be removed. Both are redundant.

This is the best introduction to Evelyn Baring Earl of Cromer that I've found. Have you already read it?

Dag said...

My four favorite pedagogic models are so seriously different from each other that I am sort of reluctant to mention them in the same post for fear of throwing off any supporters I might have as a practical theorist of Neo-Manifest Destiny. Here goes anyway:

Socrates, Jacques Barzun, Paolo Friere, and Neil Postman.

Years ago when I was living in New York City there was a taxi company that one could phone up for the driver of ones choice: Ph.D. in whatever field one cared for. There began my inkling of "School teachers with guns." Rather than have doctors of philosophies driving taxis, I felt it might be better having them driving Third World nations toward Modernity. These days we see the effect of social engineering on nations around the globe, but such is not the effect of genuine pedagogues with guns, not armed Socratic debater protecting their charges from primitive parents and villagers bent on murdering all who challenge the status quo ante.

Freedom isn't worth much if one doesn't think critically. Without critique how would one know of freedom or its lack of in ones life in the first place?

Regardless of Plato's near-fatuous arguments, literacy is essential for free people, and Friere is top-notch as a theorist in the field of teaching it to peasants. Postman takes up the need for knowing history, not simply as a chronology but as a lifestyle, that to know the history of is to genuinely understand such. having in the morning is a tedium, but to know the history of razors and soap makes living a wonder. And Barzun is a cranky old guy whose discipline and commitment to excellence nearly enough brings me to tears when I look back at the lost opportunities of our past generations now suffering from lack of common knowledge and common understanding of the commonest things. Where are these teacher/heroes?

Charles is one. Where there is one there can be more. We need such people, and we need thousands and thousands for generations to come to make up for our losses. We need them too on a scale of Baring, men in charge of whole decayed pseudo-nations, collections of groups feuding among themselves while the world rots. Thus: Schoolteachers with guns!

No, they mustn't shoot students for laziness, they must be prepared to save the lives of the students who will be murdered by their own parents for questioning local lore and tribal norms. Cultural imperialism? BARING, my soul.

And true too is the waste in attempting to educate those not worth the effort and resources. There is an intellectual elite, into which Baring made his way by virtue of belonging. And followed by? Zaghloul. There comes a time when the pupil surpasses his teacher. Or at least a time when the old duffer dies off. Such is life.

Must run.

Rob Misek said...

The failure is all of ours.

We have allowed liberalism to infect our values.

When you value the immediate personal gratification of prioritizing your personal liberties above everyone else's what could values like truth, honesty, courage and comittment possibly offer?

Where liberalism has infected our school systems, students are buying it hook line and sinker.

maccusgermanis said...

Which "liberalism" and "personal liberties" do you refer?

Liberalism is a value -of value even- whose name we've allowed to be misapplied to the illiberal notions of centralized management by a self annointed class. The annointed have no imperative to elevate themselves with wisdom, and the underlings feel secure that the annointed will take care of them. Truly liberal education would continually make less of the self annointed and more of the underlings as the "poverty [of wisdom] gap" is bridged.

Value of personal liberty is a prerequisite for thinking of others, as they have similar unalienable rights to liberty.

Rob Misek said...

There lies the source of the problem.

Every theology works in theory.

In practice liberalism has led to drugs, promiscuity, abortion and instant self gratification leading to life ruination.

In practice conservatism rewards responsible behavior with liberties.

Both provide liberty at least initially. One does decidedly better in practice.

maccusgermanis said...

Are "liberalism" and "conservatism" competing "theologies?"

Liberty is not a reward, but a natural state. Understanding of ones own limitations, in the minding of others business, is requisite to the suceess of any proposed reform.

Dag said...

I meant to respond here to the last two comments but I got wrapped up in my own thoughts and hoisted it as the day's post at No Dhimmitude.

Thanks to you both for the jolt.

Tomorrow I post on things above that Truepeers is writing about our relationship with an increasingly dictatorial government in Europe and beyond.

I don't have a telephone or video or radio, but I do look forward to hearing, or hearing about, Maccusgermanis on radio with Always on Watch upcoming.

Charles Henry said...

Might low graduation rates actually be a sign of correction?

I'd like to think so, Maccus. The article's statistics sure are frustrating in their vagueness... a significant question would be **why** students aren't graduating.

Are they in terrible schools, and the teens realize they are not learning anything, or that what is being taught is of dubious value, therefore leaving is the lesser of evils?

Are they in good schools, and they just can't learn?

Or are they in bad schools, and not learning..?

Listening to the horror stories I hear from Canadian teenagers about the terrible schools they have come from, I wonder what I would do were I in their place... I would probably think hard about dropping out myself, and striking out on my own.

Charles Henry said...

Maccus, I have a tangential question for you, if you don't mind, about high schools in your neck of the southern woods.

What approach is taken nowadays to teach about the Confederacy in your state's high school history classes? Has there been a shift in recent years, in how it's covered? Are the teens today introduced to the subject in the same way that you were, in your day?

How are northern historical figures like Admiral Farragut and General James Wilson (of Wilson's Raid) portrayed?
Does Jefferson Davis get a lot of attention paid to him, is his presidency studied in any depth, in terms of his cabinet or policy initiatives pursued by his administration? Is he treated as a "regular" President..?

I am curious to compare how this subject is taught in southern schools, to my own experience with how the North American component of the French-British conflict during the Seven Years War was taught to me, decades ago in my French Quebec high school during a time of rising separatist fever in the mid-1970s.

In an attempt to maintain a neutral, objective tone, these most dramatic of Canadian stories were all watered down so drastically that fascinating historical drama was rendered boring. How anybody could make the 1759 siege of Quebec City come out boring is a bureaucratic achievement I still marvel at, but that was evidently the price we were to all pay in order to avoid fistfights from hurt feelings..! (fortunately after a couple of years we would stop fighting each other over french-english bad feelings, and settle down to fighting each other over more mature causes, like girls...)

As a life-long Civil War buff I've always wondered how this chapter of American history gets taught to young people in the south, and if maybe there's a similar compromise in place, of reducing the "story" to an uninspiring trivia parade of names and dates, in order to avoid stirring up lingering resentments...

maccusgermanis said...

I did not mean to imply that, "leaving is the lesser of evils," or that anyone "can't learn."
I was suggesting that perhaps standards had recently been applied where they had previously not.
Condider the opinion of Gerald Shirley, principal of School of Discovery in Selma, Alabama, quoted here. (with emphasis added)

Throughout the nation, people are raising the issue that the exit examination's requirements are pressuring students to drop out of high school. Education policymakers in Alabama boast that the state has some of the nation's highest standards for its exit examination.

But despite those standards, we rank near the bottom in our graduation rate.

High standards do not automatically reflect quality. Quality is built into the curriculum with mastery delivery by teachers, and when it meets the needs of students and society.

Standards should be attainable. Researchers have not been able to conclude that high-stakes tests reduce or increase the dropout rate.

Obviously, if Alabama's pupils continue their present dropout rate, test revisions should be considered. It is evident that many intervention programs/strategies are ineffective.

A "high-stakes test" is a test that carries major consequences for the person taking it. The repeated failure of a large number of students to pass the exit examination and not receive a high school diploma causes disastrous consequences for the affected students and ultimately society.

Is it any wonder that students submit to failure, when their principles set such example?

maccusgermanis said...

Recently, A young cousin of mine needed to build a small diorama related to Alabama history. I suggested a small Fort Toulouse, or Horseshoe Bend. He built a plantation.

There is an erstwhile conspiracy between romanticist that have seen "Gone with the Wind" a time too many, and those that hate, as fact, the same caricature. By their dispute, they eclipse all Alabama history not directly related to how gentile and/or racist the small number (relative to population) of slave owners in Alabama were. It was the same when I was in school, with each camp trying to make a recruit of whomever didn't seem to have made up their mind.

maccusgermanis said...

I meant to respond here to the last two comments but I got wrapped up in my own thoughts and hoisted it as the day's post at No Dhimmitude.

In fact I did read that post, and have meant to comment upon it. I guess I'm still trying to decide whether, I as a self confessed "liberal" may in fact be to much of a "conservative" for your Mr. Marat.