Students & Parents | General Education

A question for college kids: What did you learn in school?

SPRINGFIELD REPUBLICAN   |  October 17, 2014 by Editorial

Don’t know much about history.

Or literature, or foreign languages, or government, or economics, or …

Giving it the old college try? Not so much. Many of today’s college students aren’t getting much of a college education. By some measures, they aren’t getting even a high school education.

There’s been lots of talk of late about how kids being graduated from high school haven’t been learning the basics. This is too often provably true. But how about college kids?

The news on that front isn’t pretty, either.

new study from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit organization that pushes for college accountability, surveyed core curricula at 1,098 four-year colleges. A few numbers tell an exceedingly disturbing tale: A mere 18 percent of colleges mandate classes in American history, 13 percent a foreign language, and a tiny 3 percent stipulate economics as a graduation requirement.

These shabby numbers have real-world consequences. To site but one example, a majority of college graduates don’t know what the Emancipation Proclamation was. While one can rightly shake one’s head and tut-tut over this news, there’s another question that leaps to mind: How can one have gotten into college, having progressed from kindergarten through grade 12, without having been taught that most-fundamental bit of American history? Colleges are culpable, but they mustn’t bear all the blame. (The Emancipation Proclamation, of course, was President Abraham Lincoln’s move in 1863 to free the slaves.)

Someone who is truly educated needs to have knowledge that ranges across a broad spectrum.

To be sure, one can specialize. No one can be expected to be great at everything. But the thought of a geologist reading poetry ought not be so confounding. And the notion of a poet who is versed also in computers or physics or economics should be, if not exactly commonplace, then at least not so far-fetched.

But those are the ideals, goals for another day. For now, how about seeing that kids in college take courses in a range of core subjects.

It would be a decent step, a recognition that what we’ve been doing hasn’t been getting us anywhere.


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