South of New Hamster

In Opinion Journal, Philip Terzian reviews Patrick Allitt’s I’m the Teacher, You’re the Student, which describes a semester teaching American history to cheerfully uninformed Emory students.

. . . the ignorance, laziness, sense of entitlement and lack of basic rhetorical skills are stunning. One student thinks that “books” and “novels” are the same. Another identifies the Granite State as “New Hamster.” Few are familiar with the rules of language, many spell poorly and all are confused by tenses and apostrophes and complain bitterly when Prof. Allitt marks them down for grammatical errors.

Emory is a highly selective university that enrolls students with excellent grades and high SAT scores. But they can’t organize their ideas in order to write an essay.

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Comments

  1. “What’s the matter? The problem, as Prof. Allitt sees it, is that the skills required to ace the SAT and post a high grade-point average are not the best preparation for a rigorous liberal-arts curriculum. Our secondary schools, public and private, have not only substituted Maya Angelou for Robert Browning but guided their charges in perfecting the art of passing multiple-choice exams, not drafting essays. No wonder they cannot write, or organize their thoughts, or marshal an argument, or identify the decade in which the Civil War took place. No wonder they confuse Theodore Roosevelt with his cousin Franklin D.”

    Ohmigod, there were two Roosevelts?! That’s why I was always so confused!

    One thing that should be qualified here: Most Emory undergrads took, I imagine, the SAT-II Writing exam and the various AP exams, all of which require essays. But Allitt’s still right in the main. The SAT-II Writing graders aren’t supposed to call you on content errors; it’s supposed to test “writing skills” as purely as possible, meaning you just have to use rhetorical devices in a skillful imitation of someone who actually has a point. And while the AP exams are content-based, the scoring system leaves a lot more fudge room than any rigorous college professor is going to.

  2. Maybe this was the problem:

    eacher on Way to School Charged With DUI
    Mon Aug 23, 6:38 PM ET

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A teacher heading to her first day at school this week was charged with drunken driving, but later returned to her class.

    Sherry Bartlett, 45, a fifth-grade teacher at Slaughter Elementary, had a blood-alcohol content of .20 percent, more than twice the legal limit of .08, when she was arrested Tuesday morning.

    She pleaded not guilty on Friday during an arraignment in Jefferson District Court.

    Bartlett, who has worked for the school district since 1985, could not be reached for comment.

    She returned to class Thursday, district spokeswoman Lauren Roberts said. “It’s too early to speculate on disciplinary action,” she said.
    Had Bartlett made it to school that morning and been found to be drunk, she would have been fired, Roberts said.

    Bartlett has no disciplinary actions in her personnel file, Roberts said.

    According to court documents, police pulled over Bartlett about 7:50 a.m. EDT Tuesday on Ky. 841 near Beulah Church Road after another driver told authorities that Bartlett was driving slowly and veering into the median.

    Bartlett registered a .20 on a Breathalyzer test.

    Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com

  3. I wondered what our new symbol would be since the Old Man of the Mountain slid down said mountain!

  4. Hee! “New Hamster” has me giggling. I had a serious challenge to my self-control once in a history class in college when a guy did a presentation on the “Sixteenth Chapel.” I sat in the front of the room and he could see me, so I had to make sure I didn’t even smile when he said it.

  5. Steve LaBonne says:

    What can we expect from kids who have read very little well-written fiction or poetry (increasingly replaced in K-12 English curricula by popular shlock), who never read good non-fiction or high-class journalism, and who have had few or no serious writing assignment by the time they graduate from high school? How can they possibly have learned to write?

  6. I am grossly out of date about the KIPP schools and charters. Please permit me to commit ritual sacrifice. I am sorry and I will endeavor to be more informed before posting on that subject again.

    I still maintain that John McWhorter is not African American and speaks not for us, but is a mouthpiece to appease the power brokers of the far right elite who want to keep the prison-industrial complex intact.

    e1.

  7. Steve LaBonne says:

    Mystical, self-serving, politically motivated definitions of who gets to qualify as belonging to group X are part of the problem, not part of the solution. As McWhorter himself would be able to explain to you with great cogency, if only you were of a mind to listen.

  8. Jack Tanner says:

    Everyone calls it New Hamster. It’s ruled by Hamtaro.

  9. Steve LaBonne wrote:
    “What can we expect from kids who have read very little well-written fiction or poetry (increasingly replaced in K-12 English curricula by popular shlock), who never read good non-fiction or high-class journalism”

    It isn’t just that a lot of kids aren’t reading quality writing. They aren’t reading ANY writing that they don’t have to. Many of my daughter’s friends and her cousins are flabbergasted that she LIKES to read. They read only grudgingly, because they have to in school. Their parents don’t read and they grow up in houses without books, or even newspapers.

    I think one reason my daughter became a good reader was the example she saw in her parents, and in living in a house full of books. Some of what she read –and reads still–wouldn’t qualify as high quality, but when she gets done with that “popular schlock” she’ll pick up one of the Narnia books or bring home something challenging from the library. Because she loves to read, she will sit down and write short stories “just for fun.”

    But without that love of reading and learning at an early age–a very early age–students won’t be prepared for challenges in college, or even high school. Whether they are exposed to high-quality writing or not.

  10. DHanson–Neither my husband nor myself can go to the bathroom without a book or magazine. We get 3 newspapers, a couple of dozen magazines and we have over 19 filled bookcases in a 2400 sq foot house. My kid don’t really enjoy reading. They read, but it’s a duty. Escaping into a book is becoming a generational thing.

    I deplore this and have done everything I can to sway them,, but it’s not really working. The idea that kids do what their folks do isn’t really true. Both of my parents smoked a couple of packs of Luckies a day and I don’t smoke. Maybe I should start throwing out all the books and my kids would
    jump in and rescue them.

  11. In Neil Postman’s book, ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’, he claimed that reading is a left brain activity and video learning is right brain and that retention rates are always higher with reading.

    Has anyone studied what other left brain activities are suffering as a result of the video learning craze of the last few decades?

    Does anyone besides me hope that the text based internet is going to revive some of the left brain skills? I’ve written more in the last five years than in the forty four that preceded them.

  12. mike from oregon says:

    I see this relating back to an earlier article (that I got lambasted for my opinion) which was about some of the summer reading that was being required/requested by the schools. It included a fair amount of “poetry” by popular rappers. Complete with pathetic english, poor/incorrect spelling, etc. As I recall, quite a few comments thought reading this stuff was perfectly okay, even words of encouragement from some of you. In my opinion, you’re just going to get more of this type of student, and worse, by encouraging the reading of bad ‘rapper’ poems instead of some classic writings.

  13. 1)I wonder if many kids don’t like to read mainly because it’s difficult for them to do so…due to bad teaching methods based on untested theories.

    2)I’m with Blair in hoping that the text-based Internet will help revive reading…it’s very encouraging that bloggers who write long essays (like Steven denB and EjectEjectEject) have gained a strong following. This effect will be greatly magnified by the coming introduction of electronic ink technologies, which will make Internet text-reading much more convenient and portable.

    But it still can’t totally overcome the continuing effects of the bad teaching methods.

  14. mike from oregon says:

    Poet –
    Certainly everyone is welcome to post thier comments here (unless you get abusive, then Joanne whips out her ruler and smacks your knuckles). However, I fear that as long as you use terms and phrases such as ‘mouthpiece’ and ‘prison-industrial complex’ your words will be taken with a large grain of salt.

    David Foster –
    You say, “…bad teaching methods based on untested theories.” and I agree. The question (and answer) is based in looking at articles like the previous post talking about Japan’s experimental math (it’s math instead of reading, still experimental). It’s programs like ‘whole language learning’ which has been proven time and time again to be inferior to phonics, but the schools and teachers protect it like it’s a new born child.

    It’s the American educational system, hyjacked and taken to hell.

  15. What I find objectionable about the students’ attitudes, asides from their lack of writing ability, is that they do not use spellcheck. After writing a thousand words, it takes all of five additional minutes to press the spellcheck button and then to follow through and correct the errors as identified.

    I’ve noticed that this has extended into the business world as well over the last few years.

    Asides from laziness, I think the real reason that so many do not use the spellcheck is that it commits an unforgivable sin- it points out that the writer has made mistakes. Nowadays, such arrogance is unforgivable, in a person or a machine.

  16. superdestroyer says:

    There are other reasons kids cannot write:

    1. Their idea of writing is using the internet such as IM, Chat, or message boards. They learn to write in a cute, short hand style and does not translate to formal writing.

    2. The read fan magazines such as magazines on skating, rap music, movie stars, pimped cars, etc, that write in a short hand style and permits misspellings and other errors.

    3. They hand around people who talk like valley boys and girls or like a proponent of ebonics. If they never hear properly spoken English, they never will develop any proofreading skills.

  17. New Hamster…is that for real?

  18. Mike and others can laugh…”phonics” is now called “word work” to take away the stigma. Er, supposed stigma.

  19. We are seeing the effects of the politicization of education. Diversity and multiculturalism are hoaxes perpetrated by self-loathing whites and ethnic chauvinsts. Textbooks have been watered down with inferior multicultural crap that obviates any need for critical thinking. The classics? They were written largely by dead white males, and they are the enemy, the oppresors of all mankind. We’re reaping what we have sown, and it isn’t pretty.

  20. I doubt it was intentional on the part of this student, but I’m almost certain that I HAVE heard some New Hampshirites jokingly refer to their state as “New Hamster.”

  21. Kate–I’m sorry your kids don’t enjoy reading. It sounds like you’ve set a great example, but it just hasn’t taken. I do believe there’s a much better chance kids will enjoy reading if their parents do. I think that in homes where reading isn’t valued the kids have a much steeper hill to climb.

    Obviously the quality of the educational system is a huge factor too. My daughter’s reading really took off in the second grade when her teacher had a”baggie books” system, where kids chose a book and took it home after school. They were challenged to read 10 minutes a day. My daughter got totally caught up in the challenge and often read for hours. I can’t thank that teacher enough for what she started with that program!

  22. DHanson: At my school we called it “A Bag of Books” but it was exactly the same idea. The problem was that money was in short supply, and not all teachers wanted to share. So kids in classes with more experienced teachers had books. Kids in classes with new teachers often didn’t. It would have been wonderful to be able to let parents know this, but they’d often judge the new teacher (as heard through gossip, so who knows?) as being less willing to do fun programs, when in fact, it was inherently difficult for new teachers. It’s frustrating. I’m glad, though, that your child was able to participate, because like you, I really think it’s a valuable thing.

  23. Tara– Right. Amassing a significant number of books for a good class reading program is a challenge, even for a teacher who has had years to collect them. We’ve always tried to give teachers books when we can, and Barnes & Noble gift certificates when we can as well, but that kind of thing from parents is a drop in the bucket.

  24. mike from oregon says:

    Kate –
    Suggestion to help a child read, and I know this won’t be new, but until it happens, it’s just words. Find a book or series that the child is interested in. For my oldest, her moment of enlightenment came when she discovered the ‘goosebump’ series. I detested the series, but figured that if it got her to start reading, then eventually she would grow out of an interest in those books, and it did. She is now a super reader, reading everything she can get her hands on.

    My youngest (now 14) is just beginning to bloom as a reader. She has finally turned on to the Potter series, I also had her read ‘Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and she loved it. We kept the TV off during the daytime hours during summer and she had some reading that was required of her. Now she happily will sit in the evening (when she is allowed to watch TV) and read a Potter book. As a parent it is wonderful sight to see.

    Have faith Kate.

  25. mike from oregon says:

    Kate –
    Suggestion to help a child read, and I know this won’t be new, but until it happens, it’s just words. Find a book or series that the child is interested in. For my oldest, her moment of enlightenment came when she discovered the ‘goosebump’ series. I detested the series, but figured that if it got her to start reading, then eventually she would grow out of an interest in those books, and it did. She is now a super reader, reading everything she can get her hands on.

    My youngest (now 14) is just beginning to bloom as a reader. She has finally turned on to the Potter series, I also had her read ‘Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and she loved it. We kept the TV off during the daytime hours during summer and she had some reading that was required of her. Now she happily will sit in the evening (when she is allowed to watch TV) and read a Potter book. As a parent it is wonderful sight to see.

    Have faith Kate.

  26. DHanson: You are a parent that “gets it”. Just know that teachers out there love ya!

    Kate: You’re fighting the good fight. Don’t get discouraged. You are setting an example that’s worth watching.

  27. BC Monkey: I don’t see student essays, but in business and often even in published works of “professional writers”, what’s worse than non-spell-checked work is the malapropisms contributed by the spell-checker…

  28. Mark Odell says:

    Jack Tanner wrote: Everyone calls it New Hamster. It’s ruled by Hamtaro.

    And I, for one, welcome our new cute-little-furry-animal overlords. 🙂

  29. I considered going to Emory… I didn’t go there, but I’m sure the same sorts of things happen at my school. I don’t think I’m the smartest person here, but I know there are a large number of people who haven’t mastered basics like critical thinking and self-reflection. Spelling and grammar problems are pervasive, but everyone always excuses it as laziness. You are in college. Do you only bother to use your best grammar when addressing the queen?

    I do think making fun of “New Hamster” is foolish without knowing the entire context, since I know I make mistakes all the time when I speak and I’ve competed in national speech competitions.

  30. BC Monkey: Spellcheck can be used well or poorly, depending on the vocabulary of the user. Relying on any single tool to fix problems with writing is not going to solve too much. Writing requires reading, experience, examination of style, and a constant evaluation of purpose. And much like calculators that can get the right answers, Spellcheck doesn’t teach the concepts behind the answers.

    Of course, just like the Preview button for posting comments, it’s a good thing it’s there.

  31. Mad Scientist says:

    My sister once worked a temp job for a large utility in the early 1990s. One person in the communications departmet handed her a press release. She asked if the person had proofed the release.

    “I used spell check, that’s good enough.”

    “I don’t think so.”

    “What do you know, you’re only a temp.”

    “I know enough not to want to advertise a pubic relations event in the local newspaper.”

  32. When I was a kid in first, second, and third grades (back during the last Ice Age), our school day ended with fifteen minutes of “free reading” (it may have been called something else). The idea was, you either brought a book from home or picked a book in the classroom library, and you sat and read quietly for the last fifteen minutes of the day. (You were allowed to keep the book in your desk for the next day, especially if it was a “classroom library” book, so you could complete it without someone else grabbing it).

    You were allowed to sit at your desk, on your desk, under your desk, whatever, as long as it didn’t disrupt someone else’s reading.

    I still look back on that policy – ending the day with fifteen or so minutes of quiet reading – fondly. I don’t know who came up with it, but it was good.

    (Of course, I was one of the kids who liked to read. I still do. I learned to read, as far as I can determine, using phonics, sounding out the words from the books my parents read me.)

    I can’t stand un-spell-checked things. I have the kind of brain that focuses in and latches on to typos, almost to the point of destroying my concentration or reading comprehension.

    The upside of that is that I catch things like “asses” used instead of “assess” in a document one of my colleagues wrote.

  33. I used to “tutor” writers (my boss called it “consulting”, but we were tutors; sorry, Dr. Young) at the University of Central Florida. My most frequent customers were, from least to most:

    5. English Composition Students who had no idea what they were doing.
    4. English Composition Students who wanted me to “grade” their papers.
    3. English Composition Students who knew exactly what they were doing but were required to come in by their teachers.
    2. Business students with their 100-page “Cornerstone” papers which were graded partially (about 30%) on grammar and formatting, partially (about 30%) on the group presentation, and partially (about 40%) on content.
    1. Education majors required to come in by their professor, the only professor who taught a certain class that you had to pass.

    4 and 5 I could deal with. 3 were fun because they were often wry and witty, and I could truly challenge their minds. I remember, in fact, one student who had to write a paper on what it was like to be the wife of a revolutionary during the American Revolution, and write the paper as a letter to her brother in England. I remember suggesting that she write the paper from the point of view that she didn’t want to be part of a revolution, that she was happy under British rule. I think the girl did well on that paper.

    2 was by far the most daunting. I had one hour to go through these papers, checking citation formats and grammatical issues while not actually correcting the papers — that was a no-no, according to the head of the Writing Center. It was actually better with the English-as-Second-Language students, because once you explained something to them, they actually made an effort to understand. The American students just didn’t see the point in learning.

    But by far the worst was 1, the Education students. They were required to write a one-to-two-page paper about themselves; why they wanted to be teachers, that sort of thing. Not only were all the papers boring, but they were also almost all exactly the same. Oh, the experiences were slightly different, as were the upbringings, but out of the hundreds of those papers I consulted on, only a couple of dozen were actually any good.

    And they were all, even the good ones, riddled with grammatical errors, punctuation problems, and poor word usage.

    I guess Dr. Luckett (the professor for this education class) knew what she was doing when she sent the students to us. But it was very, very depressing and mind-numbing to try and teach these future teachers. They weren’t learning anything from me. They didn’t want to.

    Now, most of them are teachers. It’s no surprise that some of their students — and their predecessors’ students as well — are doing oh so well at Emory.

    Well, that and the fact that testing trumps all, and there’s no grammar/usage section on the SAT. At least, not that I remember.

  34. a mouthpiece to appease the power brokers of the far right elite who want to keep the prison-industrial complex intact.

    Please tell me you don’t mean that with a straight face.

Trackbacks

  1. TheGantelope says:

    How Many K’s in College?

    Just took a swing by Joanne Jacob’s edu blog and couldn’t resist sharing a juicy quote from Phili Terzian’s review of Patrick Allitt’s book, I’m the Teacher, You’re the Student: The bad news is not Prof. Allitt, or his course…

  2. Writing Experiences

    Joanne Jacobs has an entry about a new book up on her website. She blockquotes the following passage by the book’s reviewer (the book is about teaching students at Emory University)… . . . the ignorance, laziness, sense of entitlement…