Illiterate in college

A star athlete, Dasmine Cathey got through Memphis schools without learning to read and got a football “scholarship” to the University of Memphis. By studying first-grade books and working with university-paid tutors, he went from illiterate to semi-literate — and nearly earned enough credits for a bachelor’s degree in “interdisciplinary studies.” According to The Education of Dasmine Cathey in the Chronicle of Higher Education, many Memphis football players read below the seventh-grade level. Few are good enough to play professionally. What if they’d gotten help in elementary school?

Cathey, who fathered two children with different girlfriends while in college, now drives a beer truck.

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  1. Lightly Seasoned says:

    What if he’d simply done what he was supposed to do in elementary school?

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      He did do what he was supposed to do in ES. His school communicate this to him every time they passed him on to the next grade.

      • Obi-Wandreas says:

        Absolutely correct. Children learn what they are taught. If they are taught that they can move on and receive accolades without any actual academic performance, it would be foolish of them to believe otherwise.

  2. What if we stop assuming that he could, in the right circumstances, have been educated to be ready for college? I’m not saying he couldn’t, but it shouldn’t be accepted as a given.

    That was a wonderful piece, by the way.

    • Clearly he could’ve been educated better than he was in K-12 because the university tutors taught him to read at least at a basic level. Maybe he doesn’t have the aptitude for true college-level work, but it doesn’t take a genius to achieve basic literacy. No way should he ever have gotten out of elementary school without that.

    • What if we stop trying to change the subject to one more to our liking and confront the fact that there’s nothing particularly unusual, with the exception of the athletic scholarship, about this story?

      This isn’t an anomaly but the daily practice of quite a few public education professionals. Perhaps, rather then trying to divert the subject, we ought to grapple with why it is that so many professionals feel no responsibility to do their job and further, why so many professionals feel comfortable committing what is, essentially, fraud.

      • Too true; I’m sure it’s a widespread phenomenon. Even in the leafy suburbs, flawed curriculum and ineffective instructional methods are leaving many kids floundering; cue tutors, whether parents, Kumon or other options. Many advantaged kids manage to learn in spite of the problems, but disadvantaged kids are far less likely to be successful.

        • Kids graduating illiterate isn’t a curricular or methodological problem. It’s a systemic problem and only systemic change will solve the problem.

  3. tim-10-ber says:

    This is a very sad piece and shows what happens in so many Tennessee (and I imagine other state government schools). A kids with no (or little – unclear in the article) family support in a school system that, IMHO, views him only as dollars, doesn’t do what is right for the student. I have to believe he could be taught how to read, believe he should have been held back or put in a T-1/pre-first type program. I imagine Memphis has reading specialist…the kids is old enough to have benefited from Reading! (or whatever it is/was called) and Reading First (or whatever it is called). Oh wait…did those programs even work? Are the reading specialist even able to teach reading…to me this is reflective of a broken home and broken school system. This has nothing to do with him turning into an athlete…these abilities were not known in elementary school. In the end the kid loses…something just doesn’t seem right about this and countless other stories like his.

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    Lots of people in the ed business feel that it is 1) more democratic, and 2) administratively easier to put all age-mates together starting in first grade, and then pass them together up the grades.

    Alas, lots of students get screwed because of it.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Not just this. The community expectations are really low. The people who are supposed to be making sure kids are literate aren’t, for whatever reason, doing their jobs, possibly because they’re only half literate themselves. When there’s no outsider to hold them accountable (like parents) they don’t bother themselves overly much. And this is the reason why NCLB was necessary. For all its flaws, its purpose was to make sure that underachieving districts and schools were reaching for some kind of measurable standard.

    • Ponderosa says:

      I agree, and I’d add that kids get passed along because many educators have a flawed understanding of how intellects develop. They think, oh so what if this kid didn’t learn much in K-8; at some point a switch will flip, he’ll get motivated and then he can start working out his brain. They think of school as a Gold’s Gym for the brain; that motivation and a few months’ training can get a brain in shape. But really the process is more analogous to the human body’s maturation –it’s a slow and steady and cumulative building process –bit by bit bones get bigger and stronger. Day-by-day food is ingested that provides the raw material for cell and tissue building. If a kid does no growing between ages 6 and 16, he’s not going to turn out right. Until we educators grasp that true literacy is the by-product of a solid well-rounded education, and that this education is a SLOW ACCRETION of KNOWLEDGE, we’re never going to fix the system that creates Dasmine Catheys.

  5. The old story of the athlete who gets admitted to a college without the required coursework, ACT/SAT score, and placement exams for English and Math make the students who pushed themselves probably a wee bit upset.

    When will our society quit giving entitlements to persons for being able to sink a basket or score touchdowns on the playing field.


    • Stacy in NJ says:

      The athletes in these circumstances are being ripped off. They’re working (playing a sport) and their only compensation is access to an educational institution that they are not able to utilize properly. Most of these players know that they won’t make it to the NBA – they don’t play at that level. The schools make revenue off the athletes via game tickets. The NBC gets a feeder program at no cost to them. Everyone but the failed athlete profits.

    • NCLB at least forced schools to dis-aggregate data, so that the existence of low achievers was not masked by using mean scores, which was a good idea. Letting states use their own tests and passing scores was undoubtedly a necessary compromise to get NCLB passed, but they are not sufficient to evaluate real achievement Using a standardized test (ITBS, SSAT, ACT etc) would be preferable. Such tests, in whatever combination necessary to evaluate the school population should be annual and should specifically evaluate progress of the highest-achieving kids (who may require the use of a different test than others in their class). School grades should be required to reflect test performance; as opposed to the currrent situation of A and B students failing ridiculously easy state tests. This is grossly unfair to both students and parents.

    • My comment above was intended to reply to the post mentioning NCLB – don’t know how it landed here.

      However, I’ll be really heretical on this topic and advocate the removal of all sports and non-academic extracurriculars from public schools at all levels, as is typical of almost every other country in the world. Extracurriculars can be run by parks and rec departments or other community organizations and can use school facilities, but schools need to concentrate on academics. BTW; my kids were all elite athletes, independent of schools.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      I’d be surprised if this kid was a feenom in the first grade. You have to be in the sixth grade–likely having flunked a year as a redshirt–to be noticed to the extent that you start getting breaks on grades and stealing lunch money and molesting girls.
      IOW, this poor kid was ripped off as a student before he was ripped off as a feenom who helped his coaches look good through the twelfth grade.
      I dealt with some coaches who took seriously getting some shots for their kids. They knew that illiteracy was likely a deal-breaker except at the worst of the D1 schools. They tried to get some book effort out of the kid as well as athletic effort.
      If Cathey’s coach(es) had as many has half a scruple, they were worried about his scholastic ability but, given how he’d been ripped off from the age of six, there wasn’t much they could do.

  6. Actually,

    Less than 5 percent of all college athletes manage to make it to a long term career in professional sports, and in basketball, there are only about 100 spots open in the annual draft, and there are more than 3000 college basketball players (NCAA Division I/II schools).

    Pretty long odds, indeed, and colleges have been ripping off the student athlete for at least the last 25+ years (if not longer).


    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Well, while only a very small number make it to the big leagues, many athletes do graduate with some type of degree. I believe this is particularly true for women athletes. So, for some the trade is fair. The school gets a competitive athlete; the kid gets some type of degree.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        The college women athletes aren’t making the school money. In fact, except for the football and basketball players at, roughly, the top 20 or so programs, *all* the college athletes are a net cost to the school.

        The rip off is mostly for the male athletes in these top 20 programs. The school makes a profit (which is often used to subsidize the other sports). The coaches are well paid. And the players, who are effectively professionals, work for free.

        Yes, the kids get an education. Except that (a) a lot [most?] of them don’t have the basis to make use of it, and (b) they often don’t have the *time* to take “real” classes in a “real” major. On paper, they have a shot at a college education for free. In reality, most of them don’t.

        This doesn’t apply to minor sports (wrestling, anyone?) and female sports (the women are much more realistic about their pro chances).

        And for programs that aren’t top 20 (or so), the school loses money running the program. Paying the athletes would just raise the tuition for everyone else (which doesn’t seem fair).

        But for football and basketball at top-20-ish programs, the athletes are effectively unpaid professionals.

    • How they are being ripped off??? They are getting a FREE college education, free room and board, free meals and all the free tutoring they want. If they fail to take advantage of the opportunity given to them its no one’s fault but their own.

      As someone who worked his way through college and spent 10 years struggling to pay off student loans, I’m sick and tired of hearing about these “poor” college athletes are are soooo abused by the system. They play for 4 years and in exchange they get someone in the neighborhood of 100K in benefits, not bad for a part-time job.

      No one put a gun to their head and forced them to take the scholarship.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        Division 1 football and basketball are *not* part-time jobs at serious programs/schools (e.g. Alabama for football or Duke for basketball).

        No one put a gun to their heads to make them take the scholarship, but the schools *do* collude to not pay the kids. For normal companies, this is illegal. For NCAA sports programs this is fine.

        How do you feel about companies colluding to agree to put a cap on worker pay, Mike? Because the collusion is the only thing that keeps these programs from offering the kids money.

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          Mark. If the schools offered the kids the money, it would be taxable income. From which reduced amount they’d have to pay the school for room and board and tuition and books.
          Given tax law and payments in kind, boot, forgiven loans, etc. this whole scholarship thing ought to be taxable.
          It isn’t, and only the tax guys lose. Am I a bad person for not caring that the tax guys lose?
          On the other hand, the colleges could simply hire teams and not bother with the education thing. Not sure how school spirit and the alums would see that.
          But pro teams seem to garner insanely active loyalty. As, I believe, Seinfeld said, at the end, you’re rooting for laundry.
          But, if the college hired Cathey as an employee jock-type, there’d be no reason to help him, unless he paid a tutor or something.

        • Mark,

          As we both said no one put a gun to their heads and forced them to play.

          I don’t feel sorry for them, they are getting a FREE education, which if they take advantage of, will earn them a great deal of money in their lives.

          In effect, they are getting paid.

          The alternative, to pay these athletes, defeats the purpose of having university sports. It IS supposed to be about the students, right?

    • I’d like to get rid of all college varsity sports, which don’t exist in most countries in the world. In almost all sports (AFAIK football is the big exception), there already exists a club structure leading all the way to the Olympics, so college play is not essential – think swimming, soccer, gymnastics, tennis, track and field, golf, equestrian etc. As far as football and basketball are concerned, let the NFL and NBA run their own farm teams like baseball does.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        “I’d like to get rid of all college varsity sports, which don’t exist in most countries in the world.”

        And yet … US colleges tend to do quite well in international rankings.

        I understand your point, but usually the trend is to move the less well regarded institutions to be more like the better regarded institutions, not the reverse 🙂

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          “”I understand your point, but usually the trend is to move the less well regarded institutions to be more like the better regarded institutions, not the reverse””

          Mark. You’re right. Except when the better regarded institutions are American and the less well-regarded institutions aren’t.

          Not sure about the financial worth of the revenue-sport athlete’s education in terms of future income. The multi-million dollar pro contract player who’s broke three years after retiring is apparently not uncommon. Why a kid who doesn’t make the pros would do any better is unclear. Some drop out after their last season–iow in Jan of their senior year–since there’s no reason from their own POV to stay around.

          That said, I roomed with a guy who was a revenue sport jock and got injured beyond ever playing again. Not having sports to look forward to as a way to make money playing, he raised his GPA from 0.75 to 3.2 (of 4.0) and had a successful career as a HS coach. IOW, getting hurt was the best thing that happened to him in college. Hmmm.

      • Strong varsity sports teams help create an atmosphere attractive to non-athletes. One of the reasons I chose Stanford over Harvard was because Stanford seemed like a more fun school including having competitive sports teams to root for. College isn’t just about academics (though clearly some scholar-athletes have lost sight of the “scholar” part).

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          You mean “Fight vigorously, Harvard” wasn’t enough of a barn-burner for you?

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            Fight Fiercely, Harvard, words and music by Tom Lehrer

            Fight fiercely, Harvard, Fight, fight, fight!
            Demonstrate to them our skill.
            Albeit they possess the might,
            Nonetheless we have the will.
            How we will celebrate our victory,
            We shall invite the whole team up for tea
            (how jolly!)
            Hurl that spheroid down the field, and Fight, fight, fight!

            Fight fiercely, Harvard, Fight, fight, fight!
            Impress them with our prowess, do!
            Oh, fellows, do not let the crimson down,
            Be of stout heart and true.
            Come on, chaps, fight for Harvard’s glorious name,
            Won’t it be peachy if we win the game?
            (oh, goody!)
            Let’s try not to injure them, but Fight, fight, fight!
            Let’s not be rough, though.
            Fight, fight, fight!
            And do fight fiercely!
            Fight, fight, fight!

  7. FYI,

    Athletic scholarships are no longer full four year rides, but rather the majority of scholarships are on a year by year basis (that ended some years ago, as I recall).