Prof: Students can’t tie their own shoes

In recent years, college students have lost the ability to tie their own shoes, writes Jerry Weinberger, a Michigan State political science professor, on City Journal.  Without their helicopter parents, students lose syllabi, break appointments and can’t find the final exam. They don’t buy the right books — and as many as 20 percent don’t read the books, Weinberger believes.

Before 2004, his final exams would pose essay questions like “Compare Hobbes and Nietzsche on the question of religion” and “What is the difference between Marx and Locke on the origins of private property?” That’s impossible now. Too many would flunk.

Students demand “study guides” before the midterm and the final exams. They want to know “the important chapters” in the reading and “the important points” in the lectures they missed. Above all, they want to know what’s going to be on the final exam.

I then asked them if in high school they’d been “taught to their tests,” especially standardized ones, and provided with study guides and PowerPoint summaries that, in essence, gave them the questions and the answers. My query elicited a sea of nodding heads.

When I gave the exam, some students groused when they saw questions that could be answered only by having read the texts. . . . After grades were in, an excellent student with a 4.0 GPA who earned an A-minus in my class e-mailed me: “It is honestly the first class I have had to work for a grade much since I have been in college. College is full of courses handing out study guides nearly identical to exams, and I thoroughly appreciated this challenge, and actually having to read the material and come to class.”

There’s nothing new about students asking: Will it be on the test? But college students of yore didn’t expect a detailed answer.

Weinberger blames high school prep for standardized tests, but teachers can’t spoon-feed answers to tests they don’t write themselves. Michigan State students earned A’s and B’s in high school. It sounds like they did projects that didn’t require much reading, got detailed study guides for exams and used extra credit to raise their grades.

Teachers, what do you think?