American colleges are failing our students, and not by giving them failing grades. Rather, through coddling and laziness and arrogance, our universities are producing a generation of graduates unprepared
for life and for the workplace, as Kathleen Parker writes. While our current recession, by most accounts destined to get even worse
over the next few years, is certainly playing a large role in the fact that today represents the highest unemployment rate for 16-29 year olds since the Second World War, the hard truth is that students are not graduating with most of the basic abilities needed to have a successful career. Writing skills are deficient, arithmetic skills largely undeveloped, and critical thinking abilities almost absent.
Graduates are not only unaware of the details of our government and history, but most of them have little-to-no interaction with Shakespeare, economics, algebra, Aristotle, piano, chemistry, or foreign tongues. Most are unfamiliar with the wonders of Egypt and Rome, the wisdom of Solomon and Socrates, the tales of Twain and Hemingway, the art of Michelangelo and Beethoven, and the statesmanship of Lincoln and Churchill. Instead, they are well-acquainted with luxurious student apartments
, high definition television screens littered around campus, and state-of-the-art recreational facilities. They breeze through relatively simple classes for four years and then accept a piece of paper that they expect to be a boarding pass onto the job market, only now awakening to the fact that the debt they have buried themselves in will not be so easy to pay off.
This shift, though, is not for the lack of want on the part of students to be challenged and to learn these tough and hard things to learn. Recent experience at Ashland University is proof enough of that where, for five or six years, students demanded through their Student Senate and through events and articles and public forums and even a 24-hour sit-in
that the university offer classical languages to students. During my time involved with the issue, the Student Senate also attempted--albeit with less unity than the classical language debate--to make it mandatory for all students to take a foreign language, which was met with opposition from both some faculty and the admissions office for fear of discouraging students from attending such a rigorous program. Early on in the fight for classical languages, I remember one of the many arguments attempted to bring against teaching Greek and Latin was the issue of funding (the same argument that was brought forth when Ashland ended its German language program); I then remember the following year sitting in on a committee meeting going over funding for building the new athletic complex and renovating student dormitories. Students grow accustomed to this coddling as well; I still sometimes get grief from old friends over a decision to agree in negotiations with the administration to shortening the hours that the AU Rec Center was open during Ashland's budget crisis a few years ago ("What? I can't go workout in the gym on Sunday before noon!?"). I say all this with the understanding that Ashland is one of the best options out there for a quality education, and that even a school like this is prone to the mistakes that have poisoned most of higher education.
Students want to be challenged. Young people want to think about hard and noble things. Employers want entry-level workers who can think critically and string a few coherent sentences together. Our nation needs citizens aware of our history and our way of governance. It is difficult, though, for students to deal with this alone--especially with such lavish comforts being dangled before them. Faculty are largely obstinate across the country, and refuse anything that would in their mind diminish their power in their departmental fiefdoms. Parents seem to still be willing to blindly dump tens of thousands of dollars into this ill-fated venture. As Professor Richard Arum of New York University recognized in a recent letter
, the responsibility for getting us back on track rests with the trustees of this nation's colleges and universities. From experience I again know the truth in this, as during my brief struggles with the administration and faculty in college, wise adjudication was always given by Ashland's Board of Trustees in the greater matters. May they continue to safeguard the university wisely, and may others across the country take heed of the warning that Parker and Arum have given them.