Friday, January 20, 2006

Commonllegiate Sense

Study finds more than half of students at four-year colleges -- and at least 75 percent at two-year colleges -- lack the literacy to handle complex, real-life tasks such as understanding credit card offers.

This is news?

Don't get me wrong, folks. I'm speaking as someone who has done a cumulative 5 years of undergraduate and 2 years of graduate work, all of which greatly benefited me, as far as I'm concerned. But, here's the deal... We present new college students with all these stupid ideas, beginning with the first lie we tell them-- that college must necessarily be the next step in their education after high school. Rather than presenting a solid college education as a benefit to be enjoyed once you're at the point in your life where you are ready for personal and educational growth as well as learning new skills to improve your career opportunities, it's presented as just the next step in the imsupposedtobeaneducatedcitizen process. And so, it is taken just about as seriously as the previous 13 years of education, which usually tends to be not very.

I say this from experience. When I first started college at age 17 (almost 18), it was just like high school, except without my parents there to stop me from partying. I was in the Honors College at my university, started as a second semester sophomore due to some AP credit, dual-enrollment, and placing out of requirements through exams, and I thought it was all a big joke. I didn't think, "Hey, this school is getting my money, so I'm going to get my money's worth out of them." I just took whatever courses the HC advisor told me to take, without ever really questioning if I had any other options. After a few years of crappy performance, non-performance, and general disinterest, I dropped out of school (by this time on probation with the Honors College, and with grades that were less-than-spectacular). I had very few skills, very little real life experience, and had no idea what it really meant to take on responsibility.

Until I had my son.

When I returned to college three years later, as a single mom, I had discovered a few things about life, none of which were learned in the classroom. Among those life lessons was the fact that if I was handing someone large chunks of MY hard-earned money, they were beholden to ME, not the other way around. I was going to get what I wanted out of my education, and they were going to tailor the degree program to my specifications. I had almost all of my core classes out of the way, and knew there would be some required courses, most of which I enjoyed. But I also knew that many of my degree requirements could be met through my choice of avenues. In my entire 2nd-chance college career, I only took 1 course I didn't want to take but had to. The rest (including about 20 credit hours of directed study courses for which I wrote my own program), I LOVED.

But what does that have to do with college students and common sense? Not much, except that I don't think people go to college to learn common sense, money management (business majors aside), and life skills-- not directly, anyway. Life skills are learned in the real world, if you're actually willing to step out of your ivory tower and live in it a bit. And if you're pretty perceptive, you're likely to pick up more life skills from the process of your college education than you are from the classes themselves. If you aren't so busy partying that you completely dork out, that is.

College has its' place, but I don't believe that the organized educational system is now, or has ever been successful, as a complete and thorough reformer of a society that doesn't value intelligence in the first place. If you go (or send your kids), do it for the right reasons-- to be yet another avenue for the enrichment of an already educational experience-- and not as a replacement for a life that embraces learning.

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