Back to the Future

As an educator, I have always believed that my purpose is to teach students the skills they need to succeed in their academic careers and their chosen professions. As a composition instructor, that means that I focus on teaching students how to write well–how to clearly articulate their ideas for a specific audience and purpose.

Unfortunately, this task seems to become more difficult with each passing year as students enter college less prepared. Over the past few semesters, I have had multiple students tell me that they have never (yes, never!) written an essay in their entire academic career. I don’t know how this is even possible, and, in over 20 years of teaching in higher education, it’s not something I have ever run across before.

Ironically, our Arizona standards expect children in 3rd grade to be writing five paragraph essays using outside sources. When college students have difficulty grasping this concept, perhaps we are simply expecting too much out of our young children–and, as often happens, they fall farther and farther behind. Of course, when teachers are evaluated based on students’ test scores, the focus necessarily changes from learning concepts to practicing for the standardized test. The greater level of bureaucracy that drive our teachers out of the classroom and into more lucrative career options doesn’t help, either.

My point here is that perhaps the future of education depends on us looking back. Instead of trying to lower standards for students, let’s figure out where we’ve gone wrong and fix the problem. In a state that is close to dead last in education, perhaps it’s time that those of us in higher education start taking a more active role in helping to shape the K-12 educational systems so that students come to us prepared for the rigor of college level courses.