Ready or Not
by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
Today’s college freshmen are ready to use computers, they look forward to an active social life in college, most have participated in community service and several extracurricular activities, and they have taken the new SAT with its writing test.
How ready are they for the academic demands of their college classes? In Massachusetts, which is usually mentioned as among those having the highest graduation standards, 34% of freshmen at state 4-year colleges and 65% of freshmen at state 2-year colleges are enrolled in remedial classes, according to The Boston Globe, and they will not be able to engage in regular college classes until they finish the remedial ones.
Of course we want our high school students to be athletic, social, popular, and involved in their communities, but this spring the Indiana University Study of High School Student Engagement surveyed 90,000 students and found that more than half (55%) spend three hours a week or less on homework, and a Kaiser Foundation study this spring reported that the average high school st udent spends more than 6 hours a day with electronic entertainment media of one kind or another.
Naturally we want our teenagers to be free to deploy their $billions in discretionary spending as they wish, and we need their support, as consumers, for MTV, Electronic Arts, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, etc., but in the meantime, are they doing enough hard academic work in high school to get themselves ready for college?
A study done for The Concord Review in 2002 found that the majority (62%) of our high school students no longer write a single 12-page research paper in school, and it seems likely that a majority, at least of public high school students, may no longer be assigned a single nonfiction book while they are in high school.
Laura Arandes, a 2005 Harvard graduate, recently wrote that when she got to college, “I had never written more than five paragraphs for any essay or paper in my entire academic career prior to entering university...Modern (U.S.) public high schools have an obligation not to simply pump out graduates at the end of the year, but also to prepare their students for the intellectual rigors of college.”
Nicole Lefebvre, a 2005 graduate of Mount Holyoke College, wrote: “High school taught me how to get into college, but it did not teach me how to succeed once I got there. Just a few weeks into my first semester, I realized that while I was fit to compete on a college track team, I was grossly out of shape for the classroom. Even worse, I didn’t have any concept of what academic fitness was! And I had been an A student in high school—what happened!?”
Perhaps there is good and growing reason to be concerned about the academic competitiveness of students in Singapore, Taiwan, Finland and Ireland, not to mention China and India, and we could decide to re-consider our high school academic culture, which celebrates athletics wholeheartedly, yet allows for 3 hours a week of homework and 44 hours a week f or video games, etc.
As it stands, our high school students are going to college, ready or not, and the benefits they can derive from that expensive experience depend a lot on the level of academic preparation they bring with them from high school. It will be argued that most students eventually make an adjustment, even if it means some dumbing down of their courses by the professors to accommodate them, but it must be understood that because so many arrive unready, they cannot hit the academic ground running, and whatever benefits they may achieve will have been sadly delayed by their lack of academic readiness. Do we care enough to compete with Grand Theft Auto, the last version of which sold 1,000,000 copies in the first week at $50 each, in order to give our high school students the background in nonfiction reading and in academic writing they need to arrive at college ready to go?