By Robert Oliphant
My name is Bob and I've begun to worry about American employability, not just American education. Nor am I alone, judging from a recent national conference, "Education for Success: The Nexus between College Completion and American Competitiveness." To the youngsters in my family, these national concerns signal a shift from traditional college degrees over to our international Graduate Record Exam (GRE) as a open door to high tech employment. Three screening tests and eight specific-subject ordeals (biochemistry, microbiology, chemistry, biology, mathematics, psychology, computer science, and literature in English) — that's the new game in town, kiddos!
It's also the new game worldwide, since GRE now offers its tests in over 300 foreign nations, one of which (India) is already offering a similar employability challenge via its "Aspiring Minds Computer Adaptive Test." In addition — call it Sina English or Spoken Professional American Dictionary English (SPADE) — Americans now face offshore competition centering upon the clarity with which SPADE is spoken in the workplace. So by way of an honest head start, why shouldn't American middle schoolers face up to their GRE-SPADE future — and make it work for them?
For middle schoolers and their parents, a key step here is simply that of becoming a "factualist." This means taking a factual first step by actually examining the GRE website site, especially its 11 sample tests (public libraries also carry these). A second hands-on step is to access Spoken Professional American Dictionary English (SPADE) via dictionary.com or wordgenius.com, followed by a trial run of the New York Times daily crossword puzzle.
Our third step calls for matching up our eight GRE subjects with the related courses and textbooks available at a local community college, e.g., Pierce College in the Los Angeles area (my count averages out to a total of 30 three-unit semester courses) No fraternities and sororities, no parties, no off the wall experiments with sex and drugs — just young minds hitting the books over time as the traditional route toward personal growth and self discovery, along with an impressive 8-subject final exam proctored by the GRE.
From a factualist perspective, surprisingly enough, our fourth step can measure our community college's cost effectiveness by checking its tuition ($1,000 per 18-week semester at Pierce) and then examining the National Center for Educational Statistics figures for a neighboring university (UCLA), e.g., tuition ($11,220 per 10-week quarter), number of entering freshmen (4,000), 4-year graduation rate (36%), and number of baccalaureate degrees awarded four years later (7,000).
Checking the GRE, getting started with the New York Times crossword, checking GRE-relevant community college courses, making a cost-effective comparison between community college study and upscale university study — these four factualist steps will get any middle schooler started in his or her take-charge career, including facing up to our worker-bee principle that persistence trumps brains seven days out of every week.
By way of heavier artillery, I could point out that SPADE-speaking foreign students now have a GRE/employability edge over American students who learn local dialects of American English at home and even in their classrooms. Coming closer to home, I could also remind Americans that the most audible indications of this SPADE-versus-polyglot American English have been hitting our ears in televised interviews from foreign disaster areas like Egypt and Japan, many of whose victims speak perfectly articulated American English in those interviews.
Practically considered I feel there's enough here for any middle schooler to start digging out his or her own facts along the lines sketched out above. After this, why not experiment with some actual GRE/crossword testing? As far as decisions and personal commitment go, these can come later. A little hard work here, a little optimism there — with ten years to play with, the right pattern is bound to fall into place, isn't it?
I hope some of those who read this, young or old, will join the factualism club and start like hanging out with Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, S.I. Hayakawa (a Republican senator), George Orwell and other likeable, sweet-dispositioned folk.
For the present, though, here's to our middle schoolers, to their futures, to their sense of separate self, and to their ability to smell out dishonesty and corruption. Is there any middle schooler, by the way, who doesn't know "The Emperor's New Clothes" — and respect it?