Deprived of the basics in education, today's students are left to flounder

April 19, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

IT WAS BACK in February that I found myself sitting in Polytechnic Institute's Banneker Room for a debate about what was, then, only a possible American war against Iraq.

A Poly teacher and I tried to argue that the coming war was not one of the United States being the big bully who wanted to give smaller Iraq a smack-around. We mentioned Iraq's violation of United Nations resolutions that called for the use of force if Saddam Hussein were found in material breach. We noted more than once that Hussein had violated those resolutions for 12 years.

Our pro-Bush stance fell on many deaf ears. Some students, in criticizing the war, took on tones that seemed downright anti-American.

"America's a killing machine," one girl said.

The United States of America? A killing machine?

What about Nazi Germany's murder of millions? What about the Soviet Union's Josef Stalin, who killed millions more? What about Pol Pot's genocidal reign in Cambodia?

Who, exactly, is teaching American students these things?

Conservatives have believed for a while that a leftist cadre of teachers is extant in America's classrooms, filling students' heads with propaganda that ranges from liberal to Marxist on the political spectrum.

That hasn't been proved, although I did have a student in an opinion-writing class who said a high school teacher told him Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were innocent. (That was opinion, not fact. Others believe the Rosenbergs, executed in 1953 after being convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, were guilty. But the evidence against them was eyewitness testimony, which should give us all pause.)

A better question than "Who's teaching our kids left-wing dogma?" might be "Who's not teaching our kids basic English?" That should be a distinctly nonpartisan matter of concern to left-wingers, right-wingers and everybody in between.

Those of the baby boomer generation and before need to peruse what follows with some concern.

The writing comes from the newspaper of a college located within a 90-mile radius of Baltimore. I'm not going to single out the paper: Folks might think I'm picking on the school. I'm not, because the errors in it are ones students at all colleges and universities probably make.

"Adan Briones lays motionless on the concrete cement in his sleeping bag."

Lots of folks mistake the transitive verb "to lay" with the intransitive verb "to lie." Apparently the phrase "Adan Briones lies motionless" didn't strike the fancy of either the writer or editors. But concrete cement?

Here are some others:

"Justice Sandra Day O'Connor presented the courts previous support of using gender as a criterion in attempting to integrate women into higher education."

"I don't think most (white) women realize it effects them so much."

"While each noticed the importance of understanding the broader, social, affects of affirmative action ..."

"The groups tribute to Marvin was refreshing."

"With a large turnout and the prevelant energy of the crowd ..."

"The group was so good that they were brought out for an unscheduled oncore."

A quick click of the spell-check button might have avoided the last two errors. Then the writer could have written correctly of prevalent energy and an unscheduled encore. But when students don't know the difference between affects and effects and use the plural form of nouns where the possessive form should be (courts and groups instead of court's and group's), you have to wonder what's going on in high school English classes.

These errors were from a student newspaper at a good college. We can assume the school has good students. This isn't the nitwit brigade making these mistakes.

Public school teachers -- and some who have quit to teach in private schools -- have said the folks running things have ordered them not to teach basics. Thus we have boo-boos like the ones above, and we have students graduating high school without the slightest notion of how to multiply 8 by 9.

Add to this state of affairs the "reformers" who rail against "rote memorization," and you can imagine why we're in this mess. But we baby boomers know that rote memorization led to our knowledge of basic arithmetic facts, as well as passages of William Shakespeare and other classic literary works that remain with us.

It looks like the back-to-basics movement, where traditional and frequently successful teaching methods are employed, should be dusted off and tried more often. Otherwise, our high schools will graduate students who know little more than that their country is a "killing machine."

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