Free Fall

Posted: June 1, 2012 in Corporatism, Education

Stacks of old Chicago Readers sit on my kitchen table waiting for my attention. It’s the only newspaper I read with any regularity, primarily because it excels at long-form journalism that’s focused on the community rather than short-form coverage of national and global ephemera. I’m an avid reader (of the Reader), but I typically don’t get to it in a timely fashion. I finally picked up the August 4, 2011, issue and was especially dismayed at what I found in an article called “The 7 Percent Solution” about the new chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), Cheryl Hyman, who was hired to reform and reinvent the failing institution. To say CCC is failing is a massive understatement. The print article (demonstrating the superiority of paper over pixels) has pullouts with the horrible news:

  • only 16 percent of CCC students transfer to a four-year university
  • a mere 4 or 5 percent earn a bachelor’s degree
  • at least 50 percent drop out in their first semester
  • more than 90 percent of CCC students require remedial work
  • for those coming from Chicago Public Schools, 97 percent require remediation

And the fact providing the title of the article is that “The City Colleges graduation rate [presumably with an associate’s degree], calculated by following first-time, full-time students for three years, is just 7 percent.” It’s hard to know what’s to be done, since academically unprepared students account for a goodly share of those dismal stats. But according to the article, the City Colleges of Chicago, at one point dubbed The People’s College, may never have been intended to be real academies of higher learning but were instead aimed at urban dwellers, adding at some date vocational and job training to its curriculum. The “reinvention” page at the CCC website promises reform, but as the article states, faculty recall such efforts occurring repeatedly without real institutional change. Indeed, it sounds as if corporate-styled strategic planners (not educators) have done their best to rebrand the colleges, but it’s highly doubtful that effort will have much impact on those awful stats.

Adults without true education and understanding of the world aren’t limited to urban Chicago, however. In an article at The New Inquiry called “How Bad Is It?” by George Scialabba, which is actually a review of Morris Berman’s book Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline, further facts culled from the book demonstrate just how badly we’ve entered free fall and become a nation of morons:

Seventy percent of Americans believe in the existence of angels. Fifty percent believe that the earth has been visited by UFOs; in another poll, 70 percent believed that the U.S. government is covering up the presence of space aliens on earth. Forty percent did not know whom the U.S. fought in World War II. Forty percent could not locate Japan on a world map. Fifteen percent could not locate the United States on a world map. Sixty percent of Americans have not read a book since leaving school. Only 6 percent now read even one book a year. According to a very familiar statistic that nonetheless cannot be repeated too often, the average American’s day includes six minutes playing sports, five minutes reading books, one minute making music, 30 seconds attending a play or concert, 25 seconds making or viewing art, and four hours watching television.

Among high-school seniors surveyed in the late 1990s, 50 percent had not heard of the Cold War. Sixty percent could not say how the United States came into existence. Fifty percent did not know in which century the Civil War occurred. Sixty percent could name each of the Three Stooges but not the three branches of the U.S. government. Sixty percent could not comprehend an editorial in a national or local newspaper.

None of this can be much of a surprise to anyone paying attention. Indeed, intelligent conversations is rare these days, with everyone’s attention fixed on celebrities, screen technologies, and TV. Further, it’s quite impossible to convince anyone of anything because no one can track a rational argument, there is no common cultural heritage we all share, and mouth-breathers knuckle-draggers average folks are too easily swayed by emotional rhetoric.

It’s an obvious political issue to consider removing educational opportunity from students, but how badly do educational institutions such at the City Colleges of Chicago need to fail before being shuttered? Chicago Public School superintendents are taking that very action with public schools that are in a similar desultory state. Are the City Colleges of Chicago really interested in educating students, or do they merely take the money (from singularly vulnerable, low-income young adults with hopes and dreams yoked to higher education) and run?

  1. bmiller says:

    Where we live the local high school has a graduation rate of 45%. This is a rural high school in a farming community. But like all high schools in the US the stated goal is to prepare the students for higher education. Of course this is simply window dressing to cover the fact that there is no plan.

    These kids do not come from families that are interested in or have prepared their kids to aspire for anything other than life on the farm. And, that is perfectly fine.

    However, this high school like 90% in the US have dropped their vocational-tech programs. Imagine that? The one thing these kids could be prepared for that would help them earn a living: electrical, mechanical, surveying, welding, etc., they are denied. Because, of course, they are all going to college. Except, they are not. They stay home, watch that 4 plus hours of TV, have babies and spiral down that staircase.

    I’m sure the same is true for the Chicago high schools. We are so short-sighted as a people.

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment, especially the note on rural graduation rate (at least in your community). You appear to be witnessing the same effects described in my post. On balance, I wish I could say that education functions as a panacea to prepare everyone for full entry into adulthood. Regrettably, I suspect that has never been the case. But that’s no reason to hollow out the institution itself, as has occurred by either design or drift.

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