After my General Physical Science lab this week, I am now able to answer that question: Just show up. That’s right, just show up and they apparently let you right in.
The lab was an experiment to measure the speed of sound using everyday materials, no high-tech instruments that measure things to the nth decimal place and take the entire class time to learn how to use. Nope, just a bucket of water, a length of PVC pipe, a tuning fork, and a meter stick. As simple as you can get. After reading the instructions about what a wave is and how to determine the length of a sound wave, none of them had a clue as to what to do. The instructions are written in plain English, so there should have been little mistake as to the meaning. After I demonstrated the technique and they floundered around trying to replicate what they observed, it was time for math. None of these folks could convert centimeters to meters.
At this point I had to wonder what in hell our public schools are teaching these students, or not teaching. And I don’t mean to place all of the blame on the school systems, although some of it does belong there. I’ve had students come into my math class and tell me they had never learned algebra because their teacher was sick most of the semester and the substitute didn’t know anything about algebra, so they just sat out the semester and got passed along. They actually got a grade for not learning algebra! Then they show up at college and enroll.
Where are the parents while all of this is going on? They are the ones who are ultimately responsible for their children, but we can see how well that’s been working. The parents should be the ones reinforcing the importance of an education. But they are usually the ones who just shove the kid out the door everyday for the schools to take care of so they don’t have to worry about it. Well, maybe they should worry about it, because that kid might be the one person who determines which nursing home the parents go to.
So why should students worry so much about getting into college? It obviously doesn’t take much. Just show up and they’re in, at least for public colleges. Private institutions generally screen their incoming students to ensure that they at least have enough knowledge to multiply a number by 10 without the aid of a calculator. But, if a student can’t get into college after a next to worthless education at a public school (largely due to lack of motivation and encouragement from the people to are supposed to love him and help him succeed), what does he do with his life?
As an instructor I can at least attempt to fill in the multitude of holes left in a student’s knowledge with whatever I can manage to put there. A lot of it is basic stuff that he should have already had, but who cares? Maybe, by the time he graduates, if that ever happens, he will be able to understand what he has accomplished and will be prepared to train for a career.
I don’t mean to assert that all college students have been short-changed in their education at public schools. I do have some very bright and knowledgeable students in my classes. They are in the minority, though. The rest of them struggle because they just don’t get what education is. They don’t know how to think and solve problems. No one every explained it to them, especially, not their parents, and they are the ones who should have. These students just want someone to tell them the answer so they can get on with what meager lives they have. Maybe things will change, but not for a long time. I just don’t see it on the horizon. The sun is going down on our public education system.