Is Our Children Learning?

Notes From a University Student  12

In order to be a teaching assistant, I had to take a course on how to teach writing. Other than that it was annoying that students in Mexico were taking the course long-distance and that the technical difficulties were interrupting the flow, I have no memory of learning how to teach writing. But I got an A and now I’m a teaching assistant.

In the English department of this university being a teaching assistant doesn’t mean I assist anybody. I just teach. I teach two classes of university students Remedial English.

Pretty much everybody gets accepted to college in this country.  At the university where I’m teaching right now, it’s okay if a student can’t write. It means that he doesn’t pass a required writing test, but he doesn’t have to pass it before getting into college. As long as he passes it at some point during his college education, he’s good to go.

Before taking the test again, the students do have to take Remedial English, and they don’t get credit for it, but again, they can take it whenever they want. Or maybe they have to take it at some point in the first two years or something, I don’t know.

Either way, they can take all sorts of classes, where they are sometimes required to write, even if it’s not much, and apparently they can pass those classes even if they can’t write yet.

And when I say not being able to write, I’m not kidding. I thought I had seen it all by now, but I was wrong. I had students who couldn’t conjugate verbs, and most students couldn’t use “there,” “their,” and “they’re” correctly, or “two,” “to,” and “too.” I still remember learning that in fourth grade in Australia. It’s not rocket science.

These aren’t students with learning disabilities; they have just never been taught effectively. Thank God nobody expects us teaching assistants to teach these students everything in one semester, because that would be impossible, but some small progress can be made. Very small progress.

I make the students run a spell check on their papers before handing them in, for instance. I take ten points off their grade if they don’t. And still they forget. Or they think that their grade will miraculously be sufficient in the end, just like in high school,where the principal puts pressure on the teachers to pass everyone.

(On my last day at that high school I sat in the teacher lounge during lunchtime, hearing the math teacher talk tough about how this certain student was not going to pass his class. The principal was not going to be able to pressure him to pass this kid, no way. The last thing I heard as I walked through the hallway on my way out the door forever was that the superintendent was looking for the math teacher…)

I started with two classes of thirty students each; I now have about fifteen students left in each class. Tomorrow they do their final exams and I expect that at least half will not pass those.

To prove that I’m not exaggerating, I’m including an essay that one of my average students wrote toward the end of the course. Although you might get the impression that he is new to the English language, this kid has lived in America all his life, attending school in the American public school system. The assignment was to give reasons why courtroom reality shows are so popular.

Why are Courtroom Shows Growing?

Over the years people have started to see more and more t.v. People of all kinds of ages watch television. Children watch cartoons and “Sesame Street” while teenager watch the crazy “Jerry Springer show”. Or t.v. series like “Boy meets World” and “Save by bell”. In other hand adults watch the news or Soap Operas. Well a recent poll has shows that courtroom shows have grown in number and popularity. Why are courtroom show growing?

Frist of all, the court shows are aim for certain age group. This age group is the adults and they are responding to it. Why? Well adults have almost nothing to watch at noon. The news is giving in the morning and at night. Leaving only a bunch of soap opera to watch during the noon hours. The court shows came out and the adults watch it because it was different. They were sick tired of watch soap opers. That why the watch court room shows.

Another reason why courtroom show are growing is that they are entertained. The courtroom show have a little action, comedy and excitedment. To start of the judge has attitude. He is not afraid to say whats on his minded. The judge will get mad at the defendant or Plaintiff if they don’t listen or shut up. Judge Judy says something like this “Your mother didn’t teach you to shut up” and people start giggling. The courtroom shows can be compared to the “Jerry Springer Show”. Why? Most of the time the plaintiff and the defendant are always argueing, and wanting to fight, just like the Jerry Springer show.

A third reason why adults watch the shows is because they learn. They learn the different rules in each state. They learn how to use laws for there own benfit. For example, John was watching courtroom show and the case about one neighbor running over mailbox with car.

John will learn what to do and how to do it, if it ever happens to him.

This are just some the thing that make courtroom shows grow.

Granted, this kid probably does speak only Spanish at home and with his friends. Probably his parents can’t speak English. Teachers have been using this as an excuse for students’ inability to speak and write English for I don’t know how long. But this kid has gone to schools where English is spoken all day for at least twelve years.

A Dutch high school student, who speaks Dutch at home and all day except during four hours of English class a week for five years starting at age thirteen, would do a much better job, so that excuse is complete bullshit. Utterly and totally.

The teachers can’t teach. They haven’t been taught how to teach in university. In fact, they can come in not being able to write much better than this student, and they graduate.

It’s not the students’ fault; it’s not the parents’ fault; it’s not even the teachers’ fault. It’s the education system that allows students at every level–from kindergarten to university–to pass automatically, regardless of whether they have been taught anything. There is no quality control, no accountability, no analysis of where the problem lies.

Since I am translating these passages from old letters now in 2011, I can add that seeing this, it’s not so surprising that someone like George Bush went to school for twelve years, then was admitted to Yale, graduated from Yale, eventually became president, and then was shown to not be able to formulate a decent sentence.

His “Bushisms,” as they are somewhat affectionately called, occurred so often that entire daily calendars have been published with them, the most famous one probably being “Seldom is the question asked: is our children learning?”

(From a letter in August, 1998)

In the next post in this series you will find out what debate is like at college level.

8 responses to “Is Our Children Learning?

  1. Haha, again, a lot of valid points here, but keep in mind that Bush got into those schools because of his last name, not because their standards were THAT lax.


  2. I should clarify that their standards are not that lax overall, only for sons of powerful politicians and other similar alumni.


    • I’m not sure I agree completely with that. I know that at better universities you can get more out of your education if you so desire. But the first time I met a harvard student was when I was hiking in Snowdonia, in Wales. I shared a bunk bed at a youth hostel with an English major who like, sort of wrote reviews, you know? For this, like, travel guide. She was like, really wowed by the kitchen at our hostel, because it was, like, kinda modern, you know, with like, light wood kind of cabinets, sort of, you know what I mean? My jaw just dropped. She couldn’t utter a single normal sentence. I’ve also met a rabbi with a doctorate in rabbinical studies from Harvard who didn’t know where Israel was. Granted, he’d been there several times, but he was appalled that his second-grade son was learning that Israel was in Asia. I could go on.


  3. Yes, that is a lax standard, but Bush is not the norm. That was my point. By any measure the students who are admitted to the Ivy League schools are quite qualified. Statistics bear this out. And you’ve met a few Ivy League students who didn’t impress you. You’re a graduate student, so you know that’s not a representative sample. I met a whole group of Harvard students while traveling through Costa Rica. They struck me as smart. That isn’t a representative sample, either, so I’m happy to rely on statistics (including intelligence measures and accomplishments. That’s the best I have to go on. By the way, I met a Dutch engineer staying at a hostel in Alaska. He struck me as smart, too. I’ve met all kinds of people from all over the world a hostels throughout South America. Some of them struck me as dumb, others as smart, most as average. A girl who uses “like” is someone speaking a common American lexicon. I taught students who spoke in that way constantly, yet who when giving a presentation or writing a paper could produce something worthy of a PhD student. Anyway, if you think Americans are intrinsically inferior (which I suppose is more admirable than for Americans to think that they’re intrinsically superior), why are you bothering talking about it? If it’s true, nothing is going to change. We’ll just have to accept reality, right?


    • No, I don’t think Americans are inferior. I’m sorry if you got that impression. I also don’t think the people I mentioned are dumb. Dumb and uneducated are two different things. Don’t get me wrong. I think that at a good university in this country you can get a tremendous amount out of your education. I just think you can also get by with a lot less if you play your cards “right”. My husband and my brother-in-law both went to Ivy League universities. They are both super smart and they learned a lot of valuable stuff. But both of them also spent quite a lot of time and money on things that were pointless.


  4. I owe you an apology. I know that you aren’t saying that Americans are intrinsically inferior. Honestly, I have my own prejudices about my own country, and I hate that I do. I really hate being ashamed of so much of what we do and how we do it. It’s hard to look at my country through the eyes of a foreigner, especially one from a place that I think gets most things about right. I know that what you see is not pretty, and what’s sad is that I see many of the same things.

    I need to believe that there’s something we can do to “fix” our problems. I need to believe that we can come together and figure out how to stop letting millions of kids fall through the cracks every year. LETTING, I repeat. We know what we’re doing, but most of us either don’t know how to stop or, far worse, just don’t care. It’s tragic.

    I really do appreciate your thoughts. We need to hear from more people like you. We’re good at disregarding outside opinions (especially foreign ones), but maybe we’ll something through our thick skulls. So thank you for taking the time to comment on your experiences here. They’re more than valid.



  5. That’s fair. You’re right.


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