Column #29, posted January 13, 2007
Preparing for a Fictitious College
I can’t tell you I how sick I am of hearing about the role of the high schools in preparing students for college. Legislators, and public officials, who presumably have actually been to college, are worried that students are not prepared for college. This is their excuse for teaching algebra and chemistry and world history – preparation for college.
So, why don’t we consider the professor’s view on this? When I see a new student in a college class, am I concerned he may not know the quadratic formula, the Battle of Hastings, or how to balance a chemical equation?
Of course not.
Preparedness for any class I ever taught would mean knowing how to express oneself in an articulate manner, being able to write clearly, being capable of an original thought, being able to reason logically, and the willingness to work hard to accomplish something.
Is that what the high schools send us? No.
Because they are busy preparing students for a college that doesn’t exist. In this fictitious college, students are left behind because their algebra skills were found wanting and because they had bad SAT scores.
Yes, SATs predict success in college. You want to know why?
The willingness to do the mind numbing memorization and test practice needed to do well on the SAT does indeed predict the willingness to do whatever your professors tell you to do in college. A personality test would predict as well.
Now I will tell you a dirty little professor’s secret. Professors assume, whenever they teach freshman (this is true of teaching first year graduate students as well) that the students have been poorly prepared and they start at the beginning.
Please stop confusing getting into college, which has an associated array of silly hoops attached to it, with being prepared for college, which ought not be the role of high school anyway unless it means learning to think critically and be articulate.