Posts Tagged ‘High School Education’

College students who can’t write correct English

November 18, 2015

Alex Small, a physics professor, is frustrated with white, middle-class college students who can’t write grammatically correct English.

I’m in a dark mood from grading.  If I have to constantly correct errors of subject-verb agreement in papers written by native English speakers from the majority ethnic/racial group, then higher education is pretty much doomed. I’m emphasizing their ethnic majority status because we can’t blame this on some sort of disadvantage.  [snip]

Alex Small

Alex Small

The dominant group will periodically allow some sort of largess by which “those people” get their “special program” and if they still don’t succeed then the dominant group can write them off with a clear conscience.  And if they do succeed, the dominant group can put an asterisk on their success, because they obviously only got there thanks to the “special program” (an asterisk that will make some seethe with resentment while others pat themselves on the back).

However, the dominant group will never tolerate their own kids being treated with benevolent condescension.  Good middle-class kids from the dominant group can’t possibly be failing, because their kids are (by definition) the measure of success for the mainstream.  Their kids will get degrees.  Period.

Source: Physicist at Large

I usually dislike the term “white privilege” because it implies people getting something they shouldn’t have.  Not being scared when you’re stopped by police isn’t a privilege.  It’s how everybody should be able to feel.

But the term does apply here, although maybe “upper middle-class suburban privilege” might be more exact.


The case against teaching Huckleberry Finn

January 17, 2011

I wouldn’t recommend teaching Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn in high school, especially a majority-black high school in a poor neighborhood.

The book is peppered with the word “nigger” – much more so than Tom Sawyer, for instance – and this is not a trivial concern.  The word causes extreme resentment and hurt among black people; this is a fact a teacher has to deal with.

So why ram Huckleberry Finn down their throats?  Is the point to make the students bow down and show proper respect to the American literary canon?  Or is it to teach them something of value, and, if so, what?

The turning point of Huckleberry Finn is Huck’s decision not to turn in his friend Jim, an escaping slave, even though he has been taught and still believes that it is his duty to turn in a fleeing slave.  My guess is that if I were a black teenager, I would not be greatly impressed with the moral dilemma of a white boy trying to decide whether people like me are fully human.

Nor would I be impressed with Jim, who allows himself to be led by Huck and later Tom Sawyer, young white boys greatly his inferior in age, experience and wisdom.  The question is not whether Mark Twain’s Jim is a realistic depiction of a black slave in the 1850s.  The question is just what it is of value that black high school students are supposed to learn.

The other problem with Huckleberry Finn is its heavy reliance on dialect.  Mark Twain prided himself on being able to reproduce the accents and speech patterns of the different sub-cultures of the Mississippi Valley, with their bad grammar and with mispronunciations reproduced by phonetic spelling.

It is important for black students from poor neighborhoods to learn standard English.  They’ll be handicapped for life if they aren’t.  There are many great classics that are examples of good English.  Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is a novel fully as great as Huckleberry Finn and it uses excellent English; there are other examples.  If you insist on Mark Twain and a novel with a young central character, how about The Prince and the Pauper? I think poor children in the big city could relate to that encounter of privilege and poverty.


Mr. Plummer and the string stretchers

February 26, 2010

Mr. Samuel Plummer (I still think of him as Mr. Plummer), who was principal of Williamsport (Md.) High School when I attended, gave a talk to a high school assembly on the benefits of education which was remembered for years.  I don’t remember his exact words, but I remember the gist of it.  It went as follows: –

If you look outside the windows of the auditorium, you’ll see men digging ditches for the new sewer main.  It is important work, and it is very hard work, in the hot sun.  If you keep on watching, you’ll see other men putting little pegs into the ground, and stretching string between the pegs, to show where the ditch is supposed to go.  Now stretching string between pegs is much easier work than digging a ditch with a shovel, but strange to say, the men who stretch the string are paid more than the men who dig the ditch.

Now what is the difference between the men who dig the ditch and the men who stretch the string? The men who stretch the string have high school diplomas. The men who dig the ditch dropped out of high school before they graduated. So it is up to you.  Do you want to be a ditch-digger or a string-stretcher? If you want to be a string-stretcher, stay in high school until you graduate.

And if you keep on watching the ditch digging, you’ll see men walking around with clip boards who are doing hardly any work at all. They are college graduates. So you can see the value of education.

Mr. Plummer probably would be gratified to know that the wage gap between college graduates, high school graduates and high-school dropouts still exists. Click on this chart or its duplicate for recent figures.  The chart shows that from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, the average real earnings (meaning pay adjusted for inflation) of people with college educations rose, while the earnings of those with lesser education fell. Since then all groups made slight gains, but the education gap remained.

The difference is that nowadays high school dropouts have a hard time finding any work at all, while high school graduates are competing with college graduates for the jobs equivalent to string stretcher. It really takes a college education to get the kind of job a high school graduate could get 60 years ago.  And while high school education is free, college education is not affordable to increasing numbers of people.

But I don’t think that more schooling for everyone will necessarily close the wage gap.  I’ll go into the reasons below.