The Faculty Interest Groups (FIG) at RVCC are really so enlightening. Not that other schools have not been supportive or collaborative, but I often find that it’s mostly English or Composition faculty that gather to talk reading and writing. At the last meeting of the FIG I most enjoy—Reading Across the Disciplines—I expected it to be the same (even though “across the disciplines” should seem to include all departments), but we had a number of representatives from across the school and most interestingly, from math and science.
Apparently, more and more students are having problems with or are resisting reading word problems and formulas! According to the particular professors who shared their experiences, students who might be relatively fine with numbers go to pieces when the same problem is presented in word form. The overall principles of chemistry are interesting to them and work in the lab might be engaging, but when asked to read and respond to the specifics of their coursework, it’s a bust.
Is this a lack of interest or a lack of preparation? Is it a lack of comprehension? I don’t rely on blaming the teachers before me. Based on the images above, 2nd graders do work with word problems. High schoolers do have to read in Chemistry class! Teachers often have many odds against them, including student motivation (lack thereof specifically), federal and state regulations (and fads), school resources, time, etc. As well, you don’t have to go to a high-dollar prep school (as my husband would say) to learn how to read, rationalize, hypothesize, and calculate.
Long before the “Smart Ages” (as I like to say—has that already been used?), people have made good use of public libraries and shared/borrowed texts in order to engage in the ideas and discoveries abundant in the world. It might initially be the school system and, especially, the parents that should enlighten children as to what kind of effort intellectual engagement is and should be, but there needs to be a continued emphasis at the college level on differentiating between the rigors of K-12 and the depth and complexity of college material.
If this emphasis fails to reap the results expected, then perhaps we need to address the overall student body of the “Smart Ages.” Many more people are going to college who might well have been fine in vocational training, apprenticeship, and start-ups but who feel that failure will come without the degree in hand. I think there is more failure in the pursuit of the degree for these people but less risk of failure if they followed their talents in other areas that require training other than academic.
Perhaps its not a failure of anyone or any system rather than a failure of modern culture to respect skills not regularly endorsed by academia.