Larry Moran thinks we need more rigorous admission requirements, and Donald Kennedy is not very happy with the state of creationist textbooks.
Kennedy is currently serving as an expert witness for the University of California Regents, who are being sued by a group of Christian schools, students and parents for refusing to allow high school courses taught with creationist textbooks to fulfill the laboratory science requirement for UC admission. After reading several creationist biology texts, Kennedy said he found “few instances in which students are being introduced to science as a process—that is, the way in which scientists work or carry out experiments, or the way in which they analyze and interpret the results of their investigations.”
Kennedy said that the textbooks use “ridicule and inappropriately drawn metaphors” concerning evolution to discourage students from formulating independent opinions. “Even with respect to the hypothesis that dominates them—namely, that biological complexity and organic diversity are the result of special creation—critical thinking is absent,” he added.
I’ve never quite understood the mentality that has allowed public schools to slip into such disarray, or the parents who insist that their child must be allowed into the college of their choice, no matter how deficient their background. A state college is going to set them back about $20,000 per year; a private college is going to be double that, easily. Yet here come these poorly prepared kids who are going to be paying all that money for instruction in basic algebra, remedial English, and with heads full of unscientific garbage that we need to spend a year draining. It’s such a waste of time and effort on our part and theirs, and these students are going to struggle and suffer and in many cases fail.
In my perfect world where colleges are not facing a painful lack of support from their state governments and were we aren’t scrabbling for students to keep our funding up, I’d tighten up admission standards across the board: you don’t get into any college unless you can read and write grammatically correct English, unless you know the elements of trigonometry, unless you’ve had at least a year’s instruction in a foreign language, and you’ve been exposed to at least algebra-based physics and have had a good lab course in chemistry. We currently use placement tests for math and foreign languages; I think it would be reasonable to do the same for students who propose to major in the sciences or history or literature. That’s not a lot to ask, actually. Students who don’t know the difference between stoichiometry and a sine should be advised to steer clear of the science buildings until they do; if they’ve never heard of the Magna Carta or think Afghanistan is in Africa, they don’t belong in the humanities, either.
I’m pushing the blame on the public school system, I’m afraid. Primary and secondary teachers are the most important figures in our kids’ educations, and they aren’t getting the support to do their job well.
Prior to Kennedy’s speech, university President John Hennessy introduced the audience to the Stanford Initiative on K-12 Education—a multidisciplinary, cross-campus effort to find novel ways of improving primary and secondary school education in the United States. The $125 million initiative is part of The Stanford Challenge, the university campaign dedicated to finding solutions to the most pressing challenges facing society.
Hennessy said that during a tour of the United States last year, he observed a “crisis of K-12 education in every city.” Noting that science and math education seemed most in need of reform, he pointed to the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which found that less than 25 percent of American 12th-graders tested proficient in math, and only 18 percent were proficient in science.
Every time a school levy fails, every time some anti-education bozo gets elected to the school board, I want to grab the parents responsible and explain to them that that decision is going to personally cost them tens of thousands of dollars when they send their son or daughter off to a college to teach them the stuff they should have learned in 10th grade, that even if their kid is a well-prepared genius it means he will get less advancement in his classes because the instructors are struggling to bring the kids who don’t know algebra up to speed, and that they’ve increased the odds that their child will be one of the wash-outs at the college level. What I see instead is community pressure everywhere to lower the standards at the high school level to get graduation rates up to 100%—they all graduate, sure, but they get a diploma that is becoming increasingly meaningless. To counter the pressure from the people holding the pursestrings that is driving secondary education down into an exercise in babysitting, maybe the colleges need to get tough and specify what a meaningful high school education must contain.