Dumbing Down

Posted: 13th February 2011 by EricBierker in Academics

As a high school counselor, I have a refrain for students who are college-bound who want to avoid hard classes.

I ask them, “Do you think high school is harder academically or easier academically than college?” They typically reply “Easier” then I build my case that they should choose the harder academic courses while in high school. It is supposed to be a checkmate move and one of these “shooting fish in a barrel” type of question and answer scenarios. Kind of work hard now so later will be less overwhelming.

So obvious, as in let us not waste time debating this topic. Now, in light of this most recent research on college rigor and student learning,  I can no longer count on this as a given.

Although much to complex to deconstruct why this dumbing down is happening in great detail, I am going to lay out 3 major themes as to why this has occurred. These are only my educated opinions, but they are more than just guesses.

1) The Subjectivism of Knowledge – It is very fashionable these days to argue that truth is exclusively personal and private. Arguments like these sound so sophisticated but they are actually Sophistry. Any time someone tries to argue this way, I already dismiss them as a serious thinker. It is a fad, and a dangerous one, at that. For if all knowledge is opinion, especially in the philosophical and ethical realm, watch your silverware as Voltaire did with his servants. Voltaire knew that if his servants believed his philosophy, they would steal from him.

2) Increasing Access, Reducing Quality – There has been an understandable push to open access to college to those peoples and groups who were historically denied opportunity. The nefarious consequence of this, and not all of the consequences are nefarious–some have been quite positive–is that the increased access has been a lowering of expectations and standards. One doesn’t necessarily have to decrease rigor in order to increase access. But, it is the quick and short-terms painless way to do so. We should rather be asking how to we increase opportunity while maintaining high standards. And, if potential students from under-represented groups are perpetually coming unprepared to college, we had better start asking some hard questions why and make some fundamental changes to the status quo.

3) College As A Commodity Like Entertainment – There has been a lot of money thrown at college from government, both Federal and State, but a good deal of that cash has gone to making college more of a Country Club or Club Med rather than a serious academic experience. Anyone who went to college several decades ago knows how spartan the facilities and food were. Now, it is freaking posh in comparison. This pressure for ease and entertainment has been fueled by what up to now has been the profligate funding of government through taxation. I doubt colleges would build multi-million dollars Student Centers is they had to spend all of their own money. It makes me gag when schools like Franklin and Marshall, a local elite college, gets government funding for projects.

OK, so I am throwing these out there for debate…

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