Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.
— Community poem based on the original Candidate for a Pullet Surprise, by Mark Eckman and Jerrold Zar.
The incoming admissions staff at the University of Waterloo have a problem with what they are seeing from their prospective students. Articles like these have been fairly common in the past fifteen years or so, and a backlash against some of the worst methods of teaching (especially the “whole language” nonsense and the idea of “open plan” schools) is slowly taking root.
Too little, too late? Can this be turned around? Working in my department at SoTech, where we “educate” the next generation of teachers, I am occasionally frightened by what I see. It is an open secret that our students are an average of 20 IQ points lower than the IQ of the next lowest-performing college. Our professors regularly give grades of B, or even A, to projects that would have been given a failing mark when I was in the fourth grade. One required test for the students, supposedly meant to ensure that the curricula for a grade-school position have been memorized to a sufficent degree, is passed by students “brute-forcing it”. To wit, they repeat the test some dozen times or more (there is no limit on how many attempts one may have, save that it may only be taken once per day and costs a set fee per attempt at the SoTech Testing Center), entering in random answers to multiple-choice questions until they eke out a “passing” grade once. “Prole Twang”, as Sheila would call it, abounds not only in hallway conversations but in classroom presentations. In the case of two african-american professors (who oddly enough carry bachelors’ degrees in “african-american studies”), it is actively encouraged.
It has been said that “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” The more time I examine the fields of teaching, and the more time I see the students passing through these doors, the more frightened I become that this could be true. It is a statement that many would take to be rude and demeaning. There are many good teachers employed in the world. At the same time, there are any number of people who entered the field of teaching because they believed it to be easy. There are a large number who entered the field because they lacked the mental acuity for other professions. Sadly, since “promotion” in the field of teaching is largely about being given older students (kindergarten/preeschool teachers are “promoted” to 1st/2nd grade, 1st/2nd grade teachers “promoted” to 3rd/4th grade, and so on) and the system mostly revolves around the idea of “tenure”, by which a teacher who has been in a system for a number of years can either be promoted or not, but never fired, the field has worked itself into the situation we have today: a large number of people expected to educate middle-school or high-school children about more advanced grammatical, mathematical, or higher reasoning concepts are the very people who repeatedly proved their inability to grasp the very same concepts throughout their own educational career.
It is one thing to have a teacher who cannot understand basic geometry, but can still teach a kindergartener how to count to twelve. It is quite another to find out that, fifteen years later, this same teacher is now somehow teaching a trigonometry class because they have, through the magic of seniority and tenure, managed to “fail upwards” to teaching the ninth or tenth grade.
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