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I THINK, THEREFORE, I'M DANGEROUS!!!

The following essay is an excerpt from my book, entitled, Nowheresville, Everywhere, Earth, with which I contended for the Pulitzer Prize. To order a copy, go to www.barnesandnoble.com  For a free review copy, call (888) 280-7715, during regular business hours in Eastern Time.  Thank you for your interest!



My Informed Opinions On Higher Education


Unfortunately, it seems that the "3 'R's," Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic are the very basics that are necessary for a decent education, and go so incredibly, fundamentally lacking at all levels of education, most surprisingly so, at the level of higher education. For, it is my feeling that one cannot adequately reach for any, much less all that those two extremely laudatory abstracts in the Educational Planning Course Guide, "A minimum Required Curriculum," and "Vocational and General Education: New Relationship or Shotgun Marriage" (Dehner, Oaks 49-59), recommend for a salutary course of higher education without the above-mentioned "3 'R's." Again, unfortunately, most of the people in my milieu lack them to a considerable degree regardless of the level of their education. I have many examples of this, of which I will cite a few here.

In 1991, I started a home word processing service. Over one fall semester, approximately September to January, I typed course papers for approximately six or seven college students, between the ages of late teens to 70, from freshman in college to Ivy League Graduate School, i.e., Columbia Graduate School of Social Work. All of these students, seemed to think that because I was a mere typist (correcting their atrocious grammar, spelling, and punctuation, as well as their inconrrect facts for pay), who inglamourously worked at home in her bathrobe at times, and they were in the rareified atmosphere of higher academia, they were by far more intelligent that I was, knew more than I did, and I'm sure felt they were morally superior to me [insofar as they thought at all!], from the first of them to the last of them!)

In any case, NOT ONE of them, as I have hinted above, could read well or write well; "Ms. Columbia Graduate School of Social Work" went on to earn her degree, I lamentably add, and particularly, could not write in complete sentences! The 70 year old told me, by way of apology, that he used to be very good at English, but over the years, in spite of his assiduous reading and studying, he'd lost "the knack," so to speak, for using it correctly (I can't tell you how many times I have heard this particular lament, and if it is true [which I doubt in the first place], I hope it never happens to me!) Yet another student was a political science major whose native language was not English. His school papers were relatively good (but were "nothing to write home about," as the saying goes, in my opinion), but he later wrote a novel, which he paid to have published, the language of which was so stilted and boring as to be almost unintelligible! I was dumbfounded by the impossibly poor quality of his book because I had picked him out as the only one who had even a passable grasp of the English Language although it was not his lingua franca! To top this off, most of these students were very reluctant to pay the comparatively inexpensive price I was charging to make them look like they actually knew what they were talking about!


So, as a practical experiment, although exceedingly small, 100% of these students of all ages, all grade levels, and all different types of schools and backgrounds, were lacking in the most basic reading and writing skills. (I wouldn't want to begin to see their arithmetic skills; although I know one woman who states that she hates to read [to the point that she hasn't read a three-page letter I sent to her over two weeks ago] but is astute at geometry, trigonometry, and algebra! I find this hard to believe, as I do most of what she says.) This is truly appalling!

With the depth of some of the emotions I have at almost any time I can think of, I am often, even with my extreme ability to articulate what is on my mind, at a loss to find words in which to couch these feelings. How, then, can these people communicate the agonies and ecstasies of existence without proper communication skills except in the most simple-minded ways imaginable, in spite of their college degrees? How can they connect with others through language (meaning, how much can they UNDERSTAND, as well as articulate WHAT they understand) without a rudimentary and clear understanding of how to manipulate, at the very least, their native language? How can they even think clearly? I have found the unfortunate answer to all those questions to be: they CAN'T!

Another problem I find from this general lack of ability to use the English language proficiently in all walks of life around me, is that people cannot easily learn how to pronounce unfamiliar words, for they don't have the ability to "sound them out" or use what is known as "phonics." Almost invariably, when I see someone confronted with a word s/he doesn't know, especially if it is latinate, or a complicated medical term (same thing), etc., s/he simply cannot pronounce it! S/he just can't wrap her/his tongue around those polysyllables. It's just abominable!

Because I am not an educator, and because I know how to "do" English, but would find myself hard-pressed to teach anyone who doesn't know how to "do" English, to "do" it, I do not know what the solutions to this problem are. (I have found Diana Hacker's, A WRITER'S REFERENCE, invaluable in my own studies.) I also have had the same twelve to thirteen years of basic education that everyone else in this country gets (although I started out in another land, the Bahamas, from which, when I first came to America at the age of seven, the school I attended put me in the "slowest" class, because I believe, Americans [in their infinite arrogance] think that every other country is more backward than them, especially in education, whether that is true or not! Most teachers are [or used to be, in any case] pretty smart, even wise, and mine quickly realized their mistake with me). I don't see how anyone can go through twelve to thirteen years of schooling, college notwithstanding, and not know how to read, write, multiply, divide, add, and subtract! THAT is a reality for so many people in this country that I find it hard to wrap my mind around it, as it were! If I'm not mistaken, one of the last despised bastions of communism (beside China), Cuba, has an almost perfect literacy rate! What does that say about America? Not much that's good, I'd venture!


Almost every aspect of life suffers from lack of these skills. For instance, one can't even have a decent conversation without getting sidetracked, going into the farthest digressions from the subject at hand (to the point where everyone concerned can no longer discern what the subject ever WAS to begin with), and getting into arguments because people don't understand the meanings of the words one is saying, etc. All this comes from "woolly" thinking, which so many people are guilty of. Further, this is because no one ever taught them how to think, and because these people conspired in "dumbing themselves down," as the saying is, by buying into what the people who taught them not to think TELL them TO think about themselves and their world. I learned long ago that being too scholarly, learned, and independent of mind is NOT socially acceptable among the masses in this country, lip service to the contrary notwithstanding! It's like having a communicable disease most of the time because of the general low level of people in this country, in general, in that area; people avoid one like the plague!

An article in the Sunday, December 5, edition of The New York Times, in 1993 noted another example of the trend of college educated people not TRULY being educated, even on a minimum level, such as in the "3 'R's." It discussed the findings of a report sponsored by four foundations. Witness: "It [the report] cites as evidence the National Adult Literacy Survey, which found LARGE NUMBERS OF COLLEGE GRADUATES LACKING BASIC READING, WRITING AND COMPUTATION SKILLS" (emphasis mine). . .The report asserts that American universities certify for graduation too many students who cannot read and write very well, too many whose intellectual depth and breadth are unimpressive, and too many whose skills are inadequate in the face of the demands of contemporary life" (qtd. in "Report" A46).

This was in 1993. However, the situation does not seem to be improving and without those basic skills, everything else falls by the wayside. Without these basic skills, one might be able to adequately get along, with or without a so-called college education, but one will never be able to fulfill the promise of much of one's inherent potential, which can be hard enough to do WITH these skills. I don't think that institutions of higher learning are the place to teach these skills, but should be places for broadening one's mastery of this and other knowledge. However, these institutions cannot do that unless, somehow, someone can inculcate the mastery of those basic skills SOMEWHERE along the line in the educational process; if not, as I have found, over and over again, higher education can be nothing more than a bad joke!


avataress@msn.com