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College Students Lack Literacy 687

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the sad-but-not-surprising dept.
Frr writes to tell us that CNN has a rather disturbing confirmation of what many of us have already seen in practice. In a recent literacy study it was found that "more than half of students at four-year colleges -- and at least 75 percent at two-year colleges -- lack the literacy to handle complex, real-life tasks such as understanding credit card offers." The literacy study took a look at three different type of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents, and having basic math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips.
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College Students Lack Literacy

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  • Complex? (Score:3, Funny)

    by DigitalWar (864198) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:33PM (#14528138) Homepage
    Credit card offers are considered a complex task? What kind of world is this turning into?
    • Re:Complex? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AuMatar (183847)
      Depends on what offer they mean- the basics where it says the interest rate, or the 5 pages of legalese in the full contract. The second is hard unless you have experience in legalese.
      • It's standardized. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Grendel Drago (41496) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:46PM (#14528227) Homepage
        If you've gotten a credit card offer recently, there's a medium-sized standard box they include on the black-and-white legalese page which tells you the real (not introductory) interest rate, for instance.

        Despite this, some people will briefly glance at the color glossy flyer, see "ZERO PERCENT (introductory) INTEREST!" and be shocked, yes, shocked, when the rates hop to twenty-seven percent or something ridiculous like that.
        • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @07:03PM (#14528756)
          Thus leading one to wonder if college students lack literacy, or are simply too lazy to read everything that comes across their face. It's not rocket science, but you do have to read through some pretty small fine print to get to the truth.
        • by Simonetta (207550)
          I get offers from credit card companies that have a pre-printed check for $10 with my name already on it.

          Deep in tiny print on the back of the offer letter there is a notice that if I cash the check, $89.95 will be charged to my credit card for 'account insurance'.

          Credit card companies are ALL assholes. Be sure to pay off the outstanding balance without fail when the first bill for it comes (usually once a month) lest you regret ever associating with these creatures.
      • Re:Complex? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Angostura (703910) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @06:55PM (#14528700)
        Precisely; I was thinking that the really shocking way to have spun this story would have been: "Credit card offers are written in such complex English that they are unintelligible to 75% of college students".
    • And laugh at the 21% interest rate. Honestly, the only literacy skill college students need when it comes to credit card offers is knowing which button turns on the paper shredder.

      -Rick
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:33PM (#14528139)
    My college studys lacked lottery traning, and so farr, I havent one teh lottery yet.
  • by matr0x_x (919985) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:33PM (#14528140) Homepage
    Formal contracts & documents should be written in Internet slang. "If you fail to pay your credit card debt we will take your car lol"
    • by Asmor (775910) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:35PM (#14528156) Homepage
      1337 Collection Agency: Debtors pwned
    • OMG! U forgot 2 use teh word pwn!
    • Re:Easy Solution (Score:5, Informative)

      by chillax137 (612431) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:53PM (#14528258) Homepage
      credit cards are unsecure loans, which means that they cannot take your property as collateral for unpaid debts.
      • Re:Easy Solution (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Malor (3658)
        That used to be true, but I believe the Republicans rammed through a bill that makes credit card debt very hard to escape.

        So, in other words, it IS secured... by almost everything you own. But they still get to charge you the obscene interest rates for 'unsecured' debt. Brilliant move by the banks.

        The Republicans utterly shafted the public with this one... jumping up and down pointing at 'people abusing the bankruptcy system'. They conveniently ignore the fact that the banks were allowed to charge high i
    • by ettlz (639203) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @06:42PM (#14528616) Journal

      Ever tried reading a Microsoft EULA? My God, it's heavy going. I normally think, "sod it, I don't use this nonsense anyway", but as per Internet slang, here's an attempt at translating the one for OEM XP.

      The introduction:

      IMPORTANT-READ CAREFULLY: This End-User License Agreement ("EULA") is a legal agreement between you (either an individual or a single legal entity) and the manufacturer ("Manufacturer") of the computer system...

      and so-forth, meaning:

      We pwnd j00! You think you bought this $H1+? Shut up & do as we say suxxor!11! Dont fuk with us lol

      Leading on to:

      1. GRANT OF LICENSE. Manufacturer grants you the following rights, provided you comply with all of the terms and conditions of this EULA:
      * Installation and Use. Except as otherwise expressly provided in this EULA, you may install, use...

      or, rather:

      Right, one copy, right, on this computer. No more than 5 at a time in here. Make sure you got a code 2 activate this or well cum+get u!!!! Oh yeh dont tamperz wit the drm sh1t, s0ny gets p1553d and then we all suffer lol!

      Next:

      2. DESCRIPTION OF OTHER RIGHTS AND LIMITATIONS.
      * NetMeeting/Remote Assistance Features. The SOFTWARE contains Remote Assistance, and NetMeeting technologies that enable the Product or applications installed on the COMPUTER...

      [An] AOL [user] says:

      1. Share nice, d00dz! 2. We get info on you and ur system, but we dont tell noone. 3. Same again lol! 4. No blingual (sic) stuff! 5. Windows media bitz: l00k but dont tuch, fuxxor! 6. Dont split r $h1t. 7. do wot we say or well terminate ur rights!

      You can tell why I'm not being very throrough here, but I think it gets the gist across.

      3. UPGRADES. If the SOFTWARE is labeled as an upgrade, you must be properly licensed to use a product identified by MS or Microsoft Corporation...

      or:

      if we said its an upgrade we mean UP-grade. Dont try to install it on nothing, you must have sumthing TO UPgrade.

      Now...

      4. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS. All title and intellectual property rights in and to the SOFTWARE (including but not limited to any images, photographs, animations, video, audio, music, text...

      Something got lost in the translation of this one, but it ended with

      are belong to us.

      Ahem!

      lol

      That's more like it.

      5. PRODUCT SUPPORT. SOFTWARE support for the SOFTWARE is not provided by MS, Microsoft Corporation, or their affiliates or subsidiaries. For product support...

      meaning

      if it fuxxors up, nothing 2 do with us guvnor!

      I could go on here, but I'm thoroughly bored. The rest is export restrictions ("dont give this 2 iranians or cubanz lollll") and so-forth. I think this could work out: Google language filter "EULA to AOLspeak", perhaps?

      • Re:Easy Solution (Score:3, Insightful)

        by lasindi (770329)
        I think this could work out: Google language filter "EULA to AOLspeak", perhaps?

        Why would translating something that's almost gibberish into complete gibberish help?
  • Patience (Score:2, Informative)

    by NickCatal (865805)
    Patience... Not Literacy... It takes too much time to read the fine print on those damn offers... Kids these days are too busy getting drunk....

    God Bless College Life
  • Damn (Score:5, Funny)

    by Eightyford (893696) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:35PM (#14528152) Homepage
    I should have went to a US college. I probably could have graduated there.
    • Re:Damn (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Jace of Fuse! (72042) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:42PM (#14528206) Homepage
      Take a US college course online. I work with people bragging about how they're going to have a college degree soon and they know it's utter bullshit. The classes are practically impossible to fail from what I've seen (yet somehow people are failing them anyway).

      When some of my friends say they will have "earned" their right to have a better job, I laugh at them. I laugh because they haven't earned anything. I tell them they haven't learned anything. They haven't even been to college. They simply bought a degree online. That is practically all it is. Buying a degree. No longer are you required to actually learn. It's similar to how high school has become daycare. "No need to learn anything in highschool, you can buy your education online later. Hope you can read tho. LMAO LOL!"

      (Disclaimer: This specifically refers to the online courses in my area, and may not apply to whatever college you take online classes with.)
    • Re:Damn (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "I should have went to a US college. I probably could have graduated there."

      Could of. 'I probably could of graduated there.'

      </anti-grammar-nazi>
  • by Zaurus (674150) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:35PM (#14528154)
    I, for one, am not surprised. I never read __less__ books in my life than when I was in college. I was much too busy trying to get the course busy-work done to do any reading, or much learning for that matter.
    • Fewer books (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:42PM (#14528202)
      ___Fewer___ books, dammit.
      • Re:Fewer books (Score:5, Insightful)

        by damian cosmas (853143) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @06:02PM (#14528324)
        Grandparent illustrates the point on education and literacy very well.
  • Too True (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    My wife is a Graduate Student at one of the Ivies, and it is amazing how many of the students struggle with putting sentences together in their lab reports. We've found that they manage to construct some "sentences" that would make one of my elementary school teachers cry. It's amazing that these people have the SAT scores to attend this type of school. Apparently the SAT's verbal component doesn't measure ability to construct sentences.
    • Are you talking about undergrad students she works with? Grad schools tend not to look at SAT scores. Admission tends to be based upon other writing tests, letters of rec, resumes, past work, undergrad GPA, etc.
    • Re:Too True (Score:5, Informative)

      by jsimon12 (207119) <tzzhc4@ya h o o.com> on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:45PM (#14528224) Homepage
      My wife is a graduate student at one of the local state schools here in Texas. And she tells me stories about students she has had that don't know how to use a ruler. A freaking ruler for crying out loud, I learned ruler 101 in 1st grade, after I stopped having to write with the giant pencils.
  • Yay diversity! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Only Druid (587299) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:36PM (#14528163)
    Oh, wait, you mean that by including all this concern for non-academic characteristics like sports, diversity (of background, not ideas), and the ilk our schools have lost the ability to test for the right skills?

    I'm sure this thread will fill essentially instantly with anecdotal stories about how dumb everyone was at our colleges. Yes, great, whatever.

    Frankly, I wish everyone could have seen the great 20/20 special on our school system last Friday. We're crippling our ability to compete internationally by focusing on the wrong things: we don't want kids to feel bad, so we've got helicopter parents; teachers don't want to worry about getting fired, so we've got horrible teachers' unions; we aren't willing to let some kids occasionally lose-out because a public school failed to compete with other nearby schools, so we don't have vouchers like most of the European nations; etc.

    Now, someone will come complain about how vouchers are bad for schools (despite universally benefiting the quality of schools in Europe), how unions protect teachers (despite the fantastic proof of how bad such unions were by 20/20, including a 10 page diagram from the Unions showing how difficult it is to fire someone), etc.
  • to those of us who actually deserve to be in college and are spending rediculous amounts for it. Back in the day, college was considered for the incredibly capable. Now, when I sit in my lecture classes of 500+ people, and listen to the conversations around me, all I can think is how utterly useless my degree will be.
  • Math skills to calculate tip? what is internet for?
    http://www.onlineconversion.com/tip_calculator.htm [onlineconversion.com]
    http://www.pocketgear.com/software_detail.asp?id=5 910 [pocketgear.com]
  • What colleges? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:37PM (#14528167)
    So my boss was passing this article around a few days ago to make fun of one of our new hires. The new guy pointed out that all colleges are not equal. Strangely the study doesn't mention what schools were part of this survey. Does anyone know?
    • Re:What colleges? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by xusr (947781)
      Very good point; I was just about to say the same thing. I attend a small private college with exceptional faculty and (as a general rule) exceptional students. Small class size helps; one of my classes last semester had only six students. Of course, there are other obvious benefits of a larger school. Still, A few of my friends who recently returned from studying abroad in Europe have expressed a huge appreciation of our faculty here, saying that the classroom culture overseas is a far cry from what we enj
    • by Black Parrot (19622) * on Saturday January 21, 2006 @06:06PM (#14528355)
      > Strangely the study doesn't mention what schools were part of this survey. Does anyone know?

      Harverd, Printstun, Cornale, and other I've e-leeg colejes.
  • Eduflation? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot (19622) * on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:38PM (#14528174)
    15-20 years ago a guy working on his PhD told me that that getting a PhD had become like getting a MA or MS had been a generation earlier, getting a MA/MS like getting a BA/BS had been, getting a BA/BS like graduating from high school had been, and so on down the chain.

    I've always been tempted to dismiss that as just a "back in my day" story about walking to school in a snowstorm, but it's hard to dismiss certain facts. For example, Robert Graves tells us in his biography [wikipedia.org] that when he an ~8 year old, about 100 years ago, he was "doing ok with Latin, but having trouble with Greek".

    And now people are having trouble with their own native language when they graduate from college...
    • Re:Eduflation? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MoonBuggy (611105) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @06:27PM (#14528500) Journal
      I've always been very interested in this whole 'education is getting easier' thing. In the UK at least, the overall exam results seem to be getting higher each year - this leads to the inevitable accusations that the exams are getting easier. It makes sense - why would classes get collectively more intelligent year on year?

      In education we accept that people can't just be getting inexplicably smarter, so the exams must be getting easier. In sports though, we happily accept that every year or so records get broken simply because the competitors are getting better. I can't see what it is that causes atheletes to improve persistantly [wikipedia.org] and why that logic can't be applied to education. Obviously better equipment technology has some impact on sport, but then so does the internet on education. Trilingual 8 year olds are impressive, but in parts of continental Europe especially I'm sure they're not considered anything special.

      I don't know whether people are getting more or less intelligent, maybe exams are getting easier, maybe not. What can be shown, however, is that humans are progressing in some areas, for one reason or another.
    • What age adult? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by gad_zuki! (70830) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @07:02PM (#14528742)
      >>and so on down the chain.

      Well, heres a partial explanation right here. People tend to develop skills as they need them. 50+ years ago in the US by the time a man was 17 going on 18 he was considered an adult who would be entering the career of his life. In a couple years, if not already so, he would also get married. These people needed to know basic finance but also worked manual labor jobs.

      Now its a bit different. We don't really consider 18 year olds adult in the same sense. Adulthood starts after college graduation. Now we dont enter careers until age 22-25 and get married in mid to late twenties. College finances are not real world finances. You're living off loans, your parents help you out, the state helps you out with aid, etc. So its not surprising that people who we rarely treat as adults act like children. They have no incentive to act otherwise and have no need.

      This is not common outside the US but more common in developed western nations where economies demand people with college and post-college educations for jobs that pay (checked for inflation) what old manufacturing jobs paid.

      Extended childhood and a case of arrested development is part of the price of an educated society that has moved away from manufacturing and into a service based economy it seems.

      I think its being very disingenious to cry "Everyone is stupid nowadays" without look at the radical cultural changes from 50-100 years ago. 200+ years ago people werent getting any education outside a few years of schooling and were getting married at around 15-17 years old and working the rest of their days on the farm. If progress means a longer childhood period then so be it unless you want to be a farmhand or working a lathe for 50 years until retirement somewhere (outside of the western world).
    • Re:Eduflation? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DarkSarin (651985) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @11:47PM (#14530280) Homepage Journal
      I'll give up the mod points, since I am somewhat qualified to speak to the subject on two scores:
      first, I grew up under the watchful eye of a professor--my dad.
      Second, I just finished my MS in Psychology--and am continuing on for a PhD. Education and IQ testing are hallmarks of the science.

      Now for my real comments: dear old dad always stated that he failed about 50% of his incoming freshman students for the simple reason that were unable to properly read or write. Granted, this was not the most presitigious university, but it is still a very sad commentary on the state of affairs. For the record, he taught history--generally Middle Eastern, but frequently world history, or classes on economic history (his dissertaion

      Next, I have heard similar comments, and have a few concerns. First, _never_ trust a single source. One data point is merely an anecdote, and is statistically useless. Second, when viewed from the outside, most experiences do not seem as difficult (or as easy) as they really are. It is difficult, if not impossible, to completely identify the complexities of someone else's experience.

      That said, I suspect that getting a PhD is easier now than it used to be. I also suspect that some of this is strictly due to the level of knowledge and understanding that is required slipping. This is almost impossible to measure. After all, if you measure only the bare facts that are required to do a PhD, you will undoubtedly show that a modern PhD is much harder--there are, after all, many more areas of study available now than 50 years ago, and each area has expanded its body of knowledge--in most disciplines. This is why eventually there will be very few, if any, people who know enough about the entirety of a single subject like psychology or physics to integrate the complete body of knowledge into a reasonably coherent picture--there wil be too much information. There is now. Just as it has its rewards, specialization has its costs.

      The place to begin education reform is not at the college level, however. Education reform does NOT start in the grade schools either. It starts, largely, at home. It is about becoming a society in which education and intelligence and knowledge about useful stuff is valued, instead knowledge about the latest celebrity marriage or affair. Where math trumps football, and physics trumps NASCAR. I've got no problem with a society that produces and enjoys entertainment--I am a geek that loves computer games after all--but when that begins to supplant a thirst for knowledge and fosters an attitude that smart people aren't cool, I get a little jittery.

      If a kids parents don't value education, knowledge and understanding, then the child won't value these either. Too many kids don't learn to read until they are in school of some sort. Too many kids don't learn real math until high school (theory, not simple stuff). I don't remember hearing about certain theorems until high school, but I know that had these things been pushed a little more, I could have learned it. Instead I was stuck in a class with 35 other kids, and told to sit down, shut up and look attentive. School, until college, was infinitely boring for me because of that attitude from most of my teachers. I learned to value learning and knowledge in high school despite the stuff at school, not because of it. I didn't apply that until I got to college. I still pay for my wasted youth.

      Finally, a comment about the renormalization of the "IQ" test scores that a sibling post mentions: this is to be expected. After all, the definition of the IQ score is a normalized score to begin with. It is mental age divided by chronological age, or in other words--how much do you understand compared to what the average person of your age group understands. How smart are you compared to your peers. A very useful concept, but it is NOT a measure of raw intelligence. It developed in France as a method of identifying those children who had special needs and could be helped to catch up
  • There's always the highly lucrative career field of Internet Trolling...
  • by Prof.Phreak (584152) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:40PM (#14528190) Homepage
    I mean, like read a -book- (that's not required for a course)?

    I found that a great many folks (students, and in general) simply don't read anything that's outside of e/mail. That just means that, for the most part, they're -way- less `literate' than folks who do read books (for entertainment value).

    And yes, `useless' novels do increase your literacy.
    • I read a lot of books as a kid, and have been told I'm a fairly strong writer. I'd be interested in seeing statistics linking writing strength to levels of reading as a kid. (I've worked with some horrible writers, and, without consciously trying to, judged them based on their writing ability. I bet they don't read often.)

      Nowadays, I don't do a lot of reading. (Besides the Internet, but I don't think that increases literacy.) I find myself making lots of braindead mistakes these days. While no one (sane) re
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:40PM (#14528195)
    In one of the classes I teach, I had to explain to a student what the word "abundant" meant. Even her Mexican lab partner was rolling her eyes.

    Here's another gem:

    "The geology of Mesa, Arizona is significant because my family has lived there for several generations"
  • It does not surprise me at all that credit agreements are mentioned here. Confusing and misleading are ways that these agreements are deliberately written. The entire point is to make you believe the offer is good, whether or not it may be.

    As many people as possible should be literate. I will, however, point out that creditors are notorious for being misleading and complicated. It is small wonder they do all kinds of crazy things to attract your average, semi-literate 18 year old college kid.
  • The bad news is.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zappepcs (820751) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:42PM (#14528203) Journal
    The bad news is that its not just college students. By the time that a student graduates high school, they should be able to do the things being tested here, never mind college. If all college is going to teach you is to function as well as someone with an 8th grade education 100 years ago, we have a really *REALLY* bad problem.

    People, in general, are lazy, and learning to communicate is not a high priority for many. Learning to do many things is not a priority and until it is, they will not learn it. In all probability, some of those who can't make sense of credit card offers do know all the tricks for a dozen video games. I'm not saying that gamers are dumb, but that this demonstrates they are not stupid, just lazy.

    The school system that my tax dollars help pay for should not cater to lazy students. They should be made to work hard, and learn as much as they can. So, with some trepidation that I've not considered every angle, I blame the school system(s) for the quality of graduates they produce. Yes, I believe that if a kid doesn't want to learn, let them languish behind the grill at a burger joint for a few years to get inspired to go back and learn something.
    • The school system that my tax dollars help pay for should not cater to lazy students.

      Yes, but stupid Americans make fantastic Republicans.

      "He wave flag, he say Jesus, me like Bush. Where my beer? Where my pikup truk?"

    • by Debiant (254216)
      I don't live in US, but I don't think it's just student being lazy. Much depends what people are required to do and what is given to them. Lot of education is being build on the idea of learning to do or understand some specific thing only.

      What good education should be about, is teaching pupils about good common knowledge and deduction skills that make people to undestand how things connect to each other.

      Intelligence itself is in fact much about how well one can handle wide wariety of things, it's mostly a
    • by Ztream (584474) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @06:09PM (#14528377)
      Perhaps life is more complex nowadays? I don't think a person living 100 years ago needed to learn even a tenth of what people need to learn today just to get by. So maybe people aren't lazy, but rather stressed and distracted, causing some "basic" stuff becomes down-prioritized. People today are all too aware of the possibilities of action and knowledge in the world, possibilities that -- if realised -- would take up countless life times. I know it stresses me out, and I think it is a problem humanity will eventually have to deal with.
    • Personally, I think a lot of this stems from grade inflation and its many causes. Instructor compassion, bureaucratic initiatives that try and get everyone to "pass," easy degree programs that idiots flock to, etc.

      I swear, for many instructors the "A" is the new "C." Moreover, the "C" is the new "D-;" however, it's a D- which allows you to attain a prerequisite and move on to the next class.

      Additionally, the bachelor's degree is the new high school degree, and the master's degree is the new bachelor's deg
    • by JimBobJoe (2758)
      They should be made to work hard, and learn as much as they can.

      They (students) do work hard...doing a lot of meaningless and repetitive tasks. The educator Maria Montessorri believed that children are naturally curious creatures and will seek out learning. The purpose of the teacher is to setup the class environment to maximize the curiosity.

      Our school system, has been carefully designed to beat out any creativity and curiosity that a child has. In this regard, the one thing asian schools do better is that
  • by creimer (824291) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:42PM (#14528204) Homepage
    Try being in a resturant during a power-outage or the ordering computer is down, and there's no calculator in the building. That's when you see the resturant staff really struggling trying to figure out the bill and then making change. As my Dad keeps telling me, the fine art of making change without a computer telling what the change is disappeared a long time ago.
  • Statistics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by freddie (2935)
    They always come out with some dire statistic proving that nobody reads, nobody understands math, etc. Its best to take it with a lot of salt, because these studies are probably financed by book publishers, or organizations that would benefit from higher investment in education.

    I would question the benefits of education. The correlation between how much sex one and one's education is inversely proportional. Perhaps we should be celebrating how much more sex Americans are having thanks to the low-level of l
  • 8th Grade Education (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alien54 (180860) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:43PM (#14528212) Journal
    It used to be that you were expected to be literate after completing Grade School in the 8th Grade [goodschools.com]. Now all these new fangled education theories have come in with this result. God help you if you point out that the educational techniques of pre 1900 were far more effective than post 2001.

    but then, the purpose of educational theories since 1900 has not been to create a responsible independant thinking citizen. It has been to create whatever citizen was desirable at the time, be it a willing worker, or a willing consumer. The end result is that we are now reaching the end of the rope.

    Teaching professionals advocate throwing Money at the problem, sort of like in the IBM commercials. When the problem is as ineffective technique. But the teachers are illiterate as well. No wonder some people throw their hands up and go for home schooling, or other solutions.

    • by realityfighter (811522) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @07:44PM (#14528987) Homepage
      Having studied Victorian literature - the good and the nasty - I can tell you that being literate in that time did NOT necessarily convey the ability to communicate effectively. In fact, some of the worst examples we still keep from those days are almost completely unparseable. Take this sentence written by Thomas Carlyle in his most infamous racist diatribe, The Nigger Question. (I use this example because Carlyle was famous for the height of his literacy, and because this is considered the sloppiest of his works.)

      "Taking, as we hope we do, an extensive survey of social affairs, which we find all in a state of the frightfullest embroilment, and as it were, of inextricable final bankruptcy, just at present; and being desirous to adjust ourselves in that huge up-break, and unutterable welter of tumbling ruins, and to see well that our grand proposed Association of Associations, the Universal Abolition-of-Pain Association, which is meant to be the consummate golden flower and summary of modern philanthropisms all in one, do not issue as a universal "Sluggard-and-Scoundrel Protection Society"--we have judged that, before constituting ourselves, it would be proper to commune earnestly with one another and discourse together on the leading elements of our great Problem, which surely is one of the greatest."

      Now, can anyone in the room tell me: What the hell is this guy saying? If I hadn't told you that this was a racist tract, would you have any idea what it was about? The prose of the 19th century is very similar to the way a 14 year old would write today: a jumble of half-connected thoughts strung together with memorized pleasantries. It is like a very stylized and carefully memorized dance. Is it more grammatically accurate than today's average prose? Yes. Does it communicate more accurately? More efficiently? With greater depth? I really don't think so.

      (The same system that you praise was lambasted in its time for relying too heavily on memorization and arbitrary but standard rules. For a critical take on the Victorian school systems, take a peek at Dickens' Hard Times. A critique of a similar modern school system can also be found in Richard Feynman's book, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman.)
  • I have to wonder how private colleges would compare to public. The article mentions that the sample used (seems like a small sample size to me) included results from both schools. It seems to me that it might be worthwhile to sample each of those pools separately. Of course, it's hard to say if that would point to the caliber of students one type admits relative to the other, or if it ends up being a "quality of education" deal. I know that I never took "Table Comprehension 100," but just about _every_ clas
    • The problem with compairing private to public is that the pure nature of private institutions allow for it to be much better.

      1) they can fail out whoever doesn't make the grade, its illegal to fail out a public school student

      2) Private schools unless they take public money do NOT have to follow any public guidelines, the nature of which are 90% of the problem in public schools, because they require numerous insignificant tests and the teaching of pointless PC subjects while not focusing on the basics.

    • Forgot to put this in the first time--duh duh stupid college graduates, right?

      Anyhow, how difficult is it to calculate tips? 20% is divide by five, or double and move the decimal point if that's easier. For 15%, just calculate 20% and 10% (you can calculate 10% while doing 20% if you're so inclined) then guess at--I mean, estimate an average. Who cares about hitting 15% on the cent?

      My problem is remembering _who_ to tip and _how much!_

      On an unrelated note, if there was just one skill that I wish I
  • by gihan_ripper (785510) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:44PM (#14528220) Homepage
    more than half of students at four-year colleges [...] lack the literacy to handle complex, real-life tasks such as understanding credit card offers

    Why is this supposed to be a test of literacy? It sounds more like they don't have much 'common sense', which is surely a good sign in an academic ;)

    Note that this research comes from the Pew Charitable Trust, the same institution which told us that the gender gap is alive and well online [bbc.co.uk], claiming that women use the Internet for socialising and that men use it for hunting down information. They are certainly making a lot of bold statements and getting themselves in the news.

  • Translation: Your dumb as shit but it is okay since the adults are even dumber.

    Hidden subtext: It don't matter since all the tech jobs are outsourced anyway but you can't outsource the burger key at the McD.

    Then again is this really new? Society has always needed far fewer bright people then it needs dumb fucks to do the low end jobs. High tech jobs can be outsourced, the guy picking up the trash has to be local. Worse if we get people who can understand credit card offers how are credit card companies go

  • D00dz! Ths artikle iz TOTALLY b0gus!!! R U kid'N me? Kidz w/poor litracy skillz????? UNPOSSIBLE! WTF? LOL!

  • Often times a non-science major is required to take no more than what amounts to a single survey course in math as an undergraduate. The class sizes for this type of course are huge, and tests are often multiple choice and given on scantron sheets. It doesn't surprise me that a lot of these students would show a lack of proficiency in math.
  • But isn't this great for those of us sufficiently endowed to take advantage of the feebs?
  • by luvirini (753157) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:51PM (#14528250)
    ... as in any other crime.

    The pressure to get people's money and get graduates out the door really means that any college that causes someone to drop out looses thus money.

    So ofcourse they try to make everyone pass.. nevermind the things they are supposed to be teaching.

  • This is just a story in search of a headline. The actual study is neither surprising, nor interesting.
  • Well, perhaps that is not all bad. If our young adults really are so lacking, it might force reform and simplification of these agreements. If you get a large enough portion of the population sucked into terrible contracts because they are dumb as posts, it is very bad for the economy and legislation is likely.

    I've read every "agreement" related to money that I've ever made. Credit card agreements are long and complicated. Do I understand them? Yes. Do I remember all the details in the agreement rig

  • by Aphrika (756248) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:55PM (#14528270)
    I'm reading this and thinking about the earlier story about humans being hardwired for geometry [slashdot.org].

    Maybe the Egyptians were onto something with hieroglyphics - we should have anything that looks remotely complex traslated into a series of small pictures and icons, or maybe even comics. Imagine that; a loan agreement graphic novel.

    And as I type that, I'm looking at the giant icons Slashdot uses for its stories and thinking "hmmm... stick one of those at the top of each printed newspaper story and everyone'll figure out what it's about". For chequebooks and tips, well if you can't do that you either fail sociably or get stung badly. Maths, the choice is yours... probably.
  • When I see something like this, or like that NSF survey of public understanding of science and technology [nsf.gov], which contains some howlers [nsf.gov] (more than half of Americans--and Europeans!--think that lasers work by focusing sound waves, and more than half of Americans think that early humans lived alongside dinosaurs)... I can't help but be confused. I know this stuff; why don't most people? Any explanation along the lines of, "well, I'm a brilliant ubermensch, of course!" is ridiculous; what are the odds of that?

    S
  • by Descalzo (898339) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:59PM (#14528297) Journal
    It's funny. Everyone knows they ANALawyer. Everyone is quick to say, "... but IANADoctor."

    No one ever ends a rant on education with IANATeacher. Why is that?

    • by jkolko (801074) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @06:19PM (#14528439) Homepage
      I am a teacher :) I teach industrial design at an art and design school in the south. I have been continually impressed with the lack of basic reading, writing and grammar abilities of the kids coming out of high school. These kids write things like "new cents" instead of "nuisance" (among other travesties of misfortunate homonym usage), end sentences when they feel like it (often without a verb), and balk at the thought of a three page paper in 8 point font.

      I suppose this is "to be expected": it's an art school, after all. However, my students excel at the type problems listed in the article (interpreting, analyzing, comparing and contrasting) : not only can they interpret things like exercise and blood pressure tables, they continually shatter my expectations when assigned the task of redesigning the 1099 tax form or visualizing the supply chain from raw material to mass produced object.

      My point is, I guess, that these kids are absolutely and systematically awful at "traditional" skills of reading, writing, and rhetoric. They seem to have compensated for these issues, however, by learning to visually unravel problems and to solve them through less traditional methods. I don't think this is taught in high school, and so I'm left wondering two things: where do they learn these "innovative" problem solving methods, and what the fuck ARE they learning in high school?
  • "... lack the literacy to handle complex, real-life tasks such as understanding credit card offers."

    A lack of literacy is a problem, but this example is pretty bad. Most credit card offers today have "features" like multiple interest rates that are applicable based upon various contingencies and multiple-month rolling interest rates. Most attorneys lack the literacy to comprehend these offers, let along the average college student.

  • by NerveGas (168686) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @06:02PM (#14528325)
    ... it's nearly everyone. Last year, our management had some disputes with the building owners, and there was a lot of wrangling back and forth about terms of the contract. I asked one of the managers to let me look over the contract, I sat down with it for about fifteen minutes, and then explained everything to him. He had a hard time accepting that just some random joe (actually, a college dropout) could understand the contract, so he paid a lawyer to go over it, and the lawyer told him that I was correct.

        To be fair, I think that quite a bit of that came from a certain physics professor that I had. He was the head of the department, and I ended up getting him for about 8 of the physics classes that I took. He expected you to understand every nuance of what you had studied, and to understand it *completely*. Often he would ask questions that were seemingly impossible to solve, but if you looked at what he gave you and gave it enough thought, you would find that in every case he had given you everything you needed to know - even if it wasn't obvious that he had.

    steve
    • by rgmoore (133276) * <glandauer@charter.net> on Saturday January 21, 2006 @09:23PM (#14529452) Homepage
      ... it's nearly everyone.

      Apparently including journalists. In a move that should surprise nobody, the reporter who wrote the article doesn't seem to have bothered to look at the data, and relied on the pre-digested summary instead. If you bother to look at the Appendix [air.org] to the report, which is just a few mouse clicks away for anyone who is interested, it turns out that the college students did substantially better than the population at large.

      What's particularly interesting is that they also had a comparison of current college students with college graduates. The current students did better than graduates in all areas of the test. Their average scores were higher, a lower pecentage of them were in the lowest score categories, and a higher percentage were in the highest score categories, with the exception of one test where the 2 year college graduates managed a tie with the current 2 year students.

      It would be at least as honest to report the results as saying that current college students are better equipped for daily life than the population at large. But that wouldn't be alarming enough. More importantly, it wouldn't play to the prejudices of the audience, who want to believe that things are going to hell.

  • And adults are? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JPRoon (940191) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @06:07PM (#14528365)
    I wonder if adults, tested to the same criteria as the posted article, would fare any better. Every generation has morons.
  • by antdude (79039) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @06:14PM (#14528412) Homepage Journal
    BBC News [bbc.co.uk] reports teenagers value the role of science in society, but feel scientists are "brainy people not like them." This was according to The Science Learning Centre [sciencelea...res.org.uk]'s research in London that asked 11,000 pupils for their views on science and scientists.

    Around 70% of the 11-15 year olds questioned said they did not picture scientists as "normal young and attractive men and women". The research examined why numbers of science exam entries are declining. They found around 80% of pupils thought scientists did "very important work" and 70% thought they worked "creatively and imaginatively". Only 40% said they agreed that scientists did "boring and repetitive work". Over three quarters of the respondents thought scientists were "really brainy people". Among those who said they would not like to be scientists, reasons included: "Because you would constantly be depressed and tired and not have time for family", and "because they all wear big glasses and white coats and I am female".

    The number taking A-level physics dropped by 34% between 1991 and 2004, with 28,698 taking the subject in that year. The decline in numbers taking chemistry over the same period was 16%, with 44,440 students sitting the subject in 1991, and 37,254 in 2004. The number of students taking maths also dropped by 22%...

    Seen on Shacknews [shacknews.com]. I believe United States is also like this. Posted on AQFL [aqfl.net].
  • by saskboy (600063) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @06:21PM (#14528448) Homepage Journal
    "Who needs math? There are calculators."

    Ever whipped out a calculator when trying to pay a tab at a restaurant? Who brings their dictionary with them to a place they need to spell correctly?
  • by Lancer (32120) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @06:50PM (#14528663) Homepage
    For example, my local paper ran this same story today with the headline:

    Students lack literate for complex tasks

    Yes, that was the headline. If professional writers and editors blow something like this, what's a poor college student to do? I'd love to think this was done on purpose, some editor's attempt at humor, but mistakes like this are far too common, but usually not so ironic.

  • by Starker_Kull (896770) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @07:04PM (#14528763)
    When I was younger, I was raised in a household with a library. It wasn't a very big house, but the library room was important; this is where my dad would sit and read, and I could do so as well. It never had to be said directly to me (at least, not that I remember), I just understood that the books were important, they were there to be read, and that was an important way to learn about the world. The books were knowledge, and that knowledge was respected. Whenever we visited someone else's house, I would always look at their library, because my father said you can learn a lot about a person by seeing what kind of books they read. A house without books was not a home to me.

    Now, I visit people living in McMansions in various parts of the US, and I find many of them have no library, even though there is far more room for one if they so chose. Not surprisingly, their kids have little interest in reading, because their parents don't read, yet are "successful" - i.e. they have the McMansion and stuff to fill it. What conclusion do you think most kids today will come to?

    "Success" and education APPEAR more uncoupled in today's world than they used to be - and that is awfully hard for even the best teachers to overcome. The people who are drawn to knowledge for its own beauty have always been a very small minority; for the rest, education is interesting to the extent it is rewarding. If the rewards appear less, the education is less interesting and devolves into seeking the form (degrees) rather than the substance.

    Btw, I used to tutor kids in their homes for many years, so I have some experience/bias when it comes to how kids are educated....
  • by Dr_Ish (639005) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @08:08PM (#14529089) Homepage
    I teach at a State University in the Southern U.S. My classes started for this semester on Wed. In my critical thinking class, as it is a large class, I ask students to jot down a few notes about themselves. One of the questions I asked students to answer in this class this week was 'What do you hope to learn in this class?'. One of my students wrote the following in response to this question:

    "I hope to learn skill that will be detrimental to my life and job".

    I am pretty sure that this wasn't a joke. This is scarey!

  • Doom (Score:3, Insightful)

    by smcdow (114828) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @08:55PM (#14529329) Homepage
    It is this, and not outsourcing, that will bring the United States to its knees.
  • by theolein (316044) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @09:05PM (#14529375) Journal
    I am one of those of the generation that grew up without computers. I seriously believe that learning to do maths by hand and read from a book and not a badly written sentence, edited for space by a semi-literate online author are the reasons I don't have these problems. Kids today are entirely helpless without computers (and judging by the quality of English on Slashdot they're helpess with them as well.)

    Switch off the computer, take out a book on elementary algebra and one piece of good English fiction.
    • "Kids today are entirely helpless without computers (and judging by the quality of English on Slashdot they're helpess with them as well.)"

      Oh, they were totally helpless 20 years ago when computers were uncommon. I grew up with kids who had to diagram sentences, do math by hand and read books. Let me assure you that many (most?) of them sucked at it. Most of this hand wringing and wishing for the good old days is a waste of time. There weren't any good old days.

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