Need a Middle School Education? Go to College

Terrence Moore

March 1, 2004

In the world of business, everyone has to answer for the bottom line. When a company does not make a profit, people lose their jobs and are replaced by those who can make a profit. Otherwise the company goes bankrupt. Of course, there have been instances in history when losing concerns were kept operational by the massive influx of money garnished from the citizens. Such was the economy of the Soviet Union. Other institutions are also answerable to the bottom line. Consider the armed forces. In any given action the military is held accountable to the mission. Military troops are made ready for the mission through constant training. The initial training a marine, soldier, sailor, or airman goes through is called “basic training” or “boot camp.” If this training is inferior, the whole system of military readiness crumbles. Can you imagine a U.S. Marine Corps boot camp that did not train recruits to march, to salute, to fire weapons and throw grenades, to read a map and compass, and to render first aid to a fallen comrade? Can you imagine units in the fleet having completely to retrain the inferior products of the recruit depots at an enormous cost of money and time? Realize that in combat, the poorly trained troops would be overrun, and the absence of well-trained troops throughout the armed forces would lead to defeat on the battlefield. Such a situation would lead to immediate dismissal of the commanding generals and staffs of the recruit depots at Parris Island and San Diego. Yet the failure to train our young people for the battles of life, battles they will face first in college and later on in the corporate world or in public service, has become commonplace.

Time magazine has reported that 600,000 entering freshmen, 29% of the total, have to take at least one remedial class in their first year of college. At state universities taxpayers pay for these courses, to the tune of $1 billion per year. Moreover, as any college professor can tell you, students not considered to need remediation have very modest abilities, especially in writing and math. As a result, college professors, Ph.D.’s in philosophy and history and physics and mathematics, end up teaching students things they should have learned in the seventh grade. Tutoring students in basic skills is not the job of college professors.

We hear standards invoked whenever the subject of education is addressed. By standards, journalists and politicians and educators usually refer to the college entrance exams, such as the SAT, or various state standardized examinations. Very often school administrators will complain about being held to standards and speak of the “overtesting” of their students. Realize that today’s state and national examinations were standards developed when education was already in decline. History will show us real standards. The former president of Boston University, Jon Westling, reveals the rigor of college entrance exams over a century ago. “When a student applied to Boston University in 1870, he was expected to be conversant with great works: Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Homer. Candidates for the freshman class took examinations in Latin (on the Aeneid), in Greek (on the Iliad), in mathematics (arithmetic, algebra, geometry), in English (five works of literature, in that year Othello and King John, Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, Carlisle’s Essay on Scott, and The Mill on the Floss), as well as in geography and history.” But Westling goes on. “Rigorous though these may seem, the faculty and administration found it necessary to raise standards higher—quite simply, too many people could meet them, and enrollment hit its limit. Thus, examinations were added to test the applicants’ abilities in four languages other than English.” Think the SAT is tough? Imagine taking it in French.

The questions on every taxpayer’s, on every citizen’s, indeed on every parent’s and on every grandparent’s mind should be: When will the people responsible for the incredible decline in educational standards over the past century be held accountable? When will they have to answer for the bottom line? When will we replace them with other people who can accomplish the mission?

Terrence Moore is an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center and Principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colorado.