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Today's TEN YEARS AGO Flashback strip reminded me of one of my personal favorites, the strip with the punchline "This is the Sgt. York." In a case of reality imitating art, the U.S. Army recently gave up on development of an Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that had cost billions but didn't work. You can read about it here.
A BETTER CHANCE
President Bmzklfrpz's application might have a better chance if he had a vowel in his first or last name. Or even his middle name(s), if he has any. Just a thought.
PUTS IT INTO WORDS
Dear ol' Garry Trudeau puts it into words for some of us (Molly Ivins called Doonesbury "the best source of information in the U.S.") in an interview with the Irish Times. Anybody who remembers World War II, McCarthyism, the whole scary/scared/scarred Cold War, has got to realize that we're doing better now, and the only constructive attitude is to accentuate the positive. As we're learning in France, if you don't appreciate it, you lose it.
I loved it when Eleanor Roosevelt said "When you lose hope, you lose everything." Bravo, Eleanor, bravo, Garry. I'm at least 20 years older than he is, grew up in the hot war, hit adolescence when the cold one hit the fan. Trudeau rarely gives interviews -- learned early on that they took time, energy, and attention better devoted to the strip. But this one will interest those who have loved the characters like family. For instance me.
As a teacher in a university, I am continually appalled by juniors and seniors handing in papers not as well written as what my children used to give me to review when they were in 8th grade. Some students can't combine similar facts from two articles into one sentence; they can't draw a cause and effect relationship; worst of all, they can't follow directions (if a section of a paper is worth 20 points, I get complaints for deducting 20 points for failure to include that section). I give detailed written feedback on their written work, and despite that, some students can't even use my comments to revise a failing paper into a satisfactory one. This is not an idictment of all students -- in every class there seem to be an equal number of excellent and inadequate writers. It's the excellent ones that help me keep my sanity.
Regarding Sunday's strip on college education: I always wonder, when reading these reports, how much the population outside of college is doing to improve their knowledge, vocabulary and reading skills. Judging by the current state of the economy, politics, human rights and a variety of other aspects of life, not only in America but the rest of the world, they aren't doing much.
As a third year at the University of Iowa, I wonder how true the assessment that students don't learn much in the first two years of college is and what type of knowledge, exactly, was being assessed. In my first year, I studied Indian History for the first time, discovering that it was completely different from any of the American or European history I had studied in advanced high school classes. Now I am beginning my study abroad semester in Mysore. However, most of the knowledge I gained in my first two years I learned outside of the classroom. Going to an out-of-state school, I learned how to pay my own bills, navigate a new city without a car, cope with loneliness away from my friends and family, and make new friends outside of my comfort zone. I consider these skills more important than anything I learned in a classroom.
I always feel perturbed when adults (the baby boomers and older -- those who have abandoned their education) complain that those of my generation are stupid; especially when higher education, swiftly followed by lower education, is usually the first thing cut when the budget comes in.
How is it shocking that kids are sticking to their comfort zones and doing the barest minimum to get out of school with a degree with tuition rising every year? By the time I graduate, I will be almost a million dollars in debt, which frustrates me considering I get the same grade (B) on the essay I wrote in a week as the essay I wrote in the hour before class started. Why do I have to go out of my way to get a real education? Why would I study harder for the same grade as the girl who parties all week, when I could be working to pay off my debt? Why am I working for degree at all when most of the jobs available to my generation are being filled by older workers or outsourced to another country or filled by machines? If it's for the love of knowledge, I may as well cut my losses, get a library card and travel the world.
This convoluted post has one message; We're not the monsters, Doctors Frankenstein. Also; when your generation is ready for nursing homes and medicare is cut, it'll be my generation who takes care of you. Or not. Just something to think about, now that you're out of college.
My sympathies to the VOICE OF DISSENT Swarthmore student. My daughter is having the same experience at Kenyon. It's worth noting that at those colleges (the serious) students do in fact make huge gains in writing, reasoning, and critical thinking. I stand in awe of my daughter and, as an engineer who can write complete paragraphs, nevertheless I'm consumed with envy of the liberal education I couldn't afford. It would be a public service to get the word out, too, that at colleges like Kenyon, Swarthmore, RPI, and others struggling to be "new Ivies" you don't get the good grades unless you earn them. Some degrees still really mean something.
With today's strip, I expected a lot of doom and gloom in Blowback about today's college students, and was not disappointed. But it has always been this way. Every generation predicts that the next generation will destroy us all. I was a child of the '60s and went to college in the '70s, and everyone predicted that my drug-addled, sex-crazed generation would lead this once-great nation down the path to destruction and damnation. It didn't happen with us, and I predict that the social-networking wire-heads of this generation will have just what we need in the future -- less grammar and rote-memory, more getting things done as a group. And a shout-out to "Financially Secure Elders": A ball of wet clay fired from a Wrist Rocket slingshot will drop a rat at about 20 meters.
STUDIED MY BUTT OFF
I studied my butt off all the way through grad school, to avail myself of every bit of education I could digest. I chose a major with good earning potential, but I never lost sight of the fact that knowledge is priceless in its own right. I feel cheated -- ripped off -- every time I encounter another former "honor student" who cannot even put into practice the basics of the technical training college provided me, let alone think critically. I have been called extreme for suggesting that schools -- even elementary schools -- flunk kids who can't do the work. Yet that is the only way some silly piece of paper with fancy writing on it can ever have meaning and value.
It is at least this bad, if not worse, in colleges and universities. At the University of Hawai'i, it's give A's and B's or suffer the consequences. Not only do students complain, but they bring their parents in to complain. UH administration supports this.
The study mentioned in today's strip tested rudimentary thinking skills we are supposed to learn in middle school, like the ability to read a paragraph and separate fact from opinion. It is surprising to see college students lacking in these abilities, but it is no surprise at all to see those same kids fail to get any better after a couple years of college -- and it certainly isn't the college's fault. It is not a college's job to teach remedial 7th grade language arts, and none of the courses are designed for this purpose. Colleges are only culpable inasmuch as they admit these students in the first place, and fail to flunk them out. However, you cannot really blame them for admitting the students if their SAT scores and high school GPAs are sufficient to meet the admissions criteria.
VOICE OF DISSENT
This is one of the only times I completely disagree with GBT. I have to express a voice of dissent regarding today's strip about critical reasoning vs. socializing in college. I have a degree in philosophy from Swarthmore; I received about the best possible education in critical reasoning possible. But I also studied far too much, and didn't socialize anywhere nearly enough. As a result, I was completely burned out -- emotionally and intellectually -- by the time I graduated, and was lacking some key social skills, like how to network, and how to relate to members of the opposite sex. Spending 30-40 hours a week sitting alone in a room reading books was seriously unhealthy for me. So if today's kids are spending more time socializing than on their studies, I say more power to them.
As for the idea that employers care about someone's ability to reason: I've had dozens of interviews over the years. Only one person ever brought up my undergrad degree. He hired me, but it turned out to be one of the worst jobs I ever had. A year after you graduate from college, almost no one cares where you went.
Critical thinking. I've taught university biology for 10 years in 5 U.S. institutions. There are blessed exceptions, but many students cannot write a meaningful sentence. I was accused of using "trick questions" in multiple choice exams because I used different wording (in standard English) rather than simply print a textbook sentence with one word missing. I was told "this isn't English class" when I expected the most basic grammar in short answer questions. Many students seemed unable to generalize from one basic concept to other concepts. They found physiology hard because it required comprehension of a logical sequence of events that was impossible to memorize. Meanwhile, at one California State University, it was accepted by students and faculty that it was impossible to get less than an A or B in humanities courses. Yet essays and term papers in the humanities should be where students learn to create, write and critique a logical argument, and develop critical thinking.
It appears that it has been accepted that an education is the key to getting a job. When they found not everyone could meet the standards, standards were lowered, so that a B.A. is not worth what a high school diploma once was. And of course the corrosive effect of for-profit educational institutions putting student retention and satisfaction above actual accomplishment. Keep up the fine work.
Today's strip is so true of American education in general. I am an eighth grade English teacher, and it is truly frightening how school administrators are willing to pass students just to keep parents happy. Teachers are under so much pressure to slack off on grading standards it's not even funny (unlike this comic, which is one of the bright spots in my day). I've actually had students like the boy in the last panel say similar things to me in all sincerity, no exaggeration.
FINANCIALLY SECURE ELDERS
I enjoyed today's strip. However, I can't help but notice that it adds to the chorus of financially secure elders telling my generation our historic levels of unemployment are the fault of our stupidity, ignorance, and lack of work ethic. I guess I shouldn't be surprised: the older generation has been warning about the decline of the youth for some time. Three thousand years, to be exact. Still, turnabout is fair play. I look forward to blaming my children for a lack of hunting skills when all we have to eat is rat...
It's great to see one delusional deadbeat brought into reality. Perhaps the same thing will happen to Jeff. And Zipper. And Zonker.
Had to laugh outloud seeing your unflappable, smiling, double-chinned bureaucrat process Trff from a dictator into a taco cart operator. Who knows -- maybe two taco carts! Nice work.
Re. OUT OF LUCK. Whatever the current government agency is called, if there is anyone with the wherewithal, gall, and dirt on various federal employees to get a genocidal dictator asylum in the United States, it's Uncle Duke. I'm just saying.
I liked the image of the workers walking while the limousine with the deposed head of state in it passes by. Soon, he too will have the look of dispassionate submission to the fates that these workers do -- like we all do right now. What social commentary. Thank you, Garry.
TRFF AND ZONKER
Trff and Zonker should get together and compare notes on being long-standing houseguests.
A houseguest for 134 days? Try 151 days. That's how long I had my unwelcome house guest. Duke has all my sympathy. I hope he doesn't have to resort to messy eviction procedures, since by now Brzwhatsisface has residency in his house. To those inclined to be charitable to suddenly homeless friends, some advice: 1) Do not allow your guest to stay past the time required to establish residency. It can be anywhere from a week to a month, depending on where you live. Be clear ahead of time that (s)he can't stay longer. 2) Do not allow your guest's mail to be delivered to your house. Suspend delivery and pick up at the post office if you have to. Mail can be used to establish residence. 3) Do not allow one stick of your guest's furniture in your home. Offer to pay for a self-storage unit for one month. It's cheaper than a lawyer. 4) Never make promises or assurances such as "You can stay here as long as you need/want." 5) When your time limit is up, be firm and tell them they have to leave. If they resist, do not resort to physical force, intimidation or the like. Call the police and let them handle it.