Our best and our brightest: the dismal future of American youth

Three semesters of community college have left me saddened and appalled at the sort of young people who are coming out of our modern-day public education system. When I think that some of these young people may be the leaders of tomorrow, I am absolutely sick at heart.

I was homeschooled. While I never entirely enjoyed being homeschooled, and I believe it had a detrimental effect on me socially, I am definitely thankful now for the first-rate education it gave me. I learned phonics, proper spelling and grammar, unrevised history, morality and discipline. Most of these, it appears, are no longer taught in the public schools, and this is a tragedy in my opinion.

As far as morality and discipline are concerned, I was consistently amazed at the laziness, disregard for rules and respect, and total lack of effort displayed by so many of my classmates over the last few semesters. Showing up for class once in a blue moon, or showing up halfway through class, texting on cellphones during class (I sat near one young lady in one class who spent her time taking photos of herself on her i-phone), surfing the internet or getting on Facebook during class, and admitting one didn’t do the required reading or studying were common occurrences in nearly every class I took. I felt sorry for the teachers, many of whom seemed to be so used to this kind of behavior that they would bend over backwards to try to help their students out—by accepting late assignments, offering extra credit work, and making the tests super easy. I actually felt my intelligence insulted in many of my classes. One of my favorite teachers was one who actually prided himself on being “old-school” and very strict. He refused to cater to laziness or lack of discipline in his students, and many of my classmates complained to me that they thought he was “too hard,” and that’s why they were failing his class. I simply thought to myself, if you did the required reading, took notes, and studied hard, there’s no reason why you should fail the class. I got an A in the class and had one of the highest grades. This wasn’t because I’m a genius—it’s because I studied and paid attention.

Probably the biggest eye-opener, however, has been my most recent class, a course in English Literature. Now, in order to take this class, one has to pass English 111 and 112, basic English composition courses. It’s a wonder to me how half the students even passed those courses to get to English Literature, given the deplorable writing skills I encountered. Under normal circumstances, I probably would never have seen samples of my fellow students’ writing, but for our final exam we had to make Powerpoint presentations of one of our papers and then post them online to be “critiqued” by fellow students. After viewing my fellow students’ contributions, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Being the perfectionist I am, I was so concerned my own presentation would surely be unimpressive compared to others’—however, instead I came away feeling mine was almost “overdone.” This was no reflection of my own brilliance, but a reflection of the poor quality of most of my peers’ work. There were, thankfully, some flashes of intelligence, effort and good writing from maybe three or four of my fellow students, but they were the anomalies. Most of the presentations displayed atrocious grammar, horrific spelling, ignorance of proper MLA format, and a complete disregard for following the requirements of the assignment. Not to mention the layout of the slides themselves was often shoddy, but I’ll overlook that, as maybe not everyone knew how to use Powerpoint.

I was especially surprised by some of the presentations belonging to students whose names I knew, as many of them “seemed” fairly intelligent when speaking in class. However, their writing made them appear almost illiterate. I understand some people have learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, and for those students I’ll certainly grant some leeway—but I highly doubt three-fourths of my class had dyslexia. Then there were the ones who didn’t pay much attention in class and didn’t “seem” overly intelligent when speaking, yet their presentations, to their credit, were better than I expected. So I get that some people express themselves better in writing than in speaking, and writing and making Powerpoint presentations are not everyone’s strengths, so I don’t want to make the blanket assumption that the majority of the students in my class were stupid—in fact, I don’t make that assumption at all. However, when the majority of my fellow college-age students can’t even use proper grammar, make complete sentences, and use proper spelling, let alone follow instructions, I am forced to assume that, while they may not be stupid, they are certainly ignorant and lazy. And this is heartbreaking.

It’s sad that, for one of my papers, the professor actually thought I was doing a citation on my “Works Cited” page wrong, simply because she was so used to seeing incorrect Works Cited pages from other students. When I pointed out I was following the MLA format exactly as it was demonstrated in my writing handbook, she apologized to me, explaining she wasn’t used to seeing such “sophistication” from her students. Yikes! If that doesn’t speak volumes about the quality of students coming out of our present-day public school system and entering community colleges, I don’t know what does.

I wish I could say that being a straight-A, 4.0 GPA, Dean’s List student makes me feel good about my academic ability, but the truth is that I hardly know how to really gauge my intelligence when community college is “dumbed down” so much for the uneducated and unmotivated students entering its halls from public schools. I only hope I am being prepared properly for real college courses, in a real university, where the professors aren’t so lenient and demand far more from their students. Meanwhile, I wonder how most of my fellow community-college students think they will get very far in their academic careers if they can barely form intelligible sentences.

What a future this country has to look forward to. Tragic.

4 thoughts on “Our best and our brightest: the dismal future of American youth

  1. I completely agree with your findings, it is truly tragic.

    As a homeschooling mom I am intrigued by your comment, “…I believe it had a detrimental effect on me socially,…”. Would you please elaborate? I would love to hear your perspective.

  2. Hi, thanks for the comment and question. I’d be happy to give you my perspective on homeschooling. Before answering, however, I just want to say that every homeschooling experience is different, so please don’t assume my experience will be true for everyone who’s ever been homeschooled.

    I say my experience had a detrimental effect mainly because I was so sheltered growing up and my only “friends” and playmates were my siblings (I’m one of eight). My family did meet with some other families, but from 1st or 2nd grade all the way through high school graduation I had no other girls my age to socialize with. There were a couple boys my age, but they were mean to me and therefore not “friend” material. So essentially, aside from my siblings, and maybe some younger children, I had no real friendships growing up. I’ve struggled connecting with people ever since—especially women.

    My advice to anyone homeschooling their children is simply to make sure they get plenty of social interaction with other children around their age—specifically, same gender interaction. I think homeschooling is great, as long as you do it the right way. Unfortunately, in my case, I think much was done the “wrong way,” and I am still suffering the consequences.

  3. I attended community college right out of public high school and then went on to a university. Later, at various times in my adult life, I enrolled in community college courses to meet specific learning goals that I had. Thus, over the past twenty years I have been in classes on several of these campuses in California. I encountered the same issues that you write about. I observed careless student work, sloppy presentations, immature attitudes, unhealty behavior (lots of smoking), childish creative work, and outright rudeness to the instructors. I came to the conclusion that the community college serves as a “high school review” for many students. It seems as if these students needed another couple of years to grow up. Unfortunately, our culture (transmitted via the media) promotes immaturity and silliness and disrespect so I don’t see much hope for the future, either. Thank you for your reply about expanding the social interactions of our homeschool children. It’s a common concern. However, you may consider that you very well could have ended up just like those other community college students if you had been given plenty of opportunity to interact with more of your contemporaries. I believe that as the years go by in your life, you will do better in socializing (in the variety of situations that life brings) than your peers will. That’s something that should give YOU hope!

    • Hi Linda…thanks so much for your input. I appreciate your encouragement too, though I must point out that I am now an older student, returning to community college for the second time in my life. Many years ago I took classes, right after high school. The funny thing is, I don’t recall the same kind of behavior and ignorance then that I’m witnessing now. As you said, I’m sure a lot of that has to do with the culture kids are exposed to these days. As far as socializing goes, I’ve struggled with that for thirty-some years, so although I’d like to hope things can change, I may be set in my ways by now. But thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

      ~April Marie

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