High School Classes are not College Prep

Over the years that I have been an English teacher, there has been a steady decline in students’ writing skills.

Every time I assign a major piece of writing, one that is multiple pages in length, I brace myself for the avalanche of papers about to be turned in.   It’s not the sheer volume of 100 plus essays submitted in one day that blows me back; it’s the poor quality that is troubling.

It can be quite disheartening to read student writing from advanced students and realize that these young people, the best in their class, struggle to organize their thoughts, unable to form a clear argument.

Reasons for this decline does not require a Brookings Institute study.  Kids are reading less and teachers are assigning less writing.

In the most recent round of essays I graded, one-third of the papers did not mention the literature being written about in the introduction, and when they did, these 15-year-olds did not properly punctuate the book title.

Like turning a car engine on and off, their papers began, ended and began again in just two paragraphs, each paragraph reading as a new beginning, lacking transitions or threads to the thesis.

They often bounced back and forth between present and past tense, singular and plural pronoun forms in the same sentence.

And some students decided to analyze the film version, not the book itself, perhaps because they did not read it.

I teach my students that the best mistake prevention tool when writing is to read their paper out loud; few did it as evidenced by the scores of typos not caught by a spellchecker.  What else explains not capitalizing names of characters or misspelling the names altogether.

I asked my students how many of their teachers (other than me) require them to write an expository essay:  53 percent said one, 14 percent said none.

Of course, students don’t have to write full-fledged essays to practice writing.   Students can show their thinking by writing multiple sentence answers to test questions.  So, I queried my students on this.

While 40 percent replied that they have two or more teachers who administer these type of tests, 32 percent have just one teacher who does so, while 28 percent have none.   That means, for the majority of the time, students are taking multiple choice tests which require no writing beyond a fill in the blank.

Remember, these students are taking other advanced placement classes, the most rigorous courses the school has to offer.   Think about how little writing must be happening in the regular classes.

The teachers at the secondary level, especially those who don’t teach English, need to have students read critically and write analytically as often as they can.   With so little writing being practiced, students enter college with a huge handicap.

My freshman son volunteered that only a couple of his high school classes prepared him for the level of writing and the amount of reading required in college; this coming from someone who took several Advanced Placement classes.  Even though all the courses were labeled “college prep,” few deserved that distinction.

If one of the missions of high school is to prepare students for university-level work, we are doing a miserable job.

Could this partially explain why only 21 percent of Cal State University freshmen finish college in four years?

Finding a student paper that isn’t riddled with errors is as rare as finding a parking space at the Glendale Galleria on Black Friday.   And when there is a crisply written paper with an eye-catching opening, a strong argument, and quotes which support astute observations, a teacher wants to shout “hallelujah,” with hope in America’s youth restored.

Until the next paper on the pile.

 

Suffering the Dodger Blues

“As a lifelong Dodger fan, I am in blue heaven.”

That was supposed to be the last line in my column this week, celebrating the Dodgers’ first World Series championship since 1988.

Instead, “I feel Dodger blue” is more apropos after they lost the World Series to Houston on Wednesday.

It has been 29 years since the team’s last appearance in the Fall Classic.   Despite having the best record in baseball and home field advantage through all three rounds, they came up one game short.

The media’s spin is that the Dodgers lost to an offensive juggernaut.  Yet in the three Astro defeats, the Dodger pitching staff limited them to four runs in three games.

Actually, the Dodger and Astro teams were almost identical.

Houston’s team batting average was .230, while L.A.’s was .205.

Houston’s team pitching ERA was 4.64, L.A.’s was 4.45.

While Houston had 56 hits compared to L.A.’s 41, each team scored the same number of runs:  34.

The Dodgers’ three victories were games that they had won without a challenge:  Game 1, 3-1; Game 4, 6-2; Game 6, 3-1.  The Astros’ victories in games 2 and 7 were likewise unchallenged:  5-3, 5-1.

Games 2 and 5 were the battles, exciting for the casual fan, gut-wrenching for the Dodger fan with the team on the losing end both times despite having the lead in the ninth inning of Game 2, and giving Kershaw a four-run cushion then a three-run cushion in Game 5.

The Dodgers should have won five of the seven games.

As horribly disappointed as I am, there were positives that came out of the month-long marathon of playoff games.

For the first time, my youngest son got involved in watching the games, riding the emotional roller coaster that Dodger fans know too well.

The Dodgers put on a show that my whole family sat down to watch together on TV in real time (no DVR-ing).   At jubilant moments, we yelled and jumped up and down; at heart-stopping moments, we turned off the TV.

In following the Dodgers and their October run, I didn’t even get a chance to enjoy Halloween.

I was in a Dodger coma.

Reading every article I could find on the Dodgers, even skimming comments posted on the Houston Chronicle website by Astro fans after their losses, did not satiate my cravings.

On game days, I found it hard to focus on my work.

I would tune in to the Dodger pre-game show on radio, then hear callers voice their opinions after the game concluded.

And I did cross off an item from my bucket list when I got two tickets for my oldest son and I to see the first game of the World Series.

Donned in Dodger jerseys and caps, we sat in the reserved section on the third base side halfway towards the foul pole.   It was a record-breaking 103-degree scorcher of a day; even in the shade, my body glistened with sweat.

The game ended up being one of the shortest played in recent World Series history, clocking in at 2 hours and 28 minutes.

Eight days later, the dream season ended.

Still, the Dodger odyssey gave me a respite from Trump’s tweets, natural disasters, and vans mowing down bicyclists.

And that is the beauty of sports—to take you away from the ugliness in the world and give you hope that your team will win.  For if they do, we are all winners.   And if they don’t, after the dust settles, it was still worth it.

Hey, I got to go to a World Series game with my son.