My last few entries have got me thinking about certain kinds of knowledge that I assume the average person possesses. I expect a certain level of sense, some basic problem solving skills and maybe a dose of foresight.  It’s not much, really. Now I know, I wait tables, so I have plenty of reasons to disprove my “the average person is competent” theory. But somehow the wealth of inductive evidence fails to preclude my hoping and expecting.

Even in the university I find, more often than not, that the average student is lacking a basic competence for one upon whom a degree has been conferred. (I would venture to guess that many of my students don’t even know what conferred means.) But maybe that’s not entirely their fault. Since becoming a college professor, I often have conversations with students who are dismayed to discover that college courses bear little to no relationship with their high school equivalents. From a student’s perspective, it’s frustrating to realize that the first thing you must learn in any college course is to dump whatever study methods may have served you in the past and quickly pick up some new ones. (Names and dates won’t cut it in college literature classes. Motifs, themes, unanswerable questions…these are the things that matter now.) From a professorial standpoint, it’s frustrating to discover just how much high school graduates don’t already know. (The basic spelling and grammatical errors I encounter on a regular basis are appalling, never mind the historical ignorance.)

The same gap exists, I think, between college and “the real world.” So often college does not prepare you for the actual lived experience of acquiring a job, paying rent, buying groceries, finding health care, navigating relationships, raising children, etc.  Sure, you can write a killer essay in one night but will your landlord care about that come the 1st of the month? Will your senior paper discussing increasing urbanization and the conflicts of public space, parks, and playgrounds empower you to be some sort of expert parent?  Probably not.

This is not to say that I think writing papers at 3am whilst consuming large quantities of coffee and breakfast cakes is unimportant. I wouldn’t be a college professor if I did. In the immortal words of one Sam Seaborn, “Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything.” And he’s right. He’s also right that education is in desperate need of “gigantic, revolutionary changes” because I can tell you, what we’ve got simply isn’t good enough.

Maybe what would help is some kind of preparedness class, required prior to graduation and in addition to one’s major, that would give students the fundamental tools to function in whatever stage of life comes next. High school to college, college to grad school (if applicable), grad school to “adulthood”, and so on. Schools might even offer a variety of courses from which the student could select, given their particular career and family choices, for instance:

  • “Study Skills vs. Study Hall”
  • “College Life and Sobriety”
  • “Jobs I: Acquiring Employment”
  • “Jobs II: Maintaining Employment”
  • “Deciphering the Graduate Program Application and Process”
  • “FAFSA, FICA, and other Important Acronyms”
  • “Managing Financial Obligations: Beyond the Beer Run”
  • “Changing Your Oil and other Vehicle Maintenance”
  • “Home Repair Matters”
  • “Special Topics: Cohabitation, Compromise, and Commitment”
  • “Introductory Parenting: Diapers and Desonate”

It might help. It might not. As one blue-collared individual got famous for observing, “Sometimes, you just can’t fix stupid.”