College Freshmen Reading at 7th Grade Level?

A study cited in Campus Reform posits that college freshmen are reading at a seventh grade level:

“We are spending billions of dollars trying to send students to college and maintain them there when, on average, they read at about the grade 6 or 7 level, according to Renaissance Learning’s latest report on what American students in grades 9-12 read, whether assigned or chosen,” education expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky told Breitbart Texas.

Given the glut of Young Adult novels flooding the market, from the Hunger Games to Twilight to Harry Potter, it makes sense that chosen reading material in high schools and college should be taking a downward turn in terms of intellectual difficulty.

But the fact that required reading should also be declining in quality is largely the fault of education “experts” capitulating to popular demand and the dumbing down of American society. It used to be that high schoolers were required to read the classics. Why is that changing?

I taught literature in high school, and I can tell you with no reservation that the students are not the main problem here. It is definitely the case that students are as lazy and apathetic as ever. But I can tell you that the main problems are the parents and the “good-looking-results-at-any-cost” administrators.

For instance, for world literature, I assigned Book I of Augustine’s Confessions. It’s one of the first autobiographies in Western history, and it is a very important part of the history of literary development. Aside from that, it is an exquisite piece of writing. The students would have been willing to read it too. But I received so many complaints from parents, that I eventually had to cut it from the curriculum at the insistence of the school administrators.

One parent actually said to me, “If you are going to include mythology, you need to include myths from other religions as well.” Ironically, one of my required reading texts was Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. But aside from that, Confessions is decidedly not mythology. Obviously, the parent was taking a jab at the Christian nature of Confessions, but when I asked the parent, “Have you read Confessions?” his response was, “I don’t need to read it to know what’s in it.” I know a few Congressmen who reason the same way.

So there you have it. The emphasis in education has been to make it more fun. We are so happy to have our kids reading that we hardly care what they are reading. That needs to change. Unfortunately, it probably won’t.

So, college professors who should be able to take for granted a certain level of erudition are no longer able to do so. The likelihood of college students having any familiarity with the Western classics is far and away too much to ask. If you wonder why the US is consistently lagging behind other countries in our educational standards, wonder no longer.

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