College: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Tom has a blog post about whether you should go to college. Overall, it’s funny and pretty good and he says pretty much what I think about the subject. The only thing I take issue with is this paragraph at the end.

College should produce an educated, literate man or women who are capable of clear expression in English, who are well read in a spectrum of literature, who possess a grasp of Western civilization, who have learned at least one foreign language (no, not Spanish, one that’s in demand), and who are competent in at least a baseline amount of social and scientific knowledge.

The emphasized part is mine because that’s what I want to focus on. Pretty much every college in America fails on that account. I’ve met people from all sorts of schools: Ivy League schools, wannabe Ivies, state schools, and everything in between. Some schools have a foreign language requirement; some don’t. The point is this: to this day, I have met maybe five people, if I’m generous, who have successfully learned a foreign language to a decent degree at university. It just doesn’t happen that often. Foreign languages are hard (I’m the first to admit this) and you have to really, really want to learn one in order to successfully do it.

Basically, we need a major overhaul in university curricula in this country. And the first thing I would do (were I in charge of such a thing) is stop having TAs teach classes. (The second thing I’d do is make the curriculum intellectually rigorous—there’s no slacking off in Natasha’s world, you know?)

3 thoughts on “College: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. Hi, Natalie! Glad you liked the piece. Just as a point of reference, however, two years of a foreign language used to be the *standard* in most colleges back in The Old Days. (And back then, two years was usually enough for a basic use of the language.) That was slowly and steadily replaced with “I placed out in Spanish.” I graduated from what was at the time a middling school in the early 80s, and everyone spoke something (French, German, Latin, Russian, among others, and yes, Spanish), but today, even the kids who claim to have learned Spanish really can’t speak it by the time they graduate.

    • Ah, I see. I hadn’t realized that. At my school, there wasn’t a foreign language requirement and even if there had been, 2 years definitely wasn’t enough to be fluent (or even conversational). It’s too bad education has deteriorated so much over the years. From talking to people in older generations, it seems like it used to be rigorous.

  2. I think taking a foreign language is important because it gives you a basic understanding, so you are not completely clueless when it comes to the subject. It allows you to communicate with more people and be more diverse. I have taken five years of a foreign language throughout high school, mainly because of college, and feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the language. In order to really learn a foreign language, and be able to speak fluently, I believe one has to travel to another country and be exposed to the culture on a daily basis. Whether or not foreign languages in high schools are a waste of time and money completely depend on the students and how they choose to utilize the information presented to them.

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