Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s early afternoon here in New Hometown, Florida on Saturday, August 28, 2021. It is a hot, sunny, and humid late summer day. Currently, the temperature is 87˚F (31˚C) under sunny skies. With humidity at 56% and the wind blowing from the east-southeast at 11 MPH (17 KM/H), the heat index is 97˚F (36˚C). Today’s forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies, and the high will be 91˚F (33˚C). Tonight, light rain is expected. The low will be 77˚F (25˚C). The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 30, or Good.
When I was on the Editorial Board of Catalyst, the now-defunct student newspaper of Miami-Dade Community College’s South Campus, one of my jobs was to help write unsigned editorials that reflected the consensus of the board members. I didn’t write too many of those, but I was tapped to do some of the more hard-hitting editorials that were published during the few times that I was a member of the board.
Here is one that I wrote late in my last year on the staff; by then I was the managing editor, which was the highest position I held in my four years as a member of the Catalyst staff.
(Opinions section, November 1, 1989)
Does the average college student graduate familiar with most of the important concepts of American history and social culture, or are most college grads ignorant in these areas, though knowledgeable in their major?
Recent surveys here and around the nation show a serious deficiency in the level of cultural literacy on America’s campuses.
For instance, 36 percent of students here were unable to identify the U.S. President at the beginning of the Korean War (the answer is Harry S Truman).
Only 45 percent could name what the McCarthy hearings were investigating and only 24 percent knew where “the shot heard ‘round the world” was fired.
The roots of the ignorance (and lack of cultural literacy is a serious problem for this nation) lie in the public school system, where a teacher’s primary concern is to teach students to read and write – anything else, such as learning history, geography, literature and foreign languages, is a bonus.
Furthermore, when the courses beyond reading and writing are taught, especially at the high school level, students are faced with dull textbooks and uninspired instructors who just write down dates and names without putting them in a perspective that makes them relevant.
Perhaps the teachers believe the problems they create in uneducated students will be solved by the nation’s colleges.
But for students who attend here the problem is compounded by the structure of the College’s core requirements. Instead of encouraging students to take more history and geography courses, a student here must endure the Core Curriculum, part of which is the Individual in Transition psychology course – PSY 1000 – which many here say is neither relevant nor enlightening.
This course is light on subject matter and heavy on style.
Rather than have students take such a course that adds little or no knowledge of their own culture, we suggest that students be allowed to pick from a selection of courses in fields designed to increase, rather than decrease, cultural literacy.
And, although we believe that the College Level Academic Skills Test is invalid, if it must be a requirement, then it should be revised and expanded to include sections dealing with history, social science, geography and foreign languages.
With today being called the Information Age, students must have the medium of exchange if they are to communicate. And because cultural literacy, as E.D. Hirsch points out in his Cultural Literacy, is what allows us to proceed from a common basis, we need to review the content of the Core courses here so students are on a level field when they leave here and can compete – and cooperate – with students from around the nation.
© 1989 Catalyst and Alex Diaz-Granados