I’m getting to be a crabby old man and I’m not even fifty. But working at a liberal university for eighteen years has taught me never to accept responsibility for my actions or my disposition. Instead I blame my most recent bad mood (the one I’m in right now) on a student who just asked me a question about the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case United States v. Leon, (1984). Wanting to know the holding, he asked if it meant “that the police can rely upon a search warrant they don’t reasonably no is invalid.” I almost told the student there was know way he was going to pass my course if he didn’t no the difference between “know” and “no.” But I just new I would get in trouble if I did.
Of course, when criticizing the low quality of students in higher education it’s important that we not pick on males only (that would be sexist). No discussion of the declining quality of student communication skills would be complete without talking about the role (or was that roll?) of female students. After all, they make up more than 50% of the student body on the average college campus. You are (like totally) aware of their presence when you hear a conversation like the following, which occurred last Tuesday right outside my opened office door:
“I’m just like not real sure what I want to do when I graduate? I like thought I would like major in business but there’s a lot of like math and stuff? Plus, the classes in sociology are like easier and like way more interesting? I just seriously like need to focus on like what I want to do when I get out and stuff?”
None of the young woman’s sentences were actually questions. But the inflections at the end of each sentence (along with the general lack of confidence in anything she said) made them sound like questions. I mean, it made them like sound like questions? I’m sure that that woman has a Facebook account with a “like like” button. So she can like seriously like. And stuff.
Of course, it is racist of me to have just given two examples of declining student quality using white students. Let’s (like totally) fix that by recounting a conversation I heard just this morning as I was walking up the stairwell in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Building, which is sure to be re-named Mike Adams Hall after I retire.
“You did dat. I did not do dat. Yo. Dats right. It’s yo fault. My situation? What about yo situation? I do dat. I do dat. But dats because you done did dat. Dats what I’m sayin’. Dat’s what I be sayin’.”
I have no idea what that young Hyphenated-American student was saying to his cell phone. All I know is that I have the song “Zip-a-dee-do-dat” stuck in my head. Thanks to the Diversity Office it’s the new “Song of the South”!
As much as I enjoy broaching these topics with humor the results aren’t funny when these students get out into the real world to compete in a full-time job applicant pool. So there has to be a serious discussion of how this problem became so pronounced and what can be done about it.
It would be tempting to blame these kinds of problems on the university English departments. After all, they rarely teach students English these days – opting instead to indoctrinate them into post-modern philosophy and radical feminist politics.
It would also be tempting to blame the Schools of Education that pay wacky professors like Maurice Martinez to teach “black English” to white students. Instead of asking the minority to conform to the majority they do the exact opposite – probably because it is more difficult and, hence, would require greater government intervention (read: greater federal grant opportunities).
But the problem is much broader than that. It is a problem stemming from our basic educational mission of promoting multiculturalism and diversity. In this age of diversity we are reticent to correct students for speaking in a “wrong” way or to reward them for speaking in a “right” way. To do either one of these things is to admit that there is a right or wrong way of doing things in any given cultural or social context. Professors who are unwilling to agree that English is the “right” language to speak in this country are hardly willing to assert that there is a right or wrong way to speak it.
President George W. Bush was considered an idiot by most college professors simply because he was inarticulate. One of my colleagues even circulated an email saying that Bush was responsible for the fact that most college students are inarticulate. But Bush is no longer in office and the problem keeps getting worse. Multiculturalism has come up short in our efforts to promote linguistic skill and social competency. It’s time for a new strategery. I think you gnome sayings. Gnome sayin’?