As an opinion columnist, I am constantly confronted with the problem of composing language that will not misguide, that will present my ideas honestly and accurately, and presenting these facts in a manner that allows my readers to distinguish “objective” news from my very limited, biased, and constructed viewpoints. But a recent study done by The National Survey of America’s College Students found that my efforts are likely wasted on the majority of my audience.
In late January, the survey discovered that only 40 percent of the nation’s college seniors are able to distinguish fact from commentary in a newspaper editorial. A mere 13 percent were considered proficient in this seemingly basic skill. From my personal experience, I imagine that the St. John’s community’s percentage is far lower.
Likewise, a similar 2005 study revealed that only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it.
The declining literacy of college students and, sadly, graduates reflects the delusion of the American university system, a problem that seems to coincide with an increase in state curricular requirements. This standardization of the American university has and continues to breed an environment of apathy and of disenchantment within the upper-educational processes, an endemic that effectively punishes remedial and advanced students alike.
Institutionally, the problem of illiteracy breeds out of the poor foundation provided by elementary, junior, and high schools graduating individuals without basic reading and writing skills.
The emphasis of American education has become terribly determined to pass herds of young sheep through a bureaucratic system; the original goal of education, to educate, is of little or no interest to a large part of these early educational institutions.
This revolving door of illiteracy has festered into the college ranks, perpetuating a culture of apathy, of discouragement and of the alienation of the student from his or her textbooks.
What comes out of this problem of illiteracy is a disinterested populous that is either determined to do as little as possible to “earn” a degree or so bored that exerting effort is realized as superfluous. The standardization of mediocrity in the university educational system breeds apathy upon apathy.
The problem at St. John’s has manifested in the inactivity of political organizations on campus, namely in the recent collapse of the College Republicans, an organization which, in my four years at St. John’s, has been reputably proud, organized, and efficient in their operations and programming. “Dedication was a big problem of why people did not join the College Republicans,” said William B. Ferraro, former president of the College Republicans.
A job without pay is often a tough sell to many college students, especially at a university like St. John’s where so many seem to be dependent on scholarships and student loans to make their way to their degree. But in an era where poor literacy rates reflect a perpetuating culture of intellectual indifference, convincing college students to be active members of student organizations seems nearly impossible. The University doesn’t seem to be making the process any easier, as so many St. John’s students and faculty members continually complain about the priorities of this institution.
As one professor put it, “Branding is more important to the University than education standards.”
In an American scholastic environment that produces more graduates than intellectuals, St. John’s continues to suffer from the mediocrity bred from a persistent compromising of educational standards. If basic academic changes are not made, our proud University will produce a new generation of alumni unfit to analyze or interpret, and unable to perpetuate the formerly grand tradition of our institution.