A recent article from Yahoo News has been fairly damning of American University students when it comes to “common sense” and in particular their knowledge of politics. Now, it is quite possible that those who do not attend college are equally as lapse in their political awareness but the problem is we expect a little more from those who attended higher education. And this has been a long held debate when it comes to academia in general.
Those who do not go to college are often seen as more ‘street smart’ or as having more ‘common sense’. These are sweeping statements that are commonly hurled at academics who are seen as people trapped in an educational bubble that is very narrow. They learn majors and gain real knowledge in specific areas while others are shown no attention at all. There is no doubt that a major will deliver strong research powers and an ability to look at arguments/debates from multiple perspectives. But, perhaps sometimes the single viewpoint/fact/decision escapes them.
This is a running debate and one that I find fascinating. I have learned a lot more of life since I left University (as a UK resident) but my ability to turn a writing job around fast and do thorough research would not be what it is today without the skills my degree developed in me. So does one report shed any light on anything – or is it just taking a pop at a small selection of students…lets find out.
The article was written by Dylan Stableford of Yahoo News on March 27, 2014. When asked: ‘Can you name one person currently serving in the United States Senate?’ just one student was able to. They sampled more than a dozen students on the American University campus – so not a big sample by any measurement. There were varying answers of ‘I don’t know’ and incorrect attempts to name a senator. When asked ‘what is the name of the hit song from the movie ‘Frozen’ the responses came quickly and accurately.
The article also pointed out that when Harvard students were asked to name the capital of Canada, they received a multitude of incorrect answers from ‘I have no idea’, ‘Alberta-no, that’s not right’, ‘probably Vancouver or something’, ‘is it Toronto?’. Now I have to tell you that this one I found shocking to say the least! I know without any trace of doubt that the capital of Scotland is Edinburgh, the capital of Wales is Cardiff, Ireland is Dublin, northern Ireland – Belfast, France is Paris and Spain is Madrid. Are American Colleges getting it wrong? Or is this more of a comment on pre-college education. I honestly don’t know. So, how clued up are those people who opt to go straight into work and gather their knowledge and experience through this alternate route?
The fact is we do not know! Nobody does research on specific groups who have not attended college. Yes, there are lots of debates and scathing reports – we have them over the ocean here too. They tell us that children are learning less, have less common sense, are not equipped to live in the ‘real’ world. But, nobody can actually prove this because there are too many variables to come up with an accurate report.
The students of Harvard and the American University were an easy target. Yes we would prefer students to be able to name US senators but perhaps they made a conscious decision not to develop their knowledge of this area. Their friends, who did not attend University/College, may have equally struggled to name them. I think when it comes to common sense I would be more invested in these following areas that people struggle with and need to integrate with ‘real’ life:
- How to pay/calculate taxes
- Know what taxes/payments are for
- How to vote
- What political parties are and what they represent
- How to write a resume/cover letter/anything related to getting a job
- How to write a check/balance a check book
- Anything to do with banking
- How to do loans for college and work out if it equates to a wise investment
- How to jump start a car or other basic emergency things
- How to buy a car or house and avoid being conned
It would be nice if instead of keeping the future all dreamy and letting us see snapshots of it through rose tinted glasses that school actually delivered some ‘street sense’. I do not think we will ever know if college students or academics lack common sense because we just cannot measure it that easily. If they do then it is not their fault so maybe a ‘car mechanics basics’ or ‘finance management’ module should be part of everyone’s major! Just a thought. One I would have opted into – the world is a lot scarier when you are not writing an essay on intertextuality or Marxist connotations in a literary piece. Bet my mechanic couldn’t write that essay! Bet they don’t want to either!
Click here for the video done at American University Campus.