Education, Energy, Environment, Featured, Linda Gorman

Is this why so many CO high school students can't write?

Why can’t some Colorado students write? Maybe it’s because some people are too busy indoctrinating them instead of actually teaching them how.

A public high school junior in Littleton, Colorado, was assigned an in-class essay in AP English using prepackaged materials from the College Board. Students were to explain what “key issues” leaders “should consider when making policies that may affect global warming.” The student argued that leaders should consider “how much money, time, and effort” can be spent on fighting global warming without compromising efforts to resolve other key issues.

The teacher from the school did not correct basic spelling or grammar errors. The teacher did not suggest any structural improvements. After making ill-informed and overtly political comments disagreeing with the student’s approach, the teacher told the student to redo the assignment. (The essay, and the teacher’s comments and corrections, are embedded in a PDF below.)

No wonder American high school students can’t write.

Few people have the talent to learn to write without at least one teacher who is willing to take the time to meticulously evaluate their efforts. The student completed the assignment. A professional teacher would have at least taken the time to promote learning by correcting obvious errors. A professional school administration would insist on the same thing.

icon_op_edCollege Board’s source materials were to be used in writing the essay. They read as if they were specifically chosen to convince students that manmade global warming is an accepted fact. The student wrote that signing the Kyoto Protocols would have threatened the US economy, and that it would have reduced income from the auto and oil and gas industries. The teacher’s comments insinuate that such concerns are simple-minded. “Think logically,” the teacher exhorts, “if changes need to be made—This creates New industries! Just Because the US didn’t sign—(Because They were controlled by A Republican President totally tied to The Oil Industry) doesn’t mean the US Shouldn’t have!…(Car industries have Responded Very well to the new realities! Hybrids, electric car—etc–They get it.)”

In fact, the car industry doesn’t “get” anything other than massive government subsidies to produce electric cars that few people want. Anyone with a modicum of common sense, or who has sat through an introductory economics course, can explain why “New industries!” do not make up for the harm caused when arbitrary political limits distort market behavior. Students of the U.S. Constitution would also note that under Article II, Section2, Clause 2, treaties have the force of law only if “two thirds of the Senators present concur” and that the Kyoto Treaty was unanimously (95-0) rejected by the U.S. Senate in 1997–more than three years before George W. Bush took office.

Then there is the topic. Why is the College Board biasing its essay prompts with sources that amount to propaganda for manmade global warming? Why are high schools so willing to assign such overtly political materials from the selection of sample AP questions? Most high school juniors understand neither the global warming debate nor the evaluation of public policy. Assigning topics that students cannot possibly understand does little more than provide practice in stringing other people’s words together. Without outside help, what can a student do but repeat and rearrange the bromides that pop to the top of a Google search?

If the goal is practice in making logical arguments that persuade, why not have students write about why they would buy a particular car, detail why a good reputation is important, or describe why self-discipline is essential to success?

The humanities are in bad shape in American high schools and colleges. If this case is any guide, the reason may be that schools simply fail to teach them. An obsessive focus on contemporary issues discourages real, reasoned, debate about politics, religion or morality. And as George Washington University associate professor Samuel Goldman has pointed out, humanities courses that neglect reasoned debate on politics, religion, or morality end up making humanities practitioners “deaf to moral dissent,” a trait on full display in this teacher’s comments.

AP English Global Warming Essay redacted

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