Remedial Higher Education in California

The California State University system has succumbed to the overwhelming needs of underprepared students:

Wracked with frustration over the state’s legions of unprepared high school graduates, the California State University system next summer will force freshmen with remedial needs to brush up on math or English before arriving on campus.

But many professors at the 23-campus university, which has spent the past 13 years dismissing students who fail remedial classes, doubt the Early Start program will do much to help students unable to handle college math or English.

“I’m not at all optimistic that it’s going to help,” said Sally Murphy, a communications professor who directs general education at Cal State East Bay, where 73 percent of this year’s freshmen were not ready for college math. Nearly 60 percent were not prepared for college English.

During a session in one of my own remedial college classes this semester, I discussed my notes and advice after reading one set of their essays, and I noted that the past tense of use was used, as in, We used to go to high school.  Invariably, these students had written, We use to go to high school.  Just another example of miswriting based on an exclusively oral culture.

But that’s not the bad part; such instruction is par for the course–no pun intended.  What really shocked me was that after I explained that rule, they argued with me about it.  For a few minutes.  Pretty viciously.  They had to insist that they were right, that the slangy version they assumed to be accurate really was, and that their professor was somehow wrong.  Perhaps their strength in numbers somehow proved to their satisfaction that they could shout me down?  I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it.