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College Seniors No More Knowledgeable Than 1950s High School Grads
CNSNEWS.com ^ | 12/19/02 | Scott Hogenson

Posted on 12/19/2002 3:08:50 AM PST by kattracks

(CNSNews.com) - The college seniors of today have no better grasp of general knowledge than the high school graduates of almost half a century ago, according to the results of a new study.

The average of correct responses for modern college seniors on a series of questions assessing "general cultural knowledge" was 53.5 percent compared with 54.5 percent of high school graduates in 1955, according to a survey by Zogby International.

The Zogby poll of 401 randomly selected college seniors was conducted in April for the Princeton, N.J.-based National Association of Scholars and released Wednesday.

"The average amount of knowledge that college seniors had was just about the same as the average amount of knowledge that high school graduates had back in the 1950s," said NAS President Stephen H. Balch.

Balch noted that the high school grads of half a century ago performed better than today's college seniors on history questions, while contemporary students fared better on questions covering art and literature, with no appreciable difference on geography questions.

The questions asked in the April poll by Zogby were virtually the same as questions asked by the Gallup Organization in 1955, with a few questions being slightly modified to reflect history.

"The questions were just about identical, as identical as we could make them," said Balch. "In most cases, they were absolutely identical."

Balch attributed the stagnation of performance on general knowledge questions to several factors, including a decreased emphasis on general knowledge in high school, placing colleges and universities in the position of having to fill academic gaps among students entering college.

"This is fundamental knowledge that everyone should have and if your students are being admitted without it, then that only reinforces the need for you to take general education seriously," Balch said.

But Balch said he didn't consider such actions to be remedial in nature, noting that "the remedial problems have to do with students not being able to write or read at the eighth grade level and still getting into college. There are many institutions in which that's a difficulty. You have people who just don't have the skills let alone the knowledge."

Even though the NAS study raises questions about the caliber of general education offered in high schools, colleges and universities also bear some responsibility, Balch said.

"I think it probably has a lot to do with the dumbing down of curriculum, both at the college and high school level," said Balch. "It looks good, certainly, to say 'more people are graduating from college,' but is there any real intellectual yield from it?"

Also part of the problem is that many colleges are placing less emphasis on liberal arts education in favor of more specialized education geared toward specific career paths, which Balch said isn't necessarily in the best interest of students or society.

"I think these results, which don't seem to show a great deal of value-added in the general cultural knowledge domain - I think these results are quite interesting and disappointing," said Balch. "We would hope that the college students of today would have done a good deal better than the high school students of the past."

Also contributing to the trend is an easing of college admissions standards. While Balch doesn't advocate a return to standards requiring competency in Greek or Latin, he does say colleges should "insist that the student coming have basic areas of knowledge."

A solid background in general knowledge, Balch said, is "very important both for good citizenship and, for many people at least, for a happy and interesting life," by providing students with what Balch called "cultural furniture that allows them to be better citizens."

Click here to read the general knowledge questions.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.





TOPICS: Culture/Society; Front Page News; News/Current Events
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1 posted on 12/19/2002 3:08:50 AM PST by kattracks
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To: kattracks
Really, those must have been some talented High School Students in the 50's. How were their computer and bio-tech skills?

By picking the right metrics I can make todays college grads look dumber that 1900's seventh graders. So just how many ounces should one feed his plow horse?

2 posted on 12/19/2002 3:14:17 AM PST by MrNeutron1962
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To: kattracks
I have a flash for you. Ph. D.s in the liberal arts won't do much better.
3 posted on 12/19/2002 3:15:03 AM PST by RLK
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To: MrNeutron1962
Really, those must have been some talented High School Students in the 50's. How were their computer and bio-tech skills?

----------------------

Mine were rather good.

4 posted on 12/19/2002 3:27:34 AM PST by RLK
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To: MrNeutron1962
So just how many ounces should one feed his plow horse?

Yeah, but can a 1950s high school grad create an Excel spreadsheet to show population trends in Asia or determine how much additional RAM is required in a given computer to run Windows XP?

Comparing education now to the 1950s is meaningless. There were far fewer distractions for a student in the 1950s so it should come as no surprise that a student from that era has more "book knowledge." On the other hand, students of today tend to be more worldly. My sons regularly communicate with kids from around the world on computer and when they are doing homework, they literally have the world at their fingertips (via the Internet). A Google search will turn up far more information on an obscure subject than a textbook of the 1950s.

And what did the students of the 1950s end up doing with their lives? Smoking dope, protesting the war and listening to acid rock. Well, many of them did, anyway.

5 posted on 12/19/2002 3:30:13 AM PST by SamAdams76
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To: kattracks
The 1950's were alot diffent than today. We had just won the Revolutionary war against Poland. The great crash of 1959 had not occurred. President Adams, one the best Asian American Presidents we ever had, had placed a priority on education in his adminstration. Computers were all that DOS stuff.

This study is apples and pineapples.
6 posted on 12/19/2002 3:30:26 AM PST by Bluntpoint
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To: *Education News
http://www.freerepublic.com/perl/bump-list
7 posted on 12/19/2002 3:32:35 AM PST by Free the USA
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To: kattracks
The link to the questions doesn't work. Can you put up a good link? Once I read the questions, I'll know whether this is the subject I want to attack in my next UPI column. I've already got in hand a copy of McGuffy's Reader to show how much general knowledge standards have fallen since 1900.

Please keep me posted.

Congressman Billybob

Click for latest column on UPI, "Junk Science - Harvard and Beyond" (Not yet on UPI wire, nor FR.)

Click for latest book, "to Restore Trust in America"

8 posted on 12/19/2002 3:36:33 AM PST by Congressman Billybob
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To: MrNeutron1962
Really, those must have been some talented High School Students in the 50's. How were their computer and bio-tech skills?
By picking the right metrics I can make todays college grads look dumber that 1900's seventh graders. So just how many ounces should one feed his plow horse?

Are you a recent college graduate? Did you read the questions? Good grief, anyone who cannot answer all these questions is an ignoramous. When I tell people the main problem with this country is that most people stupid, they do no believe me. It is apparently worse than I thought.

1-Which is the largest lake in North America?
2-What is the national language of Brazil?
3-In what country was the Battle of Waterloo fought?
4-Who made the first non-stop transatlantic solo flight?
5-What professions do you associate with Florence Nightingale?
6-What is the capital city of Spain?
7-What composer wrote The Messiah?
8-Who wrote a play entitled. A Midsummer Night's Dream?
9-Which planet is nearest the sun?
10-What is the name of the decoration given to those in the armed forces who are wounded in action against an enemy?
11-What great scientist do you associate with the Theory of Relativity?
12-Which of the following states border on Canada?
Montana
Michigan
Minnesota
Maine
All
Not sure

Hank

9 posted on 12/19/2002 3:39:48 AM PST by Hank Kerchief
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To: Congressman Billybob
General Knowledge Questions
10 posted on 12/19/2002 3:39:56 AM PST by kattracks
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To: SamAdams76
And what did the students of the 1950s end up doing with their lives? Smoking dope, protesting the war and listening to acid rock.

-------------------------------

In the mid '50s none of that existed. By the mid 60s the high school graduates of the mid '50s were too old to be hippies.

11 posted on 12/19/2002 3:41:51 AM PST by RLK
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To: Congressman Billybob; kattracks
Here are the lnks:

General Knowledge Questions

Answers to General Knowledge Questions (if you really need them).

These links open a new window. The questions are also in my previous post.

Hank

12 posted on 12/19/2002 3:47:02 AM PST by Hank Kerchief
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To: Hank Kerchief
One small correction to the question at #7. It's Handel's "Messiah", not The Messiah.
13 posted on 12/19/2002 3:50:12 AM PST by Bahbah
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To: kattracks
Thank you for the link. Just read the questions and took a crack at them. Missed one. (I didn't recall that Waterloo was fought in Belgium.) In 15 minutes I've planned next week's column, unless events overwhelm me and I have to go with something else.

Thanks for both posts.

Billybob

14 posted on 12/19/2002 3:51:48 AM PST by Congressman Billybob
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To: SamAdams76
The study is not comparing computer skills with agrarian knowledge. It is a test of basic knowledge of geographical and historical facts that educated people should know in order to function responsibly in our nation.

Consider:

If you do not know which states border Canada, how can one correctly assess immigration problems along the border?

If you do not know that Einstein is reponsible for the theory of relativity, when someone says "Way to go, Einstein!" how will you understand what is meant?

If you do not understand the significance of the Purple Heart, how can you appreciate the sacrifices of those in our military?

Increasingly we are turning out students who are totally divorced from the history of our culture. They make decisions based on contemporary trends, without understanding the historical background on many issues. This is dangerous, because it means a significant portion of the population can be manipulated by celebrities who purport to be "experts."

15 posted on 12/19/2002 3:51:50 AM PST by Miss Marple
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To: scholar
Do ya think??

Of course, never before in history has a crop of youngsters thought they knew more either though, too.

...oh the irony. :o)

16 posted on 12/19/2002 3:53:24 AM PST by Landru
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To: Miss Marple
The study posted here two weeks ago indicated only 29% of American people between the ages of 18 and 24 could find New Jersey on a map. We have college students who don't know where India or Australia are.
17 posted on 12/19/2002 3:56:07 AM PST by RLK
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To: kattracks
This is hogwash. Todays college seniors know how opressive the whiteman is, all about african history, marxist gramscian dialetic, not to mention gay and lesbian philosophy and how evil corporations caused global warming. An of course, they are well versed in how to be good citizens of the United Nations...
18 posted on 12/19/2002 3:56:29 AM PST by chilepepper
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To: chilepepper
What they are learning is conversation at liberal coctail parties. As far as content or analytical ability, you get zot.
19 posted on 12/19/2002 3:59:48 AM PST by RLK
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To: RLK
And what did the students of the 1950s end up doing with their lives? Smoking dope, protesting the war and listening to acid rock.

-------------------------------

In the mid '50s none of that existed. By the mid 60s the high school graduates of the mid '50s were too old to be hippies.

Many high school grads from the 50's and 60's served in Vietnam.

20 posted on 12/19/2002 4:02:22 AM PST by toddst
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To: kattracks
I'd like to point out that in the 1950s, being a high school graduate was almost as much an accomplishment as being a college grad today. Back in the 1950s (and earlier) an enormous number of teens dropped out of high school without graduating, so those who were graduates had definitely accomplished something. Nowadays, we've encouraged kids to finish high school and even enter college by greasing the track for them and generally closing down options available to drop-outs.
21 posted on 12/19/2002 4:04:26 AM PST by DonQ
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To: kattracks
Geez, from some of the replies I guess I have to lower my expectations for the general intelligence of the average freeper. This is all general information that I learned by the sixth grade, in 1960.

A founder of our nation said that a well educated citizen was essential for the survival of our republic. Well, given the recent colledge graduates that i've been re-educating at my company, our republic may be in trouble.

Our young new-hires all have excellent technical knowledge and skills. Some of them, though, have only the vaugest notion of American history and government. Many of them don't know where Oregon is.
22 posted on 12/19/2002 4:05:40 AM PST by jimtorr
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To: Hank Kerchief
1-Which is the largest lake in North America?
The Great Lake
2-What is the national language of Brazil?
Brazilian
3-In what country was the Battle of Waterloo fought?
Waterloovolle
4-Who made the first non-stop transatlantic solo flight?
Mr. United
5-What professions do you associate with Florence Nightingale?
Singing
6-What is the capital city of Spain?
Spaniville
7-What composer wrote The Messiah?
Creed
8-Who wrote a play entitled. A Midsummer Night's Dream?
Neil Simon
9-Which planet is nearest the sun?
Planet X
11-What great scientist do you associate with the Theory of Relativity?
Madonna
12-Which of the following states border on Canada?
California

OK, now I am ready for my close-up on "Jaywalking"
23 posted on 12/19/2002 4:10:04 AM PST by freedumb2003
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To: DonQ
I'd like to point out that in the 1950s, being a high school graduate was almost as much an accomplishment as being a college grad today.

--------------------

In recent years 20% of college freshmen need to take remedial courses in English and arithmetic to bring them up to what used to be barely high school level.

24 posted on 12/19/2002 4:18:21 AM PST by RLK
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To: jimtorr
I did a short stint as a substitute teacher 15 years ago. I actually had a student in high school with normal intelligence who did not know which way was north! I don't mean he was turned around...I mean that if you stood him outside and pointed to the sunrise, he would not know which way was north!

I also had a student that did not know that Switzerland was in Europe, another student that did not know that Spanish was spoken in Spain, and another who thought you could take the train to Europe.

I am not making this up. I also discovered at the time that my son had an abysmal knowledge of geography (he was in high school) because it was never formally taught, and most of his history textbooks had very few maps. I had to do a crash course here at home to make sure he could locate things on a map!

The curriculum is too full of things that are PC and not enough basic knowledge.

25 posted on 12/19/2002 4:22:38 AM PST by Miss Marple
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To: Miss Marple
A high percentage of high school seniors do not know where Africa or South America are on a map.
26 posted on 12/19/2002 4:28:38 AM PST by RLK
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To: Bahbah
One small correction to the question at #7. It's Handel's "Messiah", not The Messiah.

I did not write the questions, but you are correct. Since "Handel's 'Messiah,'" might have given away the answer, they should have written the question, "what composer wrote the oratorio, 'Messiah'?"

But then, that may have been unfair, since most college graduates probably do not know what an oratorio is.

Hank

27 posted on 12/19/2002 4:32:41 AM PST by Hank Kerchief
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To: Congressman Billybob
I got them all right now, but I'll be honest-I'm not sure if I knew Waterloo was in Belgium when I graduated H.S. in 1980.

I do know that if you had asked me then "Where was Napoleon finally defeated?" I would have answered Waterloo.
28 posted on 12/19/2002 4:38:34 AM PST by GATOR NAVY
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To: kattracks
In our state when you homeschool a child, he has to take a nationally standardized test at the end of the year.

These tests give you a grade equivalent, but also an age equivalent. The age equivalent can be interpreted as, "If an average student of "such and such" an age took this test, he'd score the same as you."

When my 14 year old's score reflected that he had the general knowlege of a 30 year old, I knew they must have slacked off on teaching this sort of thing.

My kid is not a genius, but he has a well-rounded knowlege of history, science, geography, and all these were included in the general knowlege section.

I, personally, don't put all the blame on the schools and curriculum. I think parents have quit talking to their children. And alot of knowlege can be passed on in simple conversation. In everyday conversation, you mention a place, an author, a fact of history, and the child asks about it, then you explain it.

And to those who say knowing how to use computer programs is more valuable than a knowlege of history, it has well been said that those who don't know history are destined to repeat it.

29 posted on 12/19/2002 4:40:49 AM PST by dawn53
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To: kattracks
Thanks for the FIND! I have been saying this for years. Students are graduating from college with degrees - but they aren't educated. The schools in the 50s were the best - the liberal/socialists have taken public schools as far from the successful model as possible.
30 posted on 12/19/2002 4:41:09 AM PST by TrueBeliever9
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To: freedumb2003
I just graded your test and you will be happy to learn you have qualified for any of the following occupations:

Politician. In Massachusettes you could easily become a Senator.

School Teacher, in any government school. (If you have children, please do not home school them. Send them to a private school.)

Leader in any of the following: BATF, FBI, DEA, CIA, DHSS.

Please avoid public-sector jobs where you actually have to produce something or would be responsible for anything.

Hank

31 posted on 12/19/2002 4:42:33 AM PST by Hank Kerchief
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To: Miss Marple
The curriculum is too full of things that are PC and not enough basic knowledge.

Agreed. That said, the curriculum is also too full of tests based solely on memorization skills (here's a map of Europe, fill in the names of each nation) instead of application (discuss the significance of the following five nations...). I know I can't remember facts I can't put in context, and suspect most others are the same.

Of course, handing out worksheets and grading multiple choice tests is much easier than essay, or even short answer questions.

32 posted on 12/19/2002 4:44:46 AM PST by NittanyLion
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To: SamAdams76
One of my grandmothers had to drop out of school in the sixth grade, and the other in the eighth grade. Both of them could write a better letter than my nephew, who's a straight-A student according to today's standards.

33 posted on 12/19/2002 4:45:41 AM PST by hellinahandcart
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To: Miss Marple
"Increasingly we are turning out students who are totally divorced from the history of our culture. They make decisions based on contemporary trends, without understanding the historical background on many issues. This is dangerous, because it means a significant portion of the population can be manipulated by celebrities who purport to be "experts.""

EXACTLY! I know plenty of people who are quite capable of handling computers, but are totally brain-dead otherwise. No knowledge of history, geography, math, science, or culture. Ask them who was elected president in 1960, or how to do a simple math problem, and they'll look at you with a blank expression on their face. Not only don't they know those things, but they don't even think they're important.

This plays right into the hands of the left. It's why they have deliberately dumbed-down our schools. No matter how skilled someone is in operating equipment (whether it's a tractor or a laptop computer), if they lack basic historical knowledge, reasoning skills, and cultural understanding, they're ripe for the leftist plucking.

I encounter college kids every day whose knowledge of American history is totally void. The constitution is meaningless to them. They have an MTV view of reality. They think that show, "The Real World", really is the real world.
34 posted on 12/19/2002 4:46:26 AM PST by puroresu
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To: SamAdams76
And what did the students of the 1950s end up doing with their lives? Smoking dope, protesting the war and listening to acid rock. Well, many of them did, anyway

Sammy, Sammy........either you weren't around in the 50s or you spent the decade under a rock.

I was there and we had more 'real' honor society students than the NEA "educators" turn out today.

I don't know of one kid in my high school class that ever got picked up for inhaling anything.

One student out of 200 got pregnant (and left school rather than bring the baby to finish with her).

Almost every male student was concerned that he was going to end up in Korea rather than college and most of us did.

35 posted on 12/19/2002 4:51:39 AM PST by JimVT
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To: kattracks
Well, I personally think this article strongly resembles a huge pile of Meadow Muffins.

I know that today's college seniors know far more than the H.S. class of '64. I have a college senior at my house. He has knowledge that didn't exist in 1964 when I was a H.S. Senior.

Perhaps the Class of '50 was exceptionally dense.

36 posted on 12/19/2002 4:55:24 AM PST by Iowa Granny
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To: Congressman Billybob
You are aware, of course, that school was not mandatory past 6th grade so there were a lot fewer dumb kids posing as seniors in high school.

My father-in-law passed the GED test when he was in his 60's but was refused a diploma because he dropped out of school prior to 6th grade.

37 posted on 12/19/2002 4:55:59 AM PST by AppyPappy
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To: hellinahandcart
Be happy that your nephew WRITE letters.

Most kids today wouldn't know where to start.
38 posted on 12/19/2002 4:56:31 AM PST by conservativemusician
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To: kattracks
The reason those 50s highschool grads knew so much is that
1) they valued education;
2) the teachers were actually permitted to hold them responsible for assignments. There were consequences if things didn't get done.
3) there was little or no mouthing off from kids in the classroom.
4) kids were expected to dress in a manner appropriate for the learning environment-- no short shorts, no belly buttons showing, no sagging, etc.

I could go on and on. [I teach middle school.]
39 posted on 12/19/2002 4:56:36 AM PST by Clara Lou
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To: MrNeutron1962
By picking the right metrics I can make todays college grads look dumber that 1900's seventh graders.

Did you know that the word "gullible" is not in the dictionary?

40 posted on 12/19/2002 4:57:45 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: conservativemusician
WRITE=WRITES.....sheesh
41 posted on 12/19/2002 4:58:02 AM PST by conservativemusician
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To: Hank Kerchief
Give the poor students more credit than that. If you asked them to define a "dangling participle", most of the answers would probably include something about "oratorio".
42 posted on 12/19/2002 5:03:58 AM PST by hellinahandcart
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To: DonQ
Nowadays, we've encouraged kids to finish high school and even enter college by greasing the track for them and generally closing down options available to drop-outs.

Why? Because socialists want children in school from the cradle through age 22. Read this letter from Marc Tucker, the president of the the National Center on Education and the Economy, to Hilary Clinton written in 1993.

If anyone wants to know what government education is really about, read this book on-line for free.

43 posted on 12/19/2002 5:06:11 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: conservativemusician
Don't you hate it when that happens? :D
44 posted on 12/19/2002 5:06:35 AM PST by hellinahandcart
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To: MrNeutron1962
1962...

I dare say you did not read the story. In 1950, there were no computers. I think your statement reflects the Zogby poll.

45 posted on 12/19/2002 5:09:51 AM PST by cynicom
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To: SamAdams76
Sam...

As a grad in 1950 that went off to fight a war, I find your comment demeaning at the very best, I could add stupid but wont.

46 posted on 12/19/2002 5:12:54 AM PST by cynicom
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To: Aquinasfan
THAT is chilling.
47 posted on 12/19/2002 5:14:37 AM PST by conservativemusician
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To: JimVT
I wasn't even born in the 1950s. But I'm old enough to know that everybody has a tendency to see their past through rose-colored glasses. You know the syndrome: "Back in my day, we had real hardship, we walked six miles to school in subzero weather with holes in our shoes and men were men"...ad infinitum.

Don't misinterpret me. I am not defending our current educational system, I think it's terrible. Then again, I think it's better than the 1970s era (when I was growing up). My high school resembled "Welcome Back Kotter."

I will say that I would rather be a kid today then a kid in the 1950s. I think kids today have far better opportunities available to them.

48 posted on 12/19/2002 5:17:25 AM PST by SamAdams76
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To: Clara Lou
Clara Lou...

I graduated in 1950. We knew respect and discipline and some people demeaning us here is an insult. Most did not even bother to read the story or if they did, they did not comprehend.

The war started two weeks after graduation, off I went as a "stupid" volunteer. None of us ran to Canada.

49 posted on 12/19/2002 5:17:49 AM PST by cynicom
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To: hellinahandcart
Give the poor students more credit than that. If you asked them to define a "dangling participle", most of the answers would probably include something about "oratorio".

No doubt!

Does this contribute to the fact that most of them go around with the pants so low you can see their split infinitives, if not their dangling participles?

Hank

50 posted on 12/19/2002 5:19:38 AM PST by Hank Kerchief
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