When I was in high school, grade nine, I had a grade eleven boyfriend who had to read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey for his General level English class. I was an Advanced level student who loved to read, so while he was miffed about having to read this really long book—272 pages—with extremely small print, I started reading his book and couldn’t put it down. Now, I was also annoyed with hearing the belly-aching about the unread book and incomplete homework; I didn’t set out to ‘help’ him with his homework, but I did help him…quite a bit…since he NEVER actually read the book. Not proud, but that’s what happened.
I felt like rereading the novel this summer as I only vaguely remember the events. I’m 100 pages from the end and I have a few reflections on the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest situation that occurred in high school. First, this is a much more complex novel than we expect our current grade 11 College (equivalent to General level—heading to tech, trades, and practical, hands-on occupations) students to read and study especially independently. It’s quite literary and reflective, requiring a person to understand implicit, suggestive language in order to interpret the symbolism and themes. (Aside – This high school boyfriend has worked as a labourer full-time since high school ended and has never needed to read anything remotely like this novel for his work.)
As a teacher, I’ve had the situation where I’ve suspected that the girlfriend is doing the homework, and it’s obviously doing nothing to improve the boyfriend’s reading or writing ability—in the same way that my doing my boyfriend’s homework wasn’t helping him improve either.
Most of my College level students couldn’t read this novel without a great deal of assistance. We’d have to read it together in class with me doing the reading because these students generally refuse to read aloud because of low confidence about their poor reading ability.
Ironically, in the last 15 years in Ontario, there’s been a highly increased focus on changing education to improve student performance since so many students who were supposed to be heading to college were dropping out or were not actually capable of college when they were awarded their high school diploma. The big question: Why have the skills of the young people been steadily declining over the last 40 years? Seriously, my mother’s generation graduated much more academically capable than my generation, and I believe that the students we are graduating now are even less capable than my generation.
I spend a great deal of time reflecting on this trend and find it baffling that despite the increased focus and efforts in regards to literacy, the reading and writing ability of students generally progress at a slower rate than in the past. I don’t believe this is just an Ontario phenomenon.
Is there a way to change the ‘decline of skills’? Or, is it not a decline in skills but a ‘change in the development of skills’?
I would love to hear opinions on this trend, and then I will share my perspective.[polldaddy poll=3439753]