Take Two #29: College Is Not High School

By Kyra-lin Hom

Before I begin, I want to add an addendum to my previous column on the USDA Food Pyramid in response to a couple comments I received. First off, yes, the famous stacking pyramid is no longer the official USDA recommended nutrition graphic. It was first revamped into a vertically split triangle in 2005 and then again just last year, leaving us with the USDA Food Plate. This whole plate idea is designed to be a sort of eat by numbers system. It literally shows a plate and a cup divided into what the USDA designated the perfect portions for American Health in its 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

I intentionally focused on the famous USDA Food Pyramid because it is what I grew up with. It is also still the most readily recognizable of the three USDA graphics I described above. Furthermore, while the image promoted by the USDA has changed, the recommended portions used to write these handy dandy things called “Nutrition Facts” that we see on the sides of our food packages have not. If you read the USDA's 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans document (available online), which I did, you'll find that it still perpetuates a few of the key problems lodged in the current American diet. Namely it still holds that grains should comprise up to 65% of our diet and that animal derived saturated fats are the villains of our waistlines.

Again, to pull a bit of brilliance from Tom Naughton's documentary Fat Head (2009), mother nature didn't make us the only living creatures that instinctively eat things that will kill us.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I recently stumbled across a column in The Seattle Times that really irked me. It was syndicated columnist David Brooks' column “What do college students learn?” in the April 22nd opinion section. To sum it up, he wrote about the seeming fact that college students really aren't learning their $160,000 worth. The slant he spun was in support of holding colleges responsible for their students' learning with standardized tests or evaluations akin to those oh so popular high school standardized tests like the WASL. Sounds good when you put it like that, huh? But this perspective simply overlooks one incredibly important fact here: college is NOT high school. Nor should it be. Let's break this down.

First of all, Brooks cites statistics that college students simply aren't learning much of anything. Then he goes on to criticize the passive role colleges play in their students' lives, claiming that this attitude essentially encourages laziness in its students. Pause.

A) My freshman year kicked my butt. I'd like to think I was already a decent writer in high school – many of you actually read my high school columns in this very publication. Yet I still found myself shoved through the writing wringer during my very first semester. B) College students are legally adults. I think it's okay if colleges expect a certain level of maturity from its attendees. That butt-kicking class I was talking about? I could have worked a lot less hard and not gained as much. That option is always available. However, I like writing. I also just plain like being good at things. So I spent hours with an upperclassman working and reworking my first college papers. This doesn't encourage laziness. It requires you be proactive.

Next Brooks writes, “At some point, parents are going to decide that $160,000 is too high a price if all you get is an empty credential and a fancy car-window sticker.” To this I say GOOD. While I do support drastically lowering college tuition, it is about time liberal college stopped being the expensive version of high school. Here's a hint parents, if your adult doesn't want to do the work, throwing more or less money at a university isn't going to fix that. And students, if your college is truly that bad, then transfer. Always remember that you are paying to be there.

Last but not least is this whole issue of making colleges use standardized tests. I know I keep saying this over and over again, but how much college has begun to resemble high school is one of the top complaints that every college student I know has about the college system. You add standardized tests, especially if these test results are made nationally known, and suddenly colleges are now teaching to the test just like high school. There goes all the variety that most colleges offer. Plus how do you test the arts? It doesn't work. Variety in subject matter and analytic opinion are the spices of life in college. Without them, we might as well all be watching the same lectures via one massive google chat window.

Pardon me Brooks, but I think it's okay to expect more from college students than high schoolers. And honestly, if parents are suckers enough to pay colleges so their sons and daughters can sleep through class, then all power to the money-grubbing colleges.

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