What's Behind the Growing GENERATION GAP?

By Jennings, Marianne M. | USA TODAY, November 1999 | Go to article overview

What's Behind the Growing GENERATION GAP?


Jennings, Marianne M., USA TODAY


Generation X seems to be failing behind in five crucial areas: skills, knowledge, critical thinking, work, and morality.

Born in the late 1970s and early 1980s, today's college freshmen are part of Generation X. They came into the world long after Vietnam, Richard Nixon, and Watergate. Most were born after "Saturday Night Fever" and do not know John Travolta hits had two movie careers. Nor do they know what it is like to live in a society in which marriage is the predominant social institution. They do, however, know about broken homes and single-parent families, as well as what it is like to be the children of child care, because 67% of them have mothers working outside their homes.

The members of Generation X know a lot about Madonna, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Mike Tyson. Most know nothing at all about Kate Smith, Rosie the Riveter, John Wayne, Babe Ruth, or Audie Murphy. Almost without exception, their favorite role models are the type of celebrities seen on MTV, ESPN, and the cover of People.

One disturbing poll revealed that nearly 100% of today's youth could name the Three Stooges but not even one percent could name three justices on the Supreme Court. A mere 19% attend church regularly, and just one percent include a member of the clergy on their lists of most admired individuals.

What all these statistics indicate is that the gap between generations is wider than ever before. There are five areas in which the gap is most pronounced: skills, knowledge, critical thinking, work and morality.

THE SKILLS GAP

Test scores have been a standard measurement of academic achievement for many decades. What they have been measuring lately is frightening. Students who should be scoring at the 90th percentile are barely reaching the 70th; those who should be at the 70th are hovering between the 30th and 40th. to take some form of remedial course work in basic subjects like English and math,

Eighty-seven percent of students entering New York community colleges not only flunk the placement exam, they can't even pass the test that would put them into remedial courses. As New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani observed several years ago, if skills actually determined entrance into the New York system of higher education, three of every four students would probably be denied admission. (The state recently has begun to administer such tests, and it appears that Giuliani was right.) It is also a matter of public record that national ACT and SAT college entrance test scores are declining steadily despite "adjustments" designed to boost them artificially.

Yet, one-third of many high school students maintain 4.0 (straight A) grade point averages. Why? Because grade inflation, which occurs at every level of education, is rampant. My daughter Sarah has been in the public school system since the third grade, and she is living proof. She has consistently received good grades without the benefit of a good education.

When she enrolled in an algebra class in the eighth grade, I offered to help her with her homework. She took me up on this one evening when we were sitting together at the kitchen table. The first problem was: "What is 10% of 470?" I was stunned to discover that Sarah couldn't solve it without the aid of a calculator. Another problem involved determining 25% of a given figure. Sarah not only didn't know the answer, she didn't know that this percentage could be expressed as "one-quarter" or "one-fourth."

This was a straight-A student! I couldn't help asking, "Are the other kids this dumb?" Without missing a beat, Sarah replied, "Oh, they're much dumber." She may be right. On the most recent International Math and Science Survey, which tests students from 42 countries, one-third of American high school seniors could not compute the price of a $1.250 stereo that was discounted by 20%.

THE KNOWLEDGE GAP

Algebra is not the only area where today's students have trouble. …

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