Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Word of Warning...

I feel that I need to preempt anything I might say in this blog with an explanation of why I began it in the first place.
In my first semester of my first year of college an event occurred that was profoundly disturbing and upset me to my core. It took place in my English Composition 1 class. It’s an introductory class, the point being to prepare students for composing college level papers. What it actually amounted to was an exercise in silliness- the professor never took attendance despite the fact that she set an eight absence maximum, we were required to purchase two textbooks that we never opened, and the lectures consisted of people talking about fairies living in their backyards or being kissed by Shamu. All of this I endured, with no small amount of stoicism, because the course was required. That and our only assignments were four papers (final drafts only). That wasn’t the problem though.
The final of the four was a food paper- an awful, misguided assignment born from our English professor’s confusion of the difference between scientific research writing and propaganda. That wasn’t the problem though.
For the first time in the history of the class discussions of real things began taking place. The more these discussions took place, the more I realized no one in the room seemed to know anything about anything. The class chattered on about the conspiracy to hide dangerous, poisonous chemicals in our food supply. The teacher asked why some chemicals present in food were similar to chemicals found in solvents. The 40-something-year-old woman who allegedly has fairies living in her garden (and is studying to be a lawyer) said tin cause Alzheimer’s (it doesn’t). She also told us that margarine was created to fattened holiday turkeys (it wasn’t), but it killed them so the government decided to feed it to us. Also, apparently, margarine is one molecule away from plastic. (Even if margarine were one molecule away from plastic, it wouldn’t matter. Many substances are chemically similar, for example, H2O. Sounds great on a hot day right? Yeah. What about H2O2? You wouldn’t want an ice cold glass of that, because that’s hydrogen peroxide folks! That’s merely an atom of difference. Imagine a whole molecule.) One girl, a young woman in her late teens, asked if Taurine was a country, because if it was, then it was on her Monster can.
The never ending parade of ignorance marched forward. People read their papers, and managed to mispronounce every single chemical they wrote about. The professor blithely glossed over their difficulties, assuring everyone that no one actually needs to know what words they’re using. No one, not even the professor who allegedly had her PhD (I found out through research that she lied and did not have a PhD), seemed to understand that a chemical reaction involves changing substances so that in the end one is left with at least one molecularly different substance than one began with. I had to explain it, along with the idea of the periodic table of elements. With only 118 possible components it’s reasonable to expect some overlap, yeah?
I’m qualified to do many things, but teaching basic chemistry to a college English class isn’t one of them. I mean were they kidding me?! After all, I reminded the class, we all took basic chemistry. It’s a requirement for graduation. One of my classmates raised her hand and retaliated with “Just because we took chemistry, doesn’t mean we remember it.” The entire class seemed to except that statement. Certainly no one objected, and the issue seemed settled.
But the girl’s statement disturbed me- haunted me, even. How is it that students pursuing higher education were so lacking in a rudimentary one? How is it that individuals were so indifferent toward their own lack of knowledge? I had always been skeptical about statistics showing America’s scores in science and math were falling behind other nations. Cynical claptrap about how much America sucks seems to flood every available media outlet nowadays. Apparently, however, those reports were dead right.
There is a small possibility that my class simply received a higher concentration of dullards than other classes. It’s possible, but highly improbable. If you want to know a fact that will really scare you: the English class I took wasn’t even the remedial class. I wonder what they were like.
On that note, I present to you, Dumbosity: Adventures in Dumberland.


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