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Point of View: Are we educating, or babysitting?

After retiring from military service, I accepted a position as an adjunct professor in a college with more than 30,000 students. Because I had the necessary educational credentials, the dean asked me to teach U.S. History and when needed, political science, cultural geography and English.

I decided to initiate each course with a 100-question diagnostic examination with questions drawn from high school textbooks. I wanted to determine what the students already remembered, the object being to avoid repeating known material. What I discovered was that students who had recently graduated from secondary schooling, from around the country, were ill-prepared for college-level academics, much less for life itself.

For example, each question was multiple choice with five possibilities:

History: What country launched a surprise attack against the United States on Dec. 7, 1941, that propelled our nation into World War II? Answers: A. Germany B. Italy C. China D. Japan E. Russia.

Cultural geography: What religion is the most prominent among the populations of Central and South America? Answers: A. Protestantism B. Islam C. Atheism D. Catholicism E. Buddhism.

Government: How many states have more than two U.S. senators? Answers: A. 100 B. 56 C. 50 D. 13 E. 0.

English: A "noun" is a word that is: A. a word that joins other words together. B. the name of a place, person or thing. C. a modifier of a noun. D. a word that modifies a verb, adjective or another adverb. E. a word expressing action or existence.

Those tests were provided over 13 years to 4,100 students who came from 27 states. The average of correct answers was 31 out of 100. The vast majority could not write legible sentences, nor were they familiar with grammar rules nor could they spell accurately without using a smartphone. Ninety-three percent (3,813) could neither name all 50 states nor locate them on a blank map. Frankly, I would not trust this generation to drive me to Canada if I pointed the car north!

The real question is why are they so ignorant? I would not presume to point fingers. I am only articulating a sad fact. Without some accountable standard for what taxpayers expect them to know at the end of 12 years of expensive public schooling, many of them should be given certificates of attendance instead of high school diplomas.

Wheeler is a retired U.S. Army brigadier general. He lives in Tulsa.