Tonawanda News

Letters to the Editor

April 23, 2014

GUEST VIEW: What young people aren't learning in college

Tonawanda News — Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

Sorry, Juliet. He’s hard to find on many college campuses.

Today is accepted as William Shakespeare’s birthday, and on the Bard’s 450th, American higher education gives him about as much love as the Capulets gave the Montagues.

Many top American universities don’t require students to study Shakespeare. Think that’s bad? Many don’t even require a Shakespeare course of their English majors. Universities around the country such as Yale, NYU, Penn State, Ohio State, and the University of Texas have no such requirement.

That’s right — arguably the greatest figure in English literature, who forever transformed theater, influenced great thinkers and shaped the English language by inventing or popularizing now-common vocabulary is being forgotten on college campuses. Where would we be without words like swagger? Or eyeball? Or puppy dog? Or kitchen wench!

The reason for this wretched state of affairs is that students are routinely allowed to graduate with huge gaps in their skills and knowledge. According to the What Will They Learn? study (www.whatwilltheylearn.com), just 38 percent of institutions require even a single college-level course in literature.

And Shakespeare’s not the only one vanishing from the minds of today’s college students. Only 3 percent of institutions require economics and just 18 percent require a basic course in American history or government.

The results are distressing to say the least. A recent survey found that only 17 percent of college graduates — graduates! — knew the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation, just 42 percent knew the Battle of the Bulge was fought during World War II, and not even two in five could identify term limits for their senators and representatives.

Too many of today’s graduates are more familiar with the Kardashians than the Kennedys, with Lady Gaga than Lady Macbeth. To further highlight our misplaced priorities, a Google search for Justin Bieber produces 400 million hits – more than 10 times as many as a search for William Shakespeare.

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Letters to the Editor