Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Numeracy of College Students

It's entirely too easy for teachers to read about the academic gaps individual students might have, and in both amazement and frustration throw up our hands and in despair cry out, "Kids these days!"

I try to avoid that course of action, but then sometimes I read something and I have to wonder, "How could he not know this?"


Doug said...

I resisted posting a comment when I read this at rightwing prof's site, but since you linked to it too, I'll add my $.02.

I think there are 2 separate issues here. One is whether or not this student knew what a tax rate is. That is experiential. When I was a kid, CA (my home state) instituted a sales tax. I learned quickly-by necessity-what a tax rate was and how to calculate it. But, had it not been for the fact that I HAD to know because of the sales tax, I doubt I would have known anything about what a tax rate was when I was 17 (when I entered college).

The second issue is whether or not he knew how to do percentages. If he didn't know how to work a percentage-that's unforgivable. I know for a fact that my school had us doing percentages as part of the curriculum before junior high.

However, if he understood percentages (the curriculum part) but didn't understand tax rates (a vocabulary or experiential component), I can sympathize. He may have grown up in an area without a sales tax and never had a reason to know this. At his age it is unlikely he had experience with mortgages, car payments, etc. that we as adults find all too familiar.

Our society makes taxes sound really complicated. Everyone freaks out around April 15th every year. The news is filled with stories-though no explanations of- graduated tax rates, tax attorneys, tax shelters, tax cuts, tax loop-holes, etc. If you have no first hand experience, it all sounds daunting and not at all like a simple percentage problem.

So, I'm willing to cut this young man some slack. Without knowing more, I'm not willing to string him or his former school up because he was confused over tax terminology.

Darren said...

Fair enough. But still his education would be somewhat lacking, no?

Doug said...

Maybe. I just don't know which part of his high school curriculum should have covered this. I guess when I think about about all the personal debt and financial problems of many adults-people who at 40 haven't figured out how to accurately work their crdeit cards-it just doesn't surprise me that freshmen and sophomores in college are a little naive, ignorant, or confused over personal finance terms and functions they've had no first-hand experience with.

Lacking experience, yes. A lacking education-well in the broad definition of education, yes-but in terms of schooling, whose job was it to teach this and did they skip it? I don't think so (I don't think it's a part of the curriculum). As I said before-I think it's an experiential thing that we shouldn't just ASSUME everyone knows instinctively.

College kids being naive and bad with money? Shocking!! (ok-sarcasm off)