For over ten years I have had an interesting and fulfilling job as a business instructor at a trade school for young adults. Instructors are not given pre-fabricated curriculum or told what training materials are to be used. It is a wonderful sense of freedom to be creative and manipulate the material to fit the individual student's needs. Seeing them succeed is the greatest reward one could desire.

We are given a document listing the required skills and knowledge that the students must master before completing the program. Part of the list of requirements is business English including parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs...) that the majority struggle to comprehend without constant one-on-one teaching. I'm talking about students, who have either graduated high school, have their GED, or are working on obtaining one of the two, that can recite the definition of a noun, write the definition out, but then can't identify them in a sentence. Luckily, the way we are organized I get to spend a lot of one-on-one time with the student.

The same students also struggle with basic math, fractions, and percents which are also required for them to graduate. It is very discouraging to find high school graduates that I have to teach to add and subtract decimals. A few do arrive with a IEP in their history but rarely in math and if it is in math it's use of a calculator or more time on tests. Most of the students can accomplish the basic math tasks with a calculator but given a story problem they don't know what to do. Given a multiple step problem they have a even greater struggle trying to figure out what steps it will take to solve. They are not showing the skills to think through the information to come up with the answer, so really, the calculator doesn't help them in a more real life math situation.

It wasn't always like this. When I first started teaching students arrived with these basic skills, with the desire to learn, and with the ability to use critical thinking to solve problems. It started out about five years ago when I started to notice a change in the students. Since then it has been a slow but steady downhill spiral. It's as if this age span of 16-24 year old students I'm dealing with are getting to be lazy thinkers, not wanting to put forth effort to learn, yet thinking they deserve the rewards of hard work.

I'm wondering what your thoughts are about what has happened in the last five years or so. What do you think is happening in our schools / homes / society that these young adults do not have or maintain the skills to identify a noun or do basic math?

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