As politicians in Washington issue dire warnings about the lackluster state of American public education, most students in the San Fernando Valley seem content to sit back and enjoy the summer sun.
Only 52 students turned out Monday for the opening session of a college preparatory workshop at Cal State Northridge--the lowest enrollment in the program's 15-year history.
"Kids seem to be more interested in earning money to buy things rather than getting properly prepared to go to college," workshop director Jody Liss-Monteleone said.
"The standards of education are falling," said Ray Johnson, an incoming CSUN freshman who hopes to major in Spanish. "I think it's the kids--the lack of care. It's like, 'School? It's a joke.' "
Noting that they face four fiercely competitive years, those students who did enroll said the edge the program will give them as freshmen is well worth the workshop's $85 tuition and its two-week time commitment.
"I just want to be prepared for college," incoming CSUN freshman Annie Tu said after completing a standardized reading skills exam. "I get really nervous taking tests."
"I'm expecting it to be real difficult--like a slap in the face," said incoming Columbia University freshman Gil Lahav, one of the few students in the seminar who will not attend CSUN. "There's that incredible urge to go out and have fun. So time management seems critical."
But time management is only one of the skills that the three public school teachers running the workshop will be discussing over the next two weeks. Other lessons include note-taking, rapid reading, writing essays and term papers, and using the library.
Some of the workshop's students excelled in high school and simply want to perfect their study skills before entering college, Liss-Monteleone said. But others need remedial help mastering the most basic academic tasks, she said.
What is "really scary," Liss-Monteleone said, is that fewer and fewer students entering college seem concerned with acquiring the rudimentary study skills they know they lack.
In addition, she said, students who have attended the workshop in recent years seem increasingly dependent on their teachers for educational guidance. Liss-Monteleone says the complacency in the classroom reflects a general lack of initiative outside school.
"Kids don't want to read," said the guidance counselor at Placerita Junior High School in Valencia. "They just want to see the video."
The students enrolled in the CSUN seminar agreed with their teacher's assessment.
Incoming CSUN freshman Isabel Curiel said she was frustrated that public schools in the United States are far less rigorous than those in Mexico, where she lived until her teens. "I just got kind of angry with the system," said Curiel, who said she plans to major in business administration. "A student who's graduating knows the same as a student who's entering."
Jennifer Perry, an incoming CSUN freshman who wants to major in psychology, said she expected the CSUN workshop to be valuable for its repetition rather than for its innovation. "I basically know what they're saying--it's common sense," she said. "I think the people who are here don't need it as much as those who aren't."