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Students lack current event knowledge

Nov. 12, 1997

It comes up in classes all the time. The discussion's going well, people are involved, and then it happens -- someone brings up a current event and the room becomes silent. No one knows enough about the news to lead a discussion about it with any confidence.

You can find this news deficiency everywhere college students gather. I see it in myself. I scanned the front page of my Waco Tribune-Herald early this week and was amazed at what I found -- five top news stories, and I wouldn't be able to converse intelligently for more than about three minutes about any of them. I know the surface facts of most current stories, but there's not as much depth of understanding as there should be. I know it happened, but that's about all I can tell you with any certainty.

My subscriptions to news magazines have run out. The television isn't permanently fixed on CNN anymore. If I would get rid of all the newspaper articles I've saved to read when I have more time, I would gain three square feet in my bedroom. Frankly, I think I'm out of touch.

What's happened to me? I'll tell you: Latin verbs. Nineteenth-century literature. The history of presidential relations with the press.

I'm not complaining. Those things are good for me. Work for classes is on my priority list. I've simply realized that understanding current events doesn't come high enough on that priority list.

It's a common affliction for college students. We can, in our better moments, speak at length about the causes of the Civil War or the concepts behind major world economic systems. But we can't analyze with any depth what's happening in the world right now. We memorize every detail of historic court decisions but ignore the ones happening in front of us.

Maybe it goes hand-in-hand with the student's lifestyle. Students at colleges and universities across the nation can so easily become cut off from the rest of the world. We are surrounded by information, but learning about recent news is easily shoved out of our schedules.

Current events have become optional. At best, we read headlines and collect sound bytes from TV news. The news is like that textbook you shove under your bed, vowing to catch up on it on the weekend. The problem is, just as there are always new reading assignments, there are always new events. If you miss a few days, you've missed the background information for everything that's happened. The news doesn't stop for a review session every day.

The veil of academia is thick, and sometimes it's hard to see through it. I feel as if the whole world's going by and I'm at the library.

I'd like to know if we're going to bomb Iraq, but I've got a test to study for tonight. I'll wait until the weekend to form my own opinion about the reduction of British au pair Louise Woodward's sentence. I'd like to take a look at the recent fall and rise of the stock market and compare the pattern of events to what happened in historic crashes ... I'll do it someday.

We're supposed to view the world -- and all those current events -- differently after we've been educated. I just wonder what we're missing out on in the meantime.

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