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A lack of class and common sense: incomprehensible academics who 'teach'

This kid I used to coach called me and asked for my help with one of her classes at the university. I met the kid before her class, and she told me that she had fallen hopelessly behind, not because of her work habits or attendance, or even because of an inability to understand the subject matter. She said she had fallen so far behind because she couldn't understand a freakin' word that came out of the teacher's mouth.

I looked at her and said, "Ah, that's the problem. You've become trapped in a college cliché."

This is a very serious matter, but one that few people in these politically correct times want to acknowledge, and even fewer want to address. On college campuses across the country, classes are being "taught" by brilliant men and women who couldn't put together an English sentence if the words were written on Legos.

These are very, very smart people, but what good is it to be smart if the only people to whom you can pass on your knowledge are either living on a far-away subcontinent or working at the convenience store on a prime-time cartoon?

I once had a college professor who would walk in the class and say, "Good morning," and I'd have to ask him to repeat the question.

We're not supposed to talk about this stuff, lest we be labeled insensitive racist clods or, worse, Republicans. But even Republicans can be right sometimes, although I can't come up with any examples off the top of my head.

All I know is that if I were paying thousands of dollars a year for my kid to go to college, I think I'd be within my rights to insist that the class be taught in English.

I thought maybe my former player was exaggerating a bit, so I offered to attend the class with her. It was an advanced probability class, which is difficult enough, seeing as even mathematicians will occasionally disagree about the answers.

We went in the room, and I sat next to the wall, trying not to be obvious. This young guy shows up with a bounce in his walk and a permanent "Kick Me!" sign in his demeanor. I just knew he was one of those guys who regurgitates what the teacher has just said and spits it back out in the form of a lame-ass question, just so the teacher knows that he knows what he's supposed to know. An absolute spitball magnet.

This young woman walks into the room, defeat all over her face. She plops down in the chair at the end of our row, puts her head down and goes to sleep. She's done all she can do just by showing up, and she's using her time wisely.

The teacher walks in; his clothes look like a pile of used towels. He begins to speak, and I try to place his accent: Middle Eastern, maybe Israeli. On my player's notebook, trying to be funny, I write "Mossad?"

She shakes her head no and then writes the guy's name. That's what's wrong with kids today. They don't read Robert Ludlum books. There must not be any spy novels on the Internet. Or on cell phones.

As he speaks, he writes a problem on the overhead projector. His "7"s look like the gallows in the game of Hangman--even his writing has an accent. He writes the problem "X and Y are independent random variables. X is exponential with parameter 2 and Y is exponential with parameter 1. (We can't look at X and Y directly) so we say that V is the minimum of X and Y and W = 1 if V = X, and W = 0 otherwise. Find the expected value of V and prove that V and W are independent."

I look around the room, and all of the students are agape, just like the audience in The Producers after the opening dance scene of "Springtime for Hitler." Some of it might be the question itself, but most is probably due to the fact that we all heard was, "Ixx und why arrrrrr een-deee-pain-dent vah-dee-uh-pulls." And so on. In calculus terms, his speech approaches Understandable English as a limit.

Kiss-up Nerd Boy raises his hand and says, "Shouldn't we also show a probability mass function for W?"

Yeah, that's it. Make it harder. I tear off a piece of notebook paper and start chewing up a spitwad the size of the one Sinbad shot in First Kid.

After the class, I tell my player I understand her plight. She says she just wishes she could understand what he's saying so she could do better on the take-home tests.

"YOU HAVE TAKE-HOME TESTS?! Why haven't you called me?"

She's all moral and ethical and stuff, but I told her the old saying about how when you go into the 7-Eleven, if you're not robbing them, they're robbing you. "The university's robbing you," I said.

She says she has a big test in a couple of weeks. Knowing her ethics but also having sat through that class, I calculate that the probability she'll call is somewhere between 0 and 1.

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