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Steve Lunetta: An educational apocalypse may be upon us all

Right About Now

Posted: July 2, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 2, 2012 1:55 a.m.

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought on this continent a nation that controlled vampires, loosely disguised as slave owners in the Deep South. And I was sent to kill them.”

—Abraham Lincoln, 1861, (sort-of)

As we all know, Abe Lincoln, our 16th president and savior of the Union, was a vampire hunter. At least, according to the new movie by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov. Or was that TimBen Boydston?

I always thought that Lincoln’s trademark stove-pipe hat was merely a symbol of his office. But now I know that Abe was hiding a wooden stake up there along with a wooden mallet ready to drive the point through the heart of Jefferson Davis, if he ever got the chance.

Lincoln hunting vampires? What are they teaching our kids? While this movie is admittedly fanciful, I’ll bet a statistically significant number of young people will walk out of the theater truly believing that Lincoln was involved with vampire lore.

This is because our schools have failed to fill their heads with real knowledge.

At my job, I often spend time interviewing young people who are applying for jobs at our company. Specifically, I look for kids who might be able to work in our chemistry and micro laboratories. Sadly, I often encounter a wasteland when I should be seeing quality.

For example: Last week, I was talking to candidates for an opening. One young lady who recently graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, presented us with an impressive resume detailing her accomplishments while obtaining her microbiology degree.

Microbiology is the study of tiny organisms that, in small number, often pose no harm. However, in large numbers, they can be pathogenic and toxic. They tend to take over and destroy everything they touch — like Democrats.

This graduate went on to extoll her excellent teamwork, sense of fairness and work ethic. However, when asked to tell us about her laboratory experience, the silence was deafening.

“Um, I don’t have too much lab work. You see, the university was low on funds and we often did our work on computer. As a matter of fact, my senior thesis was on a model of salmonella growth.” My jaw dropped open.

I asked, “You mean you’ve never done most of the lab work that is required of new microbiologists?”

Apparently not.

I probed further and asked her a simple question about E. coli, a very virulent pathogen that killed many folks a few years ago. She responded that she read about E. coli in one of her textbooks but, beyond that, could not remember much more.

Another U.C. kid I talked to had an impressive list of lab instrumentation on his resume. When I started asking questions about that experience, he sheepishly replied that he had simply watched a graduate student doing the work. He had never pushed any buttons himself.

Fair enough, I responded. “Can you tell me the principles behind some of the instruments?” Again, silence. The young man was never afforded the opportunity to use the instruments, thereby depriving him of learning both the operation and the theory behind the machine.

This is pathetic, I thought to myself. The next candidate must be better. Once again, another U.C. student, this one from Berkeley. She was a premed student who had volunteered in a hospital. “Good, we’ll have some real life experiences to discuss,” I thought.

Not with this one. It seems that her “experience” was limited to working in the administration office doing filing and billing work.

Please, someone, tell me what we are teaching our students at the University of California? Have our budget cuts gone so deep that we are now producing an inferior product?

My own son went to UCLA and obtained a degree in history a year ago. Looking forward to discussing the ramifications of the Treaty of Versailles and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act with my boy, all I received was a blank stare.

“Dad, last quarter, I took History of Rock-n-Roll and Dinosaurs and You. I never heard of the Treaty of Smoot, or whatever.” He’s working as a music promoter.

How have we allowed one of the most vaunted learning institutions in the nation to degrade to this level? Some possible ideas: An emphasis on quantity versus quality, choosing staff over students and an impossible budget situation in Sacramento.

In the meantime, what is next from Burton? George Washington: Space Alien. I believe it. Check out the hair.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Placerita Canyon and a proud product of the UC system. He can be reached at


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