For the past semester, I've been teaching Freshmen writing (composition). I hadn't taught it in a while (2 years), but I was especially interested in teaching a "frosh comp" this semester because Brian's daughter started college this year, and I was curious to see what the kids her age looked like, thought like.
Very much related: I have learned that essentially none of my students came into my classes able to identify the subjects and main verbs of their own sentences. (When I quizzed them on this, and yes, I gave them a week of warning, 3 students got it right out of two classes -- which is about chance. Later tests showed the students who got it right the first time couldn't come through consistently.) My students were labeling anything "subject": prepositions, random words from subordinate clauses, the verb, anything. This is a basic bit of linguistic understanding it is necessary they have, frankly, just so that they may be taught more things. It is difficult to impossible for me to explain to them the errors and awkwardness they need to avoid in their writing if they don't understand what I mean when I say "subject" and "verb" (let alone, "preposition" or "clause"). Nor can they understand ideas expressed in writing that rises above elementary structures, writing with any nuance. In this sense, their educations have been retarded since elementary school.
One of the texts they were assigned this semester (as part of a campus-wide reading project) was Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed -- a book written at an 8th grade reading level. A minority of students acknowledged that it was an "easy read," but a majority found it difficult. And trust me, this book is about as basic a read as they come. But they found it difficult.
I believe this is a natural stage in the evolution of a society that has passed its peak: the hard-workers who got us somewhere are dead or dying. Their children, who benefitted from a strong education and a sense of entitlement did very well. Their children's children, whose educations faltered but whose sense of entitlement grew to fill the space left behind, did a good job of lowering our standards and shifting our values, so that even politicians vying for the leadership of our nation were judged on whether or not you'd want to have a beer with them. And now there are these kids: the great grandkids of "the greatest generation." They have neither an education nor much of a sense of entitlement -- nor do they have a sense of the stakes they're gambling with. They're just bored. It's our job to wake them up.