Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Entitlement Generation

I get called on the carpet every semester when the department head gets student complaints, usually from the online course students. They are unhappy with the "mean" comments I make about their contributions to the class. They don't like it when I demand that they support what they write with facts and research rather than writing what "I feel..." or "I believe..." The nice thing about an online class is that it isn't he-said/she-said where there is no record of what really happened. The whole transaction whether a threaded discussion or exchange of emails with the student is available for review.

Yesterday the student reviews of their course were released. They are given the opportunity to complete a questionnaire on the course experience. It isn't released to faculty until after grades are in, so they are protected from petty retribution. You have to be thick-skinned to read them without wanting to strangle some of the students. But then you have to laugh because they so obviously are disconnected from reality. My favorite this semester was with regard to the four short writing assignments. "Mr. R returns papers with grades but no comments on what was wrong or why a particular grade was given..." That would be a bad thing, except that every paper is read and commented on extensively using Word's "review" feature. Papers are then returned to the students as email attachments. The comment means the student never opened up the returned paper.

Coincidentally the Dallas Morning Fishwrap offered this opinion piece this morning:

Maybe No Child Left Behind is the wrong message for our students and our schools. Maybe we do need to leave some students behind. Sit in on the early-morning college class I teach, and you’ll find groggy students sneaking in 15 and 30 minutes late. You’ll see two students who came to class all semester and never turned in a paper or piece of homework. Only about half the class will have their assignments for the day — and more than half of those assignments will be sloppy and haphazard. Twenty-four percent of my students plagiarized this semester. And 42 percent of the students who registered for the class stopped showing up after a few weeks and never bothered to drop the course, which, of course, means an F on their transcripts.

I’d offer that my experiences as a teacher might be an aberration, but I’ve heard these concerns from others, too. And the problem seems to be getting worse. Our teenagers are graduating from high school without knowledge of what it means to be a good student. We worry so much about teaching core subjects, yet we have missed an important first lesson: Too many of our students have little or no work ethic. We can’t sweep this fact under the desk any longer. Good students have integrity. They have a work ethic that includes showing up for class on time, listening attentively, participating in discussions and completing assignments by the deadline. They also know that plagiarizing is academic suicide. Scholastic dishonesty is rife in our schools. Teddi Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University’s Rutland Institute for Ethics, says, “The last figures we have indicate that about 21 percent of undergraduate students admit to some kind of cheating on a test, and nearly half of undergraduate students — 48 percent — admit to having done some kind of written cheating.” With all the portable electronic gadgets and easy access to information on the Internet, it’s easier than ever to cheat. There’s even a thriving market for businesses that will write a custom paper for as little as $10. And when students are caught — as many are — they seem remorseless.

A chapter in our textbook asks: “Is underachieving the norm in today’s education? Have we become proud about our lack of knowledge?” Students in my class were quick to offer up views of their educational experience in Texas: Parents don’t care, teachers “can’t fail us,” it is “too easy to cheat,” and the TAKS is a joke. It doesn’t matter how poorly a student performs in the classroom, the students say — he’s going to pass. One student told me she failed the science TAKS three times and graduated anyway. It seems we have let our students down. They have successfully learned how to just get by. They know we don’t expect much from them.

Apparently I am not alone in my frustration.


Karla said...

I had similar experiences teaching during my PhD program. Luckily the number tended to be small, but the pattern was very similar to what you report. I, too, was "mean" or "unreasonable" for demanding such things as correct spelling and grammar in written assignments, arguments that were supported by evidence and for not allowing unverified internet sources as citations.

One of the most bizarre things I saw regarding an inability to analyze and draw conclusions was from a student who did a book report on Hitler and concluded "Hitler: was he good or what he bad? I just don't know."

I don't think it's getting any better.

immagikman said...

Being an adult student I am frequently horrified at my younger fellow students attitude.

I managed to have a good career without a degree but now at 48 am going to school for my own enjoyment.

Sadly My son has completely blown off my lessons on the importance of early work to prevent later poverty...he's dropped out of college 3 times and is now content living in a hovel with 3 of his fellow drop outs making do with the pay from a pizza delivery job and playinx Xbox 360 games all day (He got that as a christmas present from his mom....he wouldnt be able to afford it on his own)

We have a seriously wasted generation coming up.

Anonymous said...

I began noticing back in 1997 that the numbers of students from broken homes was increasing. I think there is a direct correlation with this figure and the "dumbing down" that has occurred. The 80s saw some progress with a general anti-drug message, but that dissipated with Clinton.

At the end of term the situation remains the same. I think it is true that the instructors (the good ones anyway) care more about their students' performance than the students do. You try to remind yourself that you're doing it for the minority of students who do get it, but it remains discouraging. The solution? They ned both counseling and a kick in the tail.

But the "real" solution of course is to repair their families. Though they suffer from the same lack of basic skills, the young women are generally more competent than the young men. The young men are walking disasters--clearly an absence of male role models at home. Not only do they make lousy students, but they are poor workers as well. There is also an absence of proper male role models on TV and in the movies.

K-12 education is a mess as well. They are cultivating a dumb, lazy proletariat, not young leaders who will live in a republic. Perhaps the lawyers and the politicians are to blame.

One observation we've made in the teacher's lounge: as weird as we were back in the 60s and 70s--long hair, fluffy shirts, tight pants, high heel shoes--we were nonetheless masculine and knew how to work.

One might add, however, that the seeds of our destruction were sown back during that time period. You can trace this debacle back to Lyndon Johnson....

Someone should sue hollywood and the music industry for encouraging drug use the same way they sued the tobacco companies for promoting smoking to the young. A good start would be the producers of the films Easy Rider and Woodstock, and the surviving members of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin . . . Apple Records, the Atlantic Record Corporation--sue them. They promoted drug use to minors just as cynically as the tobacco companies promoted tobacco. There are dozens of others. It could be one of the biggest and most interesting class action lawsuits ever.

juvat said...

I certainly don't know, or even claim to know the solution, (although under the influence of a few braces of Rum, I have waxed eloquent on the subject). I think it's "we have met the enemy and it's us".

(The following reflects a K-12 post USAF career of 10 years, 5 teaching, 5 in administration)

We've got kids in school with no requirement to produce. Teachers can't require a product on time/correct/grammatically consistent with the generally accepted standards of English, because school administrators fear lawsuits, fear of an assessment of failure as parents by the parents who bring the lawsuits; a significant lack of "Give a Sh*t" by semi-humans who are in perpetual rutting season and unfortunately have procreated; Teachers who have given up fighting, Teachers who are actively supporting the dumbing down of America (Yes, there are those, no matter how loudly the NEA/TEA howls at this rant) and finally the kids themselves. Tragically, a large percentage have bought into the government (I'd say Obama/Democrat, but the R's are not blameless) view that "it's not your fault, the system isn't responding to your needs, you poor, poor, pitiful thing!"

They all (and undoubtedly me included) need to put their "big girl" panties on and face facts. It's not about you! Period. "Life is tough, it's tougher if you're stupid" There's nothing inherently wrong with being a roofer, painter, carpenter or ditch digger, if that's what you want to do. It sucks HARD, if that's the only thing your CAPABLE of doing!
I remember going through Lead-in as a brand new pilot. I had a Captain as my instructor whom I was convinced hated me, hated Life and hated the universe. I remember him telling me we were going to do something BFM related and asked me how to do it. I replied that I didn't have "confidence I could do that". He threw the briefing book at me (Literally), kicked me out of the briefing, and told me that if I EVER said that again I was done as a fighter pilot". I had a long and very therapeutic discussion with myself that evening about what I wanted and what I would and would not do to graduate. Thankfully, the would's greatly outnumbered the would not's. (I think the only would not was "hit the ground" which I think was acceptable).

Unfortunately, that level of instructor involvement is no longer tolerable in the Politically Correct America we live in. That's a great loss. Although I never saw that Captain again, he's been an inspiration to me ever since, including now.