Monday, November 2, 2009

Dick from Doylestown On What Has Changed.

I was a grad student at a middling grad program at a middling school with a supposedly good reputation among faculty peers in my discipline. From the moment I set foot on campus, I started seeing Snowflakes pile into the classroom. There were the MA students who derided lit reviews, who yelled vicious screeds at classmates they disagreed with, and who refused to do group work yet received A’s anyway. I saw undergrads who skipped weeks of class and complained about their failing grades, blaming their profs and TA’s for their not knowing basic material. I saw undergrads having extended chats amongst themselves, disrupting class, ignoring the angry looks from classmates (whose grades were nearly double their own), and then making snide remarks about the prof who finally told them to shut up after politely asking them to quiet down 3 times.

As the instructor/grader, I saw students who could not, seemingly WOULD NOT, follow simple instructions for assignment completion…and then throw full-blown kindergarten-level hissyfits when they weren’t patted on the head and told how bright they were while receiving a gold star with their A-for-effort. I saw students who didn’t hand in a lick of work on minor assignments blame me for their inability to do major assignments. I was told I was to blame for their not knowing simple words like “superficial” and “national.” I was told BY A SUPPOSED COLLEAGUE that I needed to lighten up when I actually held students to such simple standards as paper deadlines, an attendance policy, and the necessity to pay attention in class (like, you know, not falling asleep every class or texting).

After being told, repeatedly, that it was all my fault that students were unhappy, I actually started to believe it. But here’s the thing: Something terrible has changed in the past 20 years in higher ed. I started at a community college. I easily excelled there, then excelled in a small, highly selective liberal arts college. I was considered smart. I did not get straight A’s in college, but I did get mostly A’s. Many of my own students have zero ability to perform at the same level, and most of them have higher GPA’s than I did. My own profs gave oral instructions for papers, which often led to lost points if I missed something. I learned from that and made sure my own students got written instructions to go along with not just lengthy oral instructions, but also short practice assignments as prep. Most of the time they were prepped and primed to write that essay in ways that would have made the grade a gimme for my generation.

What happened? Usually about a third of my students completely ignore half of the items needed to cover for the paper. Or it looks like the paper was proofread by a rabid wolverine (meaning, not at all). Or they do something really interesting…that totally ignores the instructions. Or they steal part or all of the paper from the Internet. In short, about a third of the students in NEARLY EVERY CLASS I HAVE EVER TAUGHT cannot follow basic written and oral instructions. Many students cannot sit still, pay attention, take proper notes, take a test, or perform any other basic requirement needed for education in the past 100 years. It’s not all of them, but it’s far too many of them.