Friday, March 23, 2007

Do We Expect Our Students To Be Like We Were In College? Minus The Bell Bottoms, Of Course.

Like many faculty who post on this board, I am often disappointed in undergraduate enthusiasm (or the lack thereof). I too have been struck by the seeming laziness of students, the unwillingness to participate despite part of their grade being participation, the lack of initiative, the inability to follow instructions, to come to class, to breathe through the nose, to walk without dragging their knuckles on the ground, etc., etc., etc. And I often think to myself, not without a little Nietzschean ressentiment: when I was an undergrad, I would never have done this - damn their eyes!

And then it occurs to me: I was not the typical undergrad - I graduated cum laude with high departmental honors. Sure, I partied, but my rule was no partying until the homework was done, and no missing class because of partying. I sought out courses that I thought would be interesting and challenging - not courses that I thought would be easy A's. I went to the library and studied. While I didn't save Latin, I took over 20 credits of it - and even took ancient Greek! And I remember being irritated with other undergraduates who missed class, who didn't participate, who were lazy, who complained, and especially those who asked for my notes. I imagine that many faculty who post on this website were similar as undergrads (though maybe not so eager for punishment as to study Greek!).

Which brings me to my point: are we comparing apples and oranges? Yes, they're both fruit - but they're nonetheless different entities. Just because "we" as faculty were of a certain sort as undergrads does not mean we should expect all, or even most, of our undergrads to be of that sort. Were our fellow undergrads as eager and enthusiastic and full of initiative as we were? And at the same time, I imagine that most faculty can think of students they have, or have had, who are or were exceptional - enthusiastic, full of initiative, and eager to learn - said students may well have gone on to grad school themselves.

So while I can complain with the best of them (and I do!), it's worth trying to remind myself - and I suspect this might be of some limited solace to others - that just as not every faculty member can be Robin Williams' character from Dead Poets Society, not every student will be like we were when we were undergrads.