CODA

I want to continue to direct your attention to Monday's post and discussion because, for obvious reasons, the radical makeover of higher education is of great importance to me. However, the new issue of the New Yorker has what we might consider a companion piece. Of course higher education's problems run deeper than political appointments and administrative dick-measuring contests; as I've written so many times before (hit the "teaching" tag) the attitudes and expectations of the students are a problem as well. Particularly vexing is this new generation of students who are for all intents and purposes helpless, or led to believe that they are. In "Why Are American Kids So Spoiled?", Elizabeth Kolbert takes a shot at uncovering the roots of the problem.

The discussion, while extremely interesting and more than worth your time, focuses largely on early childhood and parenting. Yet one passage speaks directly to the role of universities and the commodification of education in shaping the way children are raised:

Hara Estroff Marano argues that college rankings are ultimately to blame for what ails the American family. Her argument runs more or less as follows: High-powered parents worry that the economic opportunities for their children are shrinking. They see a degree from a top-tier school as one of the few ways to give their kids a jump on the competition. In order to secure this advantage, they will do pretty much anything, which means not just taking care of all the cooking and cleaning but also helping their children with math homework, hiring them S.A.T. tutors, and, if necessary, suing their high school.

When test scores become the panacea for admitting students to college and sorting them out afterward, parents who have every reason to fear for their children's economic future attempt to eliminate all challenges, distractions, and responsibilities except academics from their lives. I'll take care of everything for you; you just be sure to study a lot. Oh, you don't know how to study? Here's a tutor and three Kaplan courses. In this way, the author argues, parents unintentionally send kids to college who are immature, lazy, and unprepared to do any work (or take care of themselves on the most basic level) even if the urge to do so strikes.

It's not a definitive argument, and I'd like to see more from Marano's book before passing judgment. But it passes the smell test, based on my experiences with undergraduates.

Be Sociable, Share!
Tags:

68 Responses to “CODA”

  1. Amused Says:

    Assuming that children indeed take longer to mature these days, there are many reasons for this that seem more plausible to me than blaming it on too much studying.

    For one thing, people live longer and stay active longer. That means that people spend longer in positions of power and influence, and the young, consequently, spend longer waiting in the wings. As our society grows older, it is increasingly becoming a gerontocracy, with rarer generational shifts. If the time that it takes to check out increases, so does the time it takes to mature — makes sense.

    I love how Elizabeth Kolbert presents some tribe living in the Amazon as an example for how kids should really be raised. I mean, way to compare apples and oranges. Their society is COMPLETELY different from ours. That six-year-old girl who can prepare dinner all on her own? She'll be a mother by twelve. And dead by twenty-eight, give or take. She'll probably lose her parents and become part of the "older" generation when she is still a teenager. Oh, and she doesn't go to school. "Life skills" can be thrust upon you pretty quickly when you become orphaned early, have lots of children early, die early and don't have to bother with education. I understand the surface of it may look adorable to a casual Western observer, but I really think the early maturity of children in those societies comes at too high a price — don't you?

    Then there is the issue of birth control and falling birth rates in the West. In the past, married couples had lots of children, often in spite of their wishes and with little food to go around. A fifth or sixth child was just as likely to be seen by its parents as another mouth to feed as an eagerly awaited personification of its parents' hopes and dreams. Again, it's easy to give your kids lots of tough love when there are eight of them running around, of which five you didn't even particularly want to begin with. These days, most children born to middle-class parents are wanted, and few in number. Hence treating every child like a delicate project.

    That is, of course, without even considering the fact that Kolbert exhibits massive confirmation bias. She writes about kids that she wants to write about, without particular regard to how prevalent the phenomenon of spoiled kids is.

    As for students supposedly lacking necessary life skills — I think it's rather a matter of shifting priorities as you grow older. These days, I am a neat-freak. As a teenager, however I didn't think twice about leaving my clothes draped over the back of a chair; at that time, keeping a super-neat house simply wasn't that important to me. Same with food: as a college student, I knew how to cook, but chose not to, because you need every second possible to devote to the academics. Somehow, I survived, and most other people do, too.

  2. mothra Says:

    Yep. More of a "parents these days" post, and not really even quite rant worthy. Now Mr. GG–that's a throw-yourself-on-the-floor-shrieking-and-crying-until-you-can't-breathe-rant/tantrum. Dude. No one forced you and your wife to go to law school and run up debt. You admit that your wife has a sweet job paying gobs of money; I am guessing you'll be fine.

    But all of this finger-pointing is pointless. (heh). The fact is that now, unless you are in the top 1%, no matter what fucking age you are, you are screwed. I'm 51 and I am TERRIFIED. Once the Repugs get finished ending Medicare, Social Security, and any assistance program out there, I really just don't have a clue how exactly I will live when I retire at age 85. Sure, I have savings. But that isn't going to pay for my living expenses AND healthcare. I am really just kind of hoping I die at 70 so that I don't have to find out what it is like to be elderly and homeless.

    What we all should be doing is figuring out how to educate the rest of our idiot citizenry so they'll stop voting for Republicans and get rid of the plutocracy for once and for all.

  3. Elle Says:

    I love how Elizabeth Kolbert presents some tribe living in the Amazon as an example for how kids should really be raised.

    Who could wish more for their children than an arranged marriage to a cousin in infancy (although you get to hold off your glorious nuptials until you're twelve, if you've had a bit of an education), rigid gender roles, and grinding subsistence farming? The smidgen of Matsigenka ethnography I just read featured the charming tale of a child being married off to her stepfather, after trying to run away to the anthropologists' hut to avoid it.

    Still, as long as they know how to cook dinner.

  4. MaybeDontTeach Says:

    @Ballyho: "you poor, poor precious snowflake! Nobody else in the history of the world has ever faced the insurmountable problem of going to college and paying attention in class."

    Um, no. Everyone in the history of the world has been a freshman who asks dumb questions and makes mistakes and behaves in annoying ways.

    The archetype of the feckless student – especially the freshman – which is centuries old. So before raging at kids these days, at least bother to watch Animal House and read other bitter old dudes whining about kids these days.

    Plus, as others point out, Ed seems to generalize about all his students based on the most annoying kids, and doesn't seem to recognize there have always been annoying kids who cause problems.

    This sort of reductive myopia is vexing and, as I've said before, little different than some of the facile dishonest condemnations on the right. I expect better.

  5. wrist Says:

    I've run into some undergrads who are "immature, lazy, and unprepared to do any work", but I've run into more undergrads who don

  6. wrist Says:

    Well, that didn't work; let's try that comment again?

    I've run into some undergrads who are "immature, lazy, and unprepared to do any work", but I've run into more undergrads who don’t realize that the level of initiative they displayed during high school is insufficient to get them through college. There was a young woman in my freshman pre-calc class who had never gotten anything other than an A in high school math and therefore figured she should be able to easily get an A in college math – with the same amount of effort. That's the attitude I’d expect to see as a result of having one's theretofore entire education run by one's parents (& possible teachers/tutors). After all, if one has never made a single decision re: what to study/how long to study it/how to study it, if other parties have always told you, one never develops that initiative/responsibility. I reckon some of that sorts itself out eventually, but I'm not sure. But anyway it, from my undergrad experience, seems a common attitude. FWIW & all.

    Post-graduation, which is what GG seems to be fired up about, is an issue totally divorced from the attitude undergraduates have. Which is what Ed’s bit seems to be about.

    With regards to that, yeah, it’s all fucked. But MaybeDontTeach is wrong that dread regarding the future is an excuse for not paying any attention whatsoever in class. (MaybeDontTeach is right about the sexism, though.)

    TL;DR: Just because millennials are utterly fucked doesn’t mean that a some (possible a lot) aren’t useless and lazy.

  7. bb in GA Says:

    When I get in front of these young'uns to try to teach them college ALGEBRA (..eeeew) I always and frequently sell hard on how intelligent they are about games.

    Hey y'all…YOURS is the generation that knows technology and gaming. This algebra stuff is just a silly game with detailed rules. Y'all are mostly experts with technology and rule based games. This one may be a little boring in comparison, but YOU CAN DO IT!

    No one here is allowed to say they are 'stupid", 'dumb' and 'not a math person.'

    I get pretty good results…

    //bb

  8. Ballyho! Says:

    MaybeDon'tTeach: Um, no. Everyone in the history of the world has been a freshman who asks dumb questions and makes mistakes and behaves in annoying ways.

    Really? Then what was the point of your endless tirade about how poor, pititful you has had just the worst time ever on the whole history of the world and nobody understands what a special, precious snowflake you are because nobody until you has ever suffered so? As was raised upstream, the generation before you had it tough, too, graduating in a recession with no jobs to be had. As several others have commented, everyone now has it tough. You completely ignored those facts in your tantrum about how terribly, terribly hard your life is.

  9. xynzee Says:

    Given all of this angst about "kids today", anyone of you consider reading "Generation X"? Just saying'. Been a slog for myself to find sustainable and suitable work since graduation over the past 20yrs., so it certainly hasn't been much of a picnic here either. So getting to watch the whole "promise" of getting a good career track job straight out of Uni, unravel just before you got there wasn't a fun thing to watch happen.

    From what I've seen of the uni age kids I work with, and from what an ex-flatmate of mine experienced (he's about GG's age I'm guessing), it sounds like the situation is closer to a socio-economic issue than anything. Where mumsy and dadsy treasure their pwecious li'l snow flakesy-wakesies!

    Few of them know their head from a tea-kettle when they start, and don't get me started on their sense of entitlement, "How dare they make me mop a floor!" A fair whack of them are like Towlie from South Park, "Wanna get high?"

    My ex-flatmate left school at 16 to enter a trade. He'd work 50+hrs and go to tech school as part of his apprenticeship requirement. He had little respect for most of his peers we went to church with, bar one. From the time term started until the final exam, this guy was rarely seen. He was doing a double science degree, and treated his studies like a job. Everyone else would whinge about not being able to go to a party on Saturday night because they had a paper due the following week and how their lives were ruined because of it. His peers and the kids I work with would have lived in the same neighbourhoods as each other, and gone to the same schools except for time lines.

    bb: you sound like the old surveyors who taught me math for my recent studies. If only someone had shown me how math was useful to graphic design (see Escher's work), or handed me a theodolite I just might have faired a bit better in math.

  10. Recall Says:

    "Really? Then what was the point of your endless tirade about how poor, pititful you has had just the worst time ever on the whole history of the world and nobody understands what a special, precious snowflake you are because nobody until you has ever suffered so? As was raised upstream, the generation before you had it tough, too, graduating in a recession with no jobs to be had."

    Which recession was that? Ours is the big red one at the bottom:

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-j7kIzVklysI/T8i6lFycA9I/AAAAAAAANlo/LvjX9hSp0KY/s1600/EmployRecAlignedMay2012.jpg

  11. argh Says:

    You know there's an old saying feminist/anti-racist circles, "this isn't the oppression olympics". Meaning, there's very little point in trying to figure out who has it worst, and the only way to make any progress is for ALL oppressed people to ally and work together.

    I think we need a version of that for class struggles… yes, this recession is very bad, but the American economy has been very hostile to average workers for a very long time (or maybe always). Let's not waste effort trying to figure out whose life is the worst. Let's support each other and try to make things better for everyone.

  12. MaybeDontTeach Says:

    @ballyhoo: "You completely ignored those facts in your tantrum about how terribly, terribly hard your life is." You haven't offered any facts and, worse, haven't read what I've written. I suspect you are confusing my comments with another because I haven't mentioned my life. I'm old enough to have read this "kids thes days" crap multiple times and, as I point out again and again, it's crap by people who are too stupid or vain to remember the term "youthful folly" exists for a reason, as does the mockery of "kids these days" crap. It's especially bad coming from a teacher of history who should be highly aware of how long the "students are so spoiled, unlike my day" meme has been around. It about telling the difference between human nature and one's own need to invent narratives which make you feel superior, and "kids these days" isone.

    With students you are always getting older and more experienced while each batch of students is newly unlearned. No matter how good a teacher you are, at some point you forget or lose patience with how they aren't gaining experience like you. And a bad teacher will then resent or scorn students for their inherent lack of learning, forgetting it's his job to provide that. A person who thinks kids these days are vastly inferior hasn't been paying attention to the idiots they've known all their lives. The kids are alright, they're just younger than you and being old doesn't make you better, just gives you fewer excuses for ill informed judgements.

  13. MaybeDontTeach Says:

    "MaybeDontTeach is wrong that dread regarding the future is an excuse for not paying any attention whatsoever in class" is such a dishonest simplification and exaggeration I hope you aren't a teacher. The behavior referenced wasn't a lack of "any attention whatsoever" but the natural flaws of any group of freshmen. Students have always been distracted more than we adults think they should be, they've always been prone to overestimate themselves yet ask the same dumb questions. That's why they are students – to learn better. But if you as a teacher are inventing theories as to why they are Worse Than Ever based on hyperbole such as "not paying any attention whatsoever in class"- Really? How many kids are like that? Have you kept accurate count? What's your measure beyond your increasing jaded view? – then maybe your lack of perspective is what fails to inspire your kids.

  14. MaybeDontTeach Says:

    And yes, increased pressure and worry tends to accentuate naturally annoying tendencies more – kids are paying more while teachers earn less, thus more friction.

  15. Nomad Says:

    GG opined: he needs to know how to execute a Google search and plow through a mountain of data in an expeditious manner.

    And how many years of University are required for this skill? I thought it was mastered by everyone's grandparents.

    And GG offered:
    Unfortunately, his teacher is likely to be a fucking dinosaur that tests his ability to memorize the names of the inventors of the internet and the date the first PC hit the market.

    You simply blame everyone older, Mr. Grumpy McDiaperpants. That makes you a hypocrite.

  16. T.W. Says:

    I'm an undergrad, and I agree with this article. Many of my friends in college have dorms/apartments that lack the faintest attempt at organization. They're late paying bills, or keeping up with chores. If it weren't for meal plans, they'd freak out over when or what to cook.

    On the other hand, we're so saturated with the amount we DO need to know, that it just could be an overload for the current generation. The tribe mentioned in the article only needs to learn to survive. Give them 7 hours of class a day until they're 18 and see how much longer it takes to make them adept in hunting or construction.

  17. MaybeDontTeach Says:

    Isn't it a bit embarrassing that this entire conversation is based on an article which is the biggest pile of cherry picked, confirmation bias crap since the last Thomas Friedman book?

    Kolbert makes the wild claim kids are most spoiled since ancient dynasties and doesn't even bother with the usual lazy trend piece trick of using some random stat as the basis. It's actually worse than Friedman in that way.

    Instead she makes absurd assertions and expects readers to buy it, perhaps because it plays upon the universal "kids these days" bull.

    The article relies upon selective anecdotes from a transparent piece of academic sensationalism which compares a patriarchal tribe where woman start having kids at 16 to a tiny sample of 31 families with little indication they reflect the norm (the tendency to allow cameras is a sign they may not be). Then there are examples from parents who got a book contract to inflate their individual experience into generalizations.

    It's pathetic that Ed and many comments here indulge this article they would have mocked and scorned if it wasn't about something which plays into their own biases.

    The actual discussion should be how such articles pass the smell test, not wallowing in the premise that it's empty premise is true.

  18. Recall Says:

    "GG opined: he needs to know how to execute a Google search and plow through a mountain of data in an expeditious manner.

    And how many years of University are required for this skill? I thought it was mastered by everyone's grandparents."

    If you want, I can show you an example of Ed failing at this very same task.