CRY FOR HELP

Posted in Rants on September 2nd, 2014 by Ed

The tale of a professor who "banned her students from emailing her" (note: that's not what happened, but good clickbait headline Mr. Editor!) made the rounds over the weekend as thousands of college courses went through the Syllabus Day ritual last week. This kind of story is tailor-made for social media, appealing to all the major demographics (young people, NPR types, and right wing assholes itching for a daily outrage).

Let me be clear up front that I would never do this, but I'd be lying if I said I would not like to do it. Obviously, part of what we are paid to do is answer students' emails as part of being accessible to them in general. But god almighty, I wish everyone who freaked out about this story/headline could see a semester worth of the emails we receive. Suffice it to say the highlighted comment in the link hits the nail on the head: 95% of them are questions that the students could easily answer themselves if they made the slightest effort to do so. The other 5% are excuses for absence, which do not interest me in the slightest; as college students are adults, they can be in class or not as they wish.

When I say that 95% of the questions could be answered with the tiniest bit of effort, you read that as hyperbole. It is not. Putting "The Constitution (available online)" on the reading list guarantees 5 to 10 "Where is the Constitution" emails because I guess Googling "The Constitution" never crosses their minds. Where is the syllabus? (It's on our course website, where it says "Syllabus".) What is the reading for this week? (It's on the syllabus). When is the first exam? (It's on the syllabus). How much of my grade is ____ worth? (It's on the syllabus). On and on and on.

I get basic questions that don't even relate to the class and are even easier to answer. Where is the Registrar's office? Who is the Dean? Who is our Congressman? Can I register to vote? I want to grab/shake/scream at them, "YOU ARE ON THE INTERNET 12 HOURS PER DAY, HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT YOU CANNOT ANSWER BASIC QUESTIONS WITH A SEARCH ENGINE." They can, of course. They just want either A) someone else to do it for them, because many of them are quite used to Mom and Dad doing everything or B) someone to hold their hand or tell them to do it even though they already know what to do.

This annoys us not only because we are lazy and irritable and hate having to answer stupid emails (although those things certainly are true, no doubt). It annoys us because it reflects an absence of basic life/coping skills that they were supposed to learn in junior high and instead we have to teach it in college. Remember in junior high or middle school when you were dragged down to the library and shown how to find something in a card catalog? How to look for books or other information online? Yeah we have to do that with 20 year olds now. And they still don't seem to get it.

Over time I've gotten really self conscious about "The Kids These Days" rants because in truth educators have been saying the same things about kids for…ever, really. But the tendency of this generation of students to ask questions they could easily answer themselves (more quickly, mind you, than they could answer it by awaiting my response) as a result of either laziness or helplessness is alarm. As I try to communicate to class after class of freshmen, their future employers are not going to hold their hand and do everything for them. If your boss gives you instructions and schedules – not unlike the syllabus does – and you continually email her to ask for information you have already been given, you will get fired.

The problem is that they all envision themselves as the boss in that anecdote.