A few weeks ago I had a bad day. This is not unusual; in fact, it would be worth pointing out if I had a good one, which I believe happened last during the Clinton administration. The day in question was specifically a bad day in the classroom, something that in all honesty does not happen terribly often. Having taught at the college level for the better part of a decade, my expectations are so low that it's nearly impossible to end up disappointed. I have come to accept the fact that the students have no interest in the subject matter and no desire to interact with me or their classmates in any meaningful way.
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I expect that they will sit there and look bored for an hour-plus, and that's usually exactly what I get. Expectations met.
On this particular day, my morning class was presented with a very basic exercise I do with material on public opinion. I put up three pictures: Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, QB/Pizza Salesperson Peyton Manning, and chart-topping knucklehead Lil' Jon, whose megahit "Turn Down for What" has been inescapable for the past six months. I change the celebrities every year or two to ensure that it's someone relevant – I used Simon Cowell when "American Idol" first became a big hit, and so on. The way this has always worked is that the students of course identify the athlete and celebrity but have no idea who the elected official is. I also ask them some other celebrity-related questions, like who is married to Kanye West and what the couple named their recent child. The point I make is that Americans are indeed capable of retaining information; we know gobs of facts about sports, celebrities, and so on. We know almost nothing about politics because we do not pay much attention to it and we don't find it interesting. There is no good reason we can't know who are representatives are the same way we know the starting lineup of our favorite teams or the cast members of Real Housewives of Shreveport. We know the latter because it interests us and ignore the former because it doesn't.
Lately, say for the past few semesters, I've noticed something strange: the students don't seem to know any of the celebrity BS anymore either. Back in the mid 2000s, I would ask who is married to Tom Cruise (everyone immediately knew) and what they named their child (in unision, "Suri!"). Now, even though I update the "material" to be contemporary, they don't really know. They still don't know who the political figures are, of course, and now they don't know the trashy celebrity gossip either.
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After having this experience in the morning, I went next to an Honors class in which I had reserved the day for discussion. They had assigned readings and some basic questions they were required to answer so that they might have something to talk about in class (as opposed to showing up having read nothing and having never thought about the issue). I don't even recall the topic, but after about 15 minutes of trying to get blood from a turnip I got exasperated. "OK," I said, "it is painfully clear that you are not interested in the slightest in this topic. So please tell me, what would you like to talk about? We can talk about anything. Just tell me what interests you. I am serious, I really want to know."
I won't recount the entire unfruitful discussion that follows, but I asked dozens of questions that require no knowledge whatsoever to answer. What do you like? What do you do in your free time? Do you watch (sports, movies, TV series, video games, etc)? When you sneak your phones out in class, what are you doing on them? After about an hour I came to the conclusion, based on what this group of about 18 college freshmen and sophomores told me, that their interests are 1) Tumblr, 2) Netflix, and 3) texting each other. As to what they look at on Tumblr, the answer appeared to be random nonsense – memes, cat pictures, collections of pictures of Bad _____, and the like, so it's not even like they're using Tumblr to become acquainted with any topic, even a frivolous one. As for what they text each other about given their apparent lack of definable interests, the answer was that they talk about themselves and one another.
Every generation complains about the ones that follow, and I don't believe that these kids are any dumber than college kids were 20 or 50 years ago. I simply do not understand, however, their complete lack of interest in anything. I get that they are not interested in news and politics; hell, I rely on that fact to make some important points while teaching them about those topics. I am absolutely baffled, though, at the idea that they are not even interested in any of the kinds of fluff that Americans use as alternatives to learning substantive things about the world – sports, Hollywood celebrity crap, pop music, etc. It is alarming to me that in a moment of frustration and total honesty I asked them – begged them – to tell me what does interest them given that my chosen topics so clearly do not and that the answer seems to be…themselves.
I'm trying not to sound like an old, out-of-it man, but this is baffling to me. And I'd be lying if I claimed not to wonder about the future prospects of a cohort of people who may have no interests of any kind outside of their own lives.
104 thoughts on “UNINTERESTED OBSERVERS”
Initially I was going to say that it proves that today's celebrities are so vacuous and bland that even their target market doesn't give two squirts about them.
Otherwise a form of ADD due to information overload so that nothing sticks?
I'm so old that though I've heard of Peyton Manning I wouldn't recognize his photo; never heard of Lil' (shouldn't it be Li'l?) John or "Turn Down for What" (unless I've heard it but don't know the name), and don't care. If you're teaching in Illinois, Ed, all I can say about Durbin is wow. That oblivious, eh?
Transient Vagrant says:
I'm mostly just shocked that anyone outside of Shreveport remembers that it exists, even for use as a punchline. My primary interest these days is counting down days until my wife is finished with her work in Shreveport and we can finally move away for good.
Perhaps it's inevitable as the Lowest Common Denominator continues to approach zero. Our society may have achieved a cultural "Peter Principal" where we'll muddle along but have no chance of actual advancement.
I'm saddened that my son's generation will have to contend with all the same issues my generation recognized, and only made worse, from environmental degradation to political corruption. The Viet Nam generation grew up to totally sucker for the Iraq invasion. We all accept as normal that the House is controlled by the party of the minority of voters thanks to Gerrymandering.
These days "critical thinking" most likely means dreaming up snarky comments about Taylor Swift's wardrobe. (Who?)
Alex SL says:
I don't believe that these kids are any dumber than college kids were 20 or 50 years ago
Surely there is a contradiction between this and the rest of the post? I mean, dumbness must have some kind of definition, and "not being interested in things that directly affect one's own welfare, such as politics" is at least one possible definition.
Saying that every generation is equally bright is very charitable but, then again, the more charitable contemporaries of a very dumb generation would say the same, wouldn't they?
US in the UK says:
…what are we talking about again?
The difference is we're all incredibly interesting now.
Thanks to tumblr, to imgur, to Snapchat and all the rest of it, we can distract ourselves with ourselves – we don't have to wait for a celebrity to do something distracting, or a sports hero to do something impressive. Even better, it's all "gameified"; we can rate ourselves on our Retweets and our follower gains and our Facebook likes.
It simply wasn't possible before. There weren't free-floating platforms we could add our own personal content to at a whim with no thought to formatting or curation. If we wanted to send a joke we just thought of, we had to send out a series of text. Post a picture and direct people to it? We'd better learn some code, or at least shell out money for a webspace.
With that barrier to entry, I think the natural impulse is to be more selective about what you comment on.
On top of that, there's the fact that social media platforms connect you to all of your friends and acquaintances, 24/7. Every time I look on Facebook, there's another dozen new bits of news. Every time I head over to Imgur, I have another fifteen minutes of pure passive browsing before I get to something I've already seen. And that's just if I haven't got anyone commenting on things I've said or posted!
Before, I was limited to a more immediate circle of friends – when I went to sleep, they likely were as well. I wouldn't wake up with dozens of new comments and stories from them on my phone; they'd just be waking up too.
There's nothing about a celebrity that's inherently more interesting than what my friends and family and acquaintances are doing, aside from the fact that they're possibly a cultural touchstone. But what use is a touchstone when we're all up-to-date on one another's lives already? We don't need a common topic to discuss any more. We have each other.
So, I don't think the interest in "ourselves" is really narcissistic. It's more about cutting out the middleman of the celebrity in order to be able to relate to one's friends.
Now, there might be a problem in meeting someone new – except that social media communities are so large and pervasive and prone to internal "memes" and whatnot that all you need to do is find one social media platform you have in common with the new person and you've got a commonality you can build on.
In other words, Andy Warhol was wrong; in the future, everyone will be famous forever.
I've thought about this issue. Because of social networking, college-aged kids are in closer contact with their friends. And anecdotally, they are much less open to meeting new people. As you noted, the monoculture doesn't exist anymore, and neither do many off-line subcultures like indie-rock. So there's not much social incentive to be interested and interesting beyond a small circle of friends. They're not interested in meeting new people. They're not going to impress the people they know. In fact, being interested in something weird might alienate them from their friends.
Question for further study: Does the category of cool even exist for college-aged kids? Would they be able to judge a stranger as cool?
I think this also changes the nature of consumption of celebrity, too – young people don't go to a sports game or a concert or a movie because they want to consume the content itself, nor do they go together because of a shared interest in the content.
Instead, they're going out to an event together because they want a shared experience with each other, and the content they're experiencing is less important to that.
Not always – Taylor Swift gets her fans in because she's Taylor Swift, of course – but I'm noticing people are a lot more "open-minded" (or perhaps, agnostic) about the content they consume.
"Celebrities" in the modern sense date back only about 100 years, to the rise of cinema. Before that, people would have occupied themselves with local gossip about people they knew. By losing interest in celebrities, modern kids are going back to an older mode of behaviour.
Of course, 100 years ago we didn't have an endless supply of online videos, gaming, and pornography with which to amuse ourselves, so that's a new development.
Anecdotal though it be and so not data, I've had the same experience with my nieces, who will text each other rather than talking, even when they are sitting next to each on the couch. Damned if I know what interests them, but it ain't the views or priorities of the older generation. Mind you, given what a hash we've made of things, I can't blame them for finding an alternative version of nirvana.
Major Kong says:
My second basing in the Air Force was Shreveport. Shreveport actually seemed nice in comparison to my first assignment – Columbus Mississippi.
One reason I left active duty was the realization that if stayed, Shreveport Louisiana was likely to be the nicest place I got to live.
Safety Man! says:
As a member of this cursed generation I can second that opinion. Just this weekend I was in my backyard making recycled paper from pulp to use as wrapping for some small Christmas gifts. My neighbor, who is also a millennial, came up and asked what I was doing. I explained the process to her and why I was doing it, and she used the term "weird" three times in a five minute conversation.
Unusually provocative post today, and Andrew's response is a match for Ed's report. As I see 4 out of 5 people walking the sidewalks of New York with things sticking in their ears or playing with the squares of metal and plastic in their hands, I have to wonder how this will evolve, in what direction, and the same with the current pervasiveness of social media and interpersonal platforms. After all, less than 100 years ago entire families gathered around their…radios, the electronic gadget that was declared to have permanently altered our social and familial interactions. Then TV. Then computers. Combined, perhaps, with the erosion of churchgoing and other personal interfaces, which would have happened anyway. But surely the student generation will tire of the novelty of texting and tweeting the friends sitting next to them, or living across the street, and go on to something else.
That something else may be Google glass or something still on the drawing board, of course, i.e. yet another technological marvel, but my point is that there may come a saturation point in finding out what your BFF had for breakfast and/or what color nail polish she is now applying to her toes. Then there is the rest of the world to explore. Of course no one wants to explore alone, so one will have to form search parties with one's friends. So some consolidation, at first, maybe not exactly sociopolitical grouping.
Which generation is it that marched in the thousands in NYC this weekend for black justice? I saw all generations. Social media have enabled such marches; flash mobs have turned political. But if not one of Ed's students mentioned concern about the mess our generations have made of the world, even to climate change or economic catastrophe, even to student loan profiteering, which you'd think hit them personally, then it IS troubling. Still, the only constant is change, and I'm not convinced that a still younger generation can get any more trivial than the one he describes. There has to be an upturn, in some unpredictable direction. Doesn't there?
Could it be that 20+ years ago, kids were being TAUGHT in class and not entertained by pseudo-debates without any pedagogic focus?
Kids'll be kids – they need (and, more often than not, want) discipline and soppy 'social awareness' discussions which don't fit into a teaching plan are just a waste of their time and a cop-out for the docent.
I blame liberal political correctness in which the little darlings must all get a gold star and nobody loses; nurturing kids in this environment results in the hilarious interviews we saw during the Occupy Wall Street comedy.
Teaching Latin would be better than subjecting them to this kind of insultingly simplistic crap.
Speaking of vapid and soulless, and carrstone shows up.
If kids today thought critically and paid attention to 'real world' events, most would reach the 'cut my wrists' solution. Not tuning in is a survival mechanism.
"Why, there are no children here at the 4H club, either! Am I so out of touch? No, it's the children who are wrong."
Too bad Ed so seldom re-joins the conversation here; I'd like to get his take on doug's comment.
I've worked at offices pre and post internet and post-internet there is MUCH less social interaction in the office. Most people are too busy IMing their friends or working with headphones on (verboten pre internet) to interact with new colleagues.
Major Kong says:
Pretty sure Ed teaches at a university and not kindergarten.
Austin Piech says:
As a millennial, let me give you a few observations. See, the rest of you are researchers – I'm a witness.
* The proliferation of social media and temporary fame through virality has proved Warhol right, we're all going to be famous for 15 minutes. This has led to the creation of literally billions of tweets, reblogs, reddit posts, and instagram photos all with the sole intention of getting "likes". Some people like Jenna Marbles or PewDiePie have created careers out of avenues that didn't exist ten years ago.
* We've been handed an incredibly shitty situation. Our parents were given a country with unlimited opportunity and they used it to gorge themselves into obesity. Now we're the ones cleaning up a party that we weren't even invited to. Looking at congress, our opportunities, the rising costs of higher education and the lower returns – it's no wonder so many prefer digital stimulation to real life.
* The attitude of the baby boomers, who voted in Reagan twice and a Bush three times, has somehow placed all the anger they should feel for their own failures on their children. We're told that we're lazy, that we're self-centered, that we fail to plan for the future. Who do you think we learned it from?
* It's hard to care about a failing world that obviously doesn't care about you. With so many other better options out there, why wouldn't we rather keep up with the Kardashians than Congress?
* Of course, every generation has its fuckups and vapid fools. But we pick and choose who we decide to be our own personal standard bearer of the generation based on our own prejudices. When I think of baby boomers, I think of angry tea partiers in colonial outfits holding signs saying "Keep your government hands off my medicare, you morans!" I don't think of Elon Musk. When you think of millennials, you think of the guy with bedhead taking four different photos of his pastrami and trying out every filter. You don't think of Mark Zuckerberg.
Simply put, the new age of social media has enabled the Echo Chamber Generation. Please note that, in this case, "Generation" refers to pretty much everyone, not just the latest cohort of young adults. It crosses age boundaries, extending to everyone who's capable of using some form of modern computing device.
People no longer have to deal with anyone that doesn't share their exact opinions and interests. We have created an internet of Likes and Thumbs Ups and Follow Us On Twitters and blocklists, where every vapid thought that ever flitted through anyone's brain is put out there for the world to see, and I'll unfriend you if you dare to disagree with me. People are less willing to give even a quarter of a crap about anyone else because they no longer have to put in any effort to get social networks. Just throw whatever idea pops into your head out on the internet, someone will Like and Subscribe, and you don't need to ever worry about anyone else. And if anyone ever does disagree with you? They're a Troll, add them to the blocklist and complain to the management of whatever social site it is; why hasn't that Horrible Troll been banned yet?
We have created a super-generation of people who can no longer deal with people that don't worship them simply for existing. We are all celebrities now.
c u n d gulag says:
They're being prepared to be good little Fascist automatons.
When asked to, they'll tattle on one another to the state organs.
And they'll be tortured by something horrible – withholding their hand-held devices!
"I'LL TALK! I'LL TALK!! Just give me back my cell phone, you monsters!!!"
When I went to college, twenty-mumble years ago, we wrote notes to each other in class because cellphones weren't in common use and the Internet was something you logged onto the mainframe in the hopes of maybe finding a person or two on line. Telephones were still stuck to the wall–my dorm had one, in the lobby. Instead, we hung out in the dining hall, on the quad, the library, or in the student union. That way of meeting people meant you met lots of people you had nothing in common with…but also lots that you did. I'm still in touch with people I met sitting in the sunshine on the big hill by the quad.
Honestly, people (and I mean the world, not only the commenters here), listen to the teachers.
Teachers who've been at it a decade or so have a) a large sample size of people passing through the same age, b) some degree of objectivity since these are not mostly their personal kids, and c), something otherwise rare, a sample of the same age across time.
Yes, I know. Kids these days. Get off my lawn. Blah blah blah. It's just so easy to slot any comment about students into that box and go on not worrying. And Andrew's comments are an interesting insider's view.
The phenomenon Ed's talking about is real. I've taught for over three decades and I have to back him up. Something has changed in the cognition and focus of many students. It is not good in a technological society. Really. You can't run air traffic control and surgeries and computer security while trading cat pics.
There are a good number of young people in whom it has *not* changed. That's true too. The kids and adults out on the streets in Ferguson are focused as all hell.
But the point isn't that there are many smart kids out there. The point is that the mode (in the statistician's sense) has changed. Society runs, or doesn't, on the mode.
One thing that strikes me is that the cat-pic-trading crowd (the ones not like Andrew, the ones who can't seem to work in the real world) are kind of in the same slot as the old foppish aristocrats everyone used to laugh at. Useless blots who'd all starve in a minute without the family money. The people without the luxury of uselessness are the ones who stayed focused, and the same pattern seems to be operating now.
The only difference is the numbers are reversed. The fops are in the majority. We're going to find out what happens then.
In defense of tumblr, I am an old who really enjoys it. Immediately before coming here, I read a pretty brilliant Robert Parry article, "Why Are We Obsessed With Saying America Is Awesome?" on tumblr. As the parent of not one but TWO millennials (that explains my tumblr fixation btw) I feel like the kids who would not really open up about their interests DO have interests besides just gossiping on Facebook, they just weren't interested in sharing them with someone who was already criticizing them for their ignorance of politics. I have also worked with millennials and found them to be kind of frighteningly gung ho for corporate success and hard-working. None of that Gen X slacker shit there. Anyway, get off my lawn!!
There are analogies between my job and yours, Ed, and I think I know what is happening.
When I see the way people use their smart phones the word "pacifier" or "dummy" springs to mind. I believe that this device, with its daily quantum of dopamine hits triggered by the incoming message tone, bypasses consciousness, ego, intellect and the frontal lobes entirely.
I think it is a Skinner Box, pure and simple. Hit the lever – reward; hit the lever – reward. Hear the tone – salivate; hear the tone – salivate..
Now that this device has arrived there is no need to learn something, know something, achieve something, be something, study something or read something in order to achieve the dopamine hit – you just have to push that screen.
Does this explain what Ed sees in his students? They have no motivation other than to interract with the little palm-screen.
I know people, in their forties no less, whose smartphones never leave their hands. They literally check their phones every minute.
In my job I have the luxury of reasonably long conversations with people, but these conversations have shrunk to about 20 seconds as people dive headlong into their smart phones at the first opportunity.
It's lonely out here.
Peoples' worlds have shrunk, Ed, to their palms. They no longer live in what we might call the world, but in their narcissistic palm devices. You are a strange, bellowing creature on the outer edge of their universe. They cannot sense or understand your bewilderment.
Sock or Muffin? says:
As one of the few people I know who've been at the same job for 14 years , I stopped trying to make friends years ago. Either the new colleague is an asshole (maybe it's me?) OR they'll be gone before a new year rolls around from layoffs or whatever. To make a horrible analogy, it's like war movies where no one wants to make friends with the new troops. They'll be dead soon anyway!
Emerson Dameron says:
Fair enough. Every generation is remembered for it's outliers. A college class may be a bad sample now because there's so little incentive for the smartest members of yours to go near one.
Shreveport became a popular destination for low-budget filmmakers when Toronto got too fancy. A lot of people have seen pictures of it. Hope that helps!
@Geoff, I'm glad YOU'RE seeing gung-ho Millenials. In my field, I interview 20-somethings who interrupt interviews to check their Facebook. Who can't make it through a half-hour meeting without playing with their smartphones. Who can't be counted on to make deadlines because "it's boring!" You can't keep lowering expectations to meet the ever-shortening attention span of people whose entire lives are (to coin a phrase!) "trading cat-pics".
I think Graham has a point with his Skinner Box analogy.
Emerson Dameron says:
Reaganoid "libertarianism" or Buckleyan crypto-fascism. Pick one and stick with it.
Heidi B. says:
Okay, I'm only five comments in, but Holy Sh!t, people, please don't generalize about college students. I work at a small college, and most of these kids work their butts off, wondering if they should pick up a second major or another minor or write an 80-page honors thesis. They party as hard as they work but mostly restrict it to weekends, and they engage in Big Issues. I've found that people try to rise to the level of work expected of them, so maybe the low expectations are demoralizing. Also, they inherited alot of our problems – race issues, pollution, wacky economic policies – and have to soak up our cynicism about that.
John Danley says:
Equal opportunity solipsism and its discontents.
Plug in, turn on, drop out.
@Austin Piech – well said sir. A spirited defence.
@HeidiB – The rules on generalisations apply, of course, but it is difficult when one's personal experience concurs pretty much with Ed's.
"Holy Sh!t, people, please don't generalize about college students."
Hey, we're old folks. That's what we do.
I'm sorry, did you guys say something? I was busy admiring myself.
Ed, you just don't know what modern celebrities are. Like the 4H example above, things have changed.
Lil Jon is a 43-year-old black hip-hop guy. Is it really likely that your 18-year-old white college students are spending a lot of time listening to him?
The modern celebrities for college students aren't rappers or movie stars. They're Youtube channel creators. Ask them who this guy is:
(rhymes with Cutie Pie). They'll know.
You have to understand what celebrity culture is. It's not interesting in and of itself. No one actually cares what the royal baby did this week. But it's a way to have something to talk about with your peers, other than the weather. It's an agreed-upon mutual interest of a social group. You read up about the royal baby because you know that you can use that information as currency when you talk with Marjorie who lives across the street. It was never about the celebrities themselves. And now the agreed-upon interests have changed.
This is where you should get your current celebrities from:
robert e says:
@Talisker: Not really. Celebrity worship and gossip apparently go back millenia, adopting new technologies like the printing press and television along the way. But it's probably true that before movies and radio it was not such a dominant feature of teenage life. On the other hand, back then teenagers didn't exist as a subculture and university classrooms were for the children of the wealthy ruling class, for whom history and politics would have been more personally relevant.
So what were working class 19-year-olds doing then? They were probably too preoccupied working 10-12 hr days and raising kids to think about much else.
FYI, a short survey of the history of celebrity gossip:
Anubis Bard says:
If the kids are truly smart and engaged, is it any surprise that they tune out our culture's dishonest and threadbare politics and pop-cultural bric a brac. Friends are pretty damned interesting, after all, and may even be engaged in a reciprocal relationship with you. If the kids are drones looking for the easy route to a paycheck, is it any surprise that they are already clear on the fact that actual knowledge and critical thinking are not really the relevant points of the B.A. hoop they have to jump through. If the kids are just socially retarded morons, who can't be bothered to motivate toward adult lives, well, who is holding them accountable on that? I don't have any real grounds for choosing among these three sketches, and maybe they are all part of the truth.
Hmm, I think this is the first time I've seen some making fun of kids these days for *not* memorizing pointless celebrity gossip. Instead they learn about themselves and their friends, people they actually know. What's so bad about that?
I think what Anonymouse talks about is partly true, but also partly a generational shift. Milennials tend to evaluate things based on their efficiency, which does relate to attention spans, but also relates to a rejection that we should do things a certain way simply because that's the way they've always been done. My mother sent me a comedy video a while back about Milennials in the workplace. One of the "har har kids these days" bits involved a young woman who ignored the company's directive to use a special, custom-made computer program requiring hours of training and thousands of dollars worth of development, because she could do everything at least as well in Excel. This was supposed to be an example of how Milennials think they're special snowflakes who know better than everyone else, but to me (and probably any other Milennial watching) it was an example of a stupid, arbitrary rule with little purpose–if you can do it in Excel, why the hell should I attend hours of training and why the hell should the company spend thousands of dollars? That's just stupid, and the fact that it's always been that way is no excuse. Similarly, while using smartphones in meetings might not be ideal, maybe it's worth questioning why the meeting is going longer than half an hour in the first place. I've rarely been in a meeting longer than 30 minutes that really had much of a point. Hell, people doodling or dozing or using Palm Pilots in meetings has been a trope for decades–but now that smartphones are involved, it's those Darn Kids. While the self-importance of Milennials (like most young people) can get out of control, the reevaluation of old methods is what leads to innovation. I have no excuse for people who don't know anything about politics (though the comments on any online news story will show you that that's hardly limited to young people), or a total lack of attention span, but I think Milennials are very results-based, and overall that's a good thing, even if it means some of them don't give a shit about your meeting.
A D Jameson says:
Ed, congrats on a masterpiece of irony: using a blog post to complain about your experience, all in order to implicitly critique how older people mindlessly critique youngsters for using social media to discuss their experiences. The way you focused the criticism through your own "bad day"—i.e., starting with your subjective response to the world, as though it exists purely for your own benefit—is a masterstroke, and a pretty funny critique of solipsism. Making it even more impressive is how you thereby baited others into piling on in the comments section: people using social media to share opinions about people using social media to share opinions. I have to assume they all got the joke, and that their comments are ironic, too. It's a satirical mise en abyme!
I'm already planning to use this post next semester when I teach rhetorical analysis. If you're ever in Chicago, let me know and I'll thank you with gin and tacos. (My neighborhood has awesome places for both.)
@arglebargle — what's wrong is that they're not "learning about" their friends. They're sharing 140-character snippets about what they had for lunch, who was really really cool (or whatever passes for cool these days), what party they're going to next. If I thought there was any depth in their text-a-thons, I'd feel a lot better. They're not having the sort of discussion my friends and I had when we would meet in person and sit around a table discussing, yes, politics, current events, whatever.
Let me share a story. Back in the '90s, when I was teaching in college, I taught a course in ethics. This was in a blue-collar state college. Of course, ethics teachers rely on heavily on the Nazis because they serve as the personification of pure evil. They're your bad guys in all illustrations of good and evil.
One day, I was in mid rant, when one of the better students in the class raised her hand. I called on her (apparently, she had been designated for this) and she politely said, "I don't mean to be rude, but we don't know who the Nazis were or why they were so bad." For once in my life, I was speechless. There were about 10 minutes left. How do you answer that in 10 minutes?
Ask them about the 6 second videos on Vine. Ask them who their favorite Vine stars are. Prepare for the deluge.
What this brought to mind was the "Risks and talkativeness" chapter in Jared Diamond's The World Until Yesterday.
I would like to speculate about a possible connection between two features of traditional life: its risks, and what I have experienced as the talkativeness of traditional peoples. Every since my first trip to New Guinea, I have been impressed by how much more time New Guineans spend talking with each other than do we Americans and Europeans. They keep up a running commentary on what is happening now, what happened this morning and yesterday, who ate what and when, who urinated when and where, and minute details of who said what about whom or did what to whom. The don't merely fill the day with talk: from time to time through the night they wake up and resume talking. That makes it difficult for a Westerner like me, accustomed to nights spent in uninterrupted sleep and not punctuated with conversations, to get a good night's rest in a hut shared with many New Guineans. Other Westerners have similarly commented on the talkativeness of the !Kung, of African Pygmies, and of many other traditional peoples.
Out of innumerable examples, here is one that stuck in my mind. One morning during my second trip to New Guinea, I was in a camp tent with two New Guinea Highland men, while other men from the camp were out in the forest. The two men belonged to the Fore tribe and were talking to each other in the Fore language. I had been enjoying learning the Fore language, and the men's conversation was sufficiently repetitive and about a subject for which I had already acquired vocabulary that I was able to follow much of what they were saying. They were talking about the Highland staple food of sweet potato, for which the Fore word is isa-awe. One of the men looked at the large pile of sweet potatoes in the corner of the tent, assumed an unhappy expression, and said to the other man, "Isa-awe kampai." ("There aren't any sweet potatoes.") They then counted how many isa-awe the pile actually contained, using the Fore counting system that mapped objects against the 10 fingers of the two hands, then against the 10 toes, and finally against a series of points along the arms. Each man related to the other how many isa-awe he himself had eaten that morning. Then they compared notes on how many isa-awe the "red man" had eated that morning (i.e., me: the Fore referred to Europeans as tetekins, literally "red man," rather than as "white man.") The man who had spoken first now said that he was hungry for isa-awe, although he had eaten breakfast only an hour ago. The conversation sent on to estimate how much longer that pile of isa-awe would last, and when the red man (me again) would buy some more isa-awe. There was nothing unusual about that conversation: it stands out in my mind only because it indelibly reinforced my memory of the Fore word isa-awe, and because I was struck at the time by how long the men were able to continue a conversation contrasting variants just on the single theme of isa-awe.
He goes on to state, "I think that their constant stream of conversation helps New Guineans to cope with life in the dangerous world around them. … By talking constantly and acquiring as much information as possible, New Guineans try to make sense of their world, and to prepare themselves better to master life's dangers.
No Andrew. In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 seconds.
With all due respect to the position of instructor, what makes anyone think they are entitled to information from student? Teachers moan about the lack of participation in class. Well, participation means sharing your thoughts with not only the teacher, but also the other students. Your peers. Your judges, jury, and oft-times executioners.
Sure, teen and twenty-something students are just aching to do that. After all, no student has ever used information gleaned in class to embarrass of harass another student. High school and college are social warfare. Why would any of your students willingly offer information in the presence of their competition?
They may not know much, but they know a sucker move when they see it.
Shane in Utah says:
Posts like these make me grateful for my own college students, and also puzzled by how different they are from the students Ed describes. My students read hundreds of pages every week without complaint, and come to class eager to discuss it. Sometimes they're talking about the books before I come in. Many of them write great papers (almost all of them try), and almost all of them deliver great presentations. My students impress the hell out of me, and I write that at the grumpiest, most exhausted time of the semester.
So what's the difference? I teach at a not-terribly-selective public, Land Grant institution, with students who mostly don't come from particularly privileged backgrounds, and who mostly work 20-30 hours a week to put themselves through school. Part of it might be that the large majority of my students are Utah or Idaho Mormons. That means that they're conservative and sheltered, but it also means they have a genuinely strong work ethic, and an earnestness that is hard not to find charming. Part of it might be that I don't teach much Gen Ed any more, so I'm mostly teaching junior and senior English majors, which is not a major people choose by default without an interest in the subject. And part of it might be a self-selecting student population–I have a reputation for being a demanding teacher, and also for requiring students to read books with bad words and adult content, so many students avoid my classes.
Even so, at the risk of sounding self-righteous, I'm bothered about sentiments like this one: "I expect that they will sit there and look bored for an hour-plus, and that's usually exactly what I get. Expectations met." So expect more? Isn't it possible that the students detect your not terribly well-concealed contempt, and return it in kind?
@Nick; in my field (s/w), there are often many pieces that need to be completed by different groups in order to put together a working system. I'm thrilled the girl in your example knew how to use Excel, but that has nothing to do with someone tasked to code a web app who doesn't bother to do it because it's "boring" (that is, takes more than 20 minutes to create). As for meetings, it's routine to have different teams report on the status of their respective piece of the system, whether it's a webapp, GUI, the results of a useability test, or bug report. Not always a thrill-a-second, but very much necessary information to have in order to meet project deadlines, and all members of the team need to be tuned in, so that they know how everyone else's status affects theirs. Perhaps you're not experienced in this aspect of the work world, but it very much exists.
Well, this is a particularly miserable little circle jerk you've got going here, even for this site. My dad and I recently discussed this 'interested in nothing' subset of people. I was speaking from experience of my generation, he from his. FWIW, I was also completely. uninterested in giving my lecturers and teachers any insight into my life and passions when I was a student. Were any of you any different? Few, I would guess.
It's safer for your students to not have an opinion or to say "I don't know" in order to avoid making a mistake. Mistakes today bring almost instant digital ridicule. I makes not having to keep up even more attractive.
Your posting does remind me of Jay Leno's depressing on the street interviews of Burger King customers and the like, that can't identify the U. S. Capitol building. Nothing is new though. When Steve Allen ran "The Tonight Show," 50 some odd years ago, he did it all the time with similar results and it was live TV. Yes, I am this old.
There is no hope in the current generation. It's hard to look forward to, or be interested in anything when you have no hope. it's easier to just go through the motions and just do what you think needs to be done.
I'm with Skepticalist on the "fear" hypothesis.
Both of my kids are in college right now – the older one will be completing his BA this year; the younger one her AA (after which, she'll complete her BA – the same pattern her bro followed). Admittedly, I raised them to be talkers (the older one even competed on his community college debate team) and to be unafraid of being visible, so I have zero doubts that – if either one was in Ed's class – they'd be perfectly fine "breaking the ice" w/respect to voluntary class discussions.
And sometimes – if my daughter's anecdotes are anything to go by – breaking the ice is what it takes. She's told me of more than one occasion in her classes, where discussion was either limited or non-existent until she jumped in… it's almost like the positive reception she got from the professor signaled that it was ok to speak up.
I haven't gotten similar feedback from my son, but that may be because – in most of his classes – the students are graded on their participation in both online and in-class discussions. Yeah, it's coercive, but then again, it's a tactic that also seems to work.
The fear thing is an interesting one. In middle age it is now an effort to recall how powerful peer pressure was, how utterly overwhelming was the need to fit in.
I guess now that if you said something dumb in class it could be tweeted to the universe immediately. Perhaps the young do live with this fear.
On the other hand in every single class I attended it was always three people who spoke up, of which I was always one. The rest didn't give a shit.
I live in Illinois, follow politics and I might not recognize Dick Durbin. He's a bland generic white dude as is Peyton Manning. Lil Jon is not a fresh reference: he's 43 years old and has been rapping for 18 years. The video for Turn Down for What doesn't even feature him.
Here's the thing: If you constantly find yourself in situations where everyone else acts like an idiot, recognize that only constant is you.
Approach people and situations with enough cynical contempt and confirmation bias will product the worst. People will eventually pick up on it and live down to your expectations.
Teacher burnout is understandable: teachers age and get more familiar with the material and typical student behavior, but each new batch of students is like starting over. It's natural to feel students should eventually know better, even though the point of school is they don't. The gap between a teacher's familiarity and impatience and students repeating what seems obvious can seem like decline. This is an illusion – what's declining is one's patience with the same old thing.
The job of a teacher, however, is to think beyond this state. This is one of many posts over the years which overgeneralizes about disappointing students. I haven't read one positive example of engaging even one student, just annoyances viewed from the hostile distance of a burnout who hates his job. As A D Jameson slyly observes, it's reached the point of self-parody.
That "basic exercise" described isn't teaching, it's an obvious and insulting display of condescension. One might as well announce: "I'll bet you shallow dummies only recognize the celebrity." It's likely the kids recognized this gag, if not the generic dudes, were bored by it.
As Skepticalist points out, it's also the man on the street trick – many people reflexively blank when confronted with a question and what's obvious to one person isn't to another. This has been used to pretend the masses are getting dumber for ages.
Instead of setting up students to act distracted, why not at least try teaching them how to be interested. This requires is treating them like they have the capability. That means not saying stuff like, "it is painfully clear that you are not interested in the slightest in this topic. So please tell me, what would you like to talk about?" That's the sort of comment which can goad anyone into responding, "When you put it that way – NOTHING, jerk."
It's kind of sad the lack of critical thinking displayed in these comments. I expected more people to say: "Maybe the problem is how you are talking to them." Instead there's far too many people insisting that Kids Are Worse. Then again, this also plays into Ed's theme of general ignorance, it's just that people are also ignorant about assuming ignorance.
@Skipper: I suspect the student was messing with you. Because Nazis are such an overwrought and obvious example, they actually aren't very useful when discussing good and evil. At least not one with much nuance. It's like starting a discussion of cold and hot by making the sun the baseline.
Mike Furlan says:
If they are dumber, what ever happened, happened 40 years ago. And it looks like it is just verbal intelligence that has dropped off. Maybe they figured out that all the good jobs require math, and spent their energy there?
Conversely, how much more dumb and shallow are these kids today than the people who elected Reagan? He was openly mean, dumb, shallow and racist and got a majority of votes from every demographic, including 18 year olds.
What magic era of humanity didn't involve naval gazers who never thought beyond the borders of whatever little community in which they lived or pay much attention to anyone outside their tribe and interests? Every age has enough contemptible behavior by people of all ages to be smug about.
Carrstone is merely expressing the usual conservatard talking point that it's all "personal responsibility" unless there's a teacher or the Gub'mint involved. Then it's clearly the teacher or Gub'mint's fault for the individual's failure. It's not like it's the student's *job/responsibility* to learn the material or anything. Unless the person is minority, or graduated into a tanked economy and cannot find a job and has incurred a stupid level of debt. NOW it's the student's fault for not studying hard enough, or whatever…
Sifu Snafu says:
The difference is we're all incredibly interesting now.
Almost pissed myself laughing.
Nick: Its all very nice when someone can find a way to "improve efficiencies". In a large organisation someone going off-piste and doing their own damn thing can have a cascading effect through out an organisation. It also engenders a self-centred "special snowflake" attitude.
Often those applications that in your view are expensive, clunky and require needless training have been designed at an organisational level to ensure data is captured in such a way that it can be used across the organisation and meets a standard. I have a friend who's job is made that little bit harder all because someone feels the system doesn't pertain to them. We've seen what happens when proper accounting standards are not met.
Imagine Nick if your role is to sign off on someone else's work. If someone is using the system as they should, you know what assumptions have been made, you have a fair idea what the quality of the data should be, if something is not right you should have a fair indication of where to look in the data stream to correct the error, etc. Now what if someone has been doing their own thing, do you know if they're using the correct assumptions? What if a table of data hasn't been properly accessed or made available to you? Do you still want to put your cock on the block for that?
Worst case, you find yourself in court, how exposed are you or your organisation? Someone has died, and you've signed off on a report that says ALL equipment was functional. Only to find out on the stand that sitting in some millenial's Excel spreadsheet that the plant in question needed urgent repair, that if entered into the system would have had it flagged for repair and stood down. Instead, it remained in operation. All because, Little Prince(ss) Special couldn't be asked to do their damn job right.
Take solace in the fact that life does not respect even the best deceits.
It's more clever than that.
I am looking forward to the Jared Diamond essay on how a group of teenagers can carry on a long-running text-based conversation using the phrase "is-awesome",sometimes varied with "is-like-awesome" and "is-like-totally-awesome".
The phenomenon you describe has been recognizable for at least a decade now, perhaps longer. Transmission vectors are too many to cite succinctly, but the long and short of it is that many young people’s minds have been so fully colonized by the media that they have responded by being nothings, or if you prefer, zombies. It’s an intuitive, completely unreflective response to the information environment that has evolved in the communications era, and while numerous media theorists of the 1960s and 70s foresaw it and issued warnings, the effect was nevertheless unstoppable. Of course, no one wants to admit that Johnny is an automaton, a mannequin, a cipher, and Johnny is fundamentally incapable of recognizing that about himself, so merrily we roll along. Just heard today that Prince George of Cambridge’s favorite toy is his parents iPad. That, too, will undoubtedly end well …
IDK, but like, what were you expecting from us? We've had it drummed into us since birth that our highest aspiration should be to become "productive members of society." How this is accomplished may vary from person to person, but we all understand that whatever we do between 5pm and 9am is just filler. In a culture that does little to reward passion (except the passion to accumulate wealth), is it any wonder that so few have it?
Ed, I'm going to agree with those who have already stated that the issue is with your approach. I don't really need to beat the dead horse on the expectations infecting tone/instruction and the possible format issues (peer pressure, classroom culture & smaller group discussions).
What I want to make sure no one here misses, Ed included, is that young people do have interests. Across the sexes, a significant number of them watch TV shows religiously. Many of the boys are interested in sports–beyond just participating–and can give me some fairly intense commentary that is above my head. Some of them read non-fiction books, others read manga fairly intensively. Girls read more for enjoyment than boys, and though they don't comment as much on professional sports, many participate in school sports/activities like theater.
Students do have interests. They do care about things. If there's any meaningful difference between you and your students it's that they have been trained to expect that there is a "right" or "wrong" answer and he or she who produces the latter will be inherently shamed. You get them to speak up by either getting to know them individually and building trust or by making your classroom culture support discussions or getting them to share/report out in lower-pressure situations.
It's not impossible. Don't fall into the trap that a dead room is the fault of the students. You're the one who has almost all of the power in terms of the classroom. Use it.
Oops. I dropped a line in my second paragraph explaining that I was talking about my own students. We really need to get an edit feature on here.
*IF* this is true, then I won't be surprised if we start seeing lecturers going postal.
The comments are shocking about the level respect and decency today. So going postal maybe even cheered on.
yeah I'm with the other commenters in feeling deeply skeptical about this. the overall competence and creativity of both my peers and the cohort immediately following mine (I'm in my late twenties so, millennial but nearly a decade past college age) is more intimidating than anything else. but maybe it's a matter of perspective? like, to you tumblr and the like are platforms for vacuous time-wasting, and I mean they certainly *can* be that… but what I see, though, is these platforms being used to showcase a dizzying amount of creativity and talent. like, I realize this is a frivolous example but dip into literally any fandom and the amount of professional-looking fan art and other creative works is just staggering.
or like, vines– you're familiar with vines? 7-second (no more, no less) video clips, right? it sounded like a stupid idea when the platform was launched (like artificially limited video lengths? why?) but the amount of creativity people– mostly (very) young people– has squeezed out of it is just amazing.
so yeah I dunno. I mean, you certainly *can* while away your life passively consuming content on these platforms (gods know that's what I've been doing for the majority of my twenties) but yeah. you can also do all kinds of crazy creative stuff, and young people most certainly are.
oh yeah and re: recognizing Dick Durban– I recognize the *name* and I could even tell you offhand he's the senator from Illinois (and I don't live in or close to Illinois) but if you showed me a photo I wouldn't have a clue. I follow politics via smartphone-accessed internet and NPR, neither of which are very visual media, and I never watch TV (not out of pretension but because I can't afford cable so why bother owning a television) so I actually would be unable to recognize most public figures on sight. I dunno if this is typical of people in their twenties but I wouldn't be surprised if it was.
carrstone makes a good point. How do trolls fit in to your "self-absorbed" story?
The communications bomb has made it easier for everybody, especially students, to hide out. It's simpler to "hate" what they're not good at rather than to explain why it is so. It's a perfect way to avoid all that work of knowing what goes on outside your bubble.
"See? I didn't vote for them. Screw 'em all!"
Republican guardians of Wall Street count on it.
Angry, bitter professor heads into the classroom thinking "these students are going to be idiots." Self-fulfilling prophecy confirmed by terrible attitude. Surprising stuff there.
The problem is you, old man. I relate to my students and I know them to be smart and inquisitive, just like they were "back in my day." You need to learn to do so as well or get out of the classroom and leave the job to someone with the drive to make that connection. The students are being done a disservice by your lack of effort.
Megan H. says:
I may have even lower expectations than you since I teach about "the rest of the world" rather than the US (a student in my Comparative class knew where to find Burkina Faso on a map and I was so flabbergasted I almost couldn't continue with the lesson), yet I have found similar low levels of interest among our students generally. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that many of our majors are social justice minded so their interests in gardening, labor rights, and pacifism help balance out the blank stares I get from the others in the population. That said, I've found that referencing things students read/watched/learned about when they were children (or in high school) tends to work well, so my references to The Hunger Games, Mr. Rogers, Harry Potter, and Beyonce usually work out okay. I managed to really get their attention a few weeks ago when I mentioned YikYak in class, though I'm sure that will be passe by the time spring semester starts.
@Xynzee, 9:52 am; that's it, exactly. Just because some special snowflake doesn't instantly grasp the big picture doesn't mean the situation is as shallow as the snowflake's understanding of it. As you so clearly pointed out, there are likely very good reasons something is being done a certain way. The assumption that just because someone is a Millenial, they're a precious snowflake whose every thought is just so much more advanced and special than anyone older is just stupid.
@alyx; you've just highlighted the Special Snowflake Syndrome; you and the cohort below you (you're in your 20s, so the cohort below you are in early grade school) are "staggering" and "intimidating" in your brilliance and creativity? This is the attitude that makes people laugh. Have you read Anne Frank's writings? As a young teen her words were brilliant…and she wasn't even a Millenial! Mark Twain, a brilliant satirist (ever heard of him?)…also not a Millenial. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates? Not Millenials. Nor was Stevie Wonder, who started singing as a small child. You get the picture. Your generation, despite what cling to so fiercely, is not the epitome of human achievement.
Raylan Givens says:
"You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole; you run into assholes all day, you're the asshole."
"a student in my Comparative class knew where to find Burkina Faso on a map" You mean they looked it up before.
This "they can't find it on the map" cliche is annoying. Maps are made so people who don't know where things are can figure it out, so it's kind of judging someone for needing the tool for the reason it exists.
Each year students come to school because they don't know things (including themselves, how to learn and why). Teachers, meanwhile grow in experience each year. Again, what seems like a decline in students is far more likely judging a cyclical state by a constantly evolving one.
So they aren't getting dumber, one is getting smarter (or at least more familiar and less patient). But if one has to "lower expectations" to endure this basic condition of the job, one isn't right for teaching. And the more one resents this natural condition, the more one is likely to struggle with perceived student disinterest.
Xynzee: Neither a 9gag image – nor the comments – is a good point of reference for drawing conclusions about the world. In fact, that's a far worse act of lazy ignorance than students acting like students.
Anonymouse: the actual special snowflake syndrome is people like you who heap contempt on others as if your own stuff don't stink. George Bush, our dumbest president, wasn't a Millenial. Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin, who are almost shocking in their ignorance, not Millenials. Donald Trump, who proves being born white and knowing the right people matters more than smarts and integrity, isn't a Millenial either. Millenials are not the majority of people in charge who are making things worse. That's every generation before them, including you.
Gerald McGrew says:
"OhPlease" nailed it. If you read this blog long enough, you realize that it's an emotional dumping ground for a person who doesn't like his job, hates where he lives, and is generally unhappy with the world and his life.
Now it's apparent that this attitude has bled into his professional life and is influencing the way in which he interacts with students. And I guarantee you the students have picked up on it, which is likely why from his perspective, getting students to interact with him is like "getting blood from a turnip".
I remember classes like this in college, where the professor had obviously checked out and held "the kids" in contempt. As a result, we had no interest or incentive to interact with them. Just make it through the class, get a passing grade, and focus your attention and efforts on the courses that are taught by enthusiastic, engaged, and personable teachers.
Ed doesn't like the students, which means the students probably don't like him either.
OhPlease, your name is certainly appropriate. Your reactions perfectly capture the Millenial Special, Special Snowflake Syndrome. The very hint that your generation isn't just the most specialist EVAH just sends you into a tailspin of outrage and supreme butthurtedness, doesn't it? The very notion that there were people before you with talent just eats you up alive. I suppose it's an artifact of your parents, the Baby Boomers, who were the original Special Snowflakes and raised you to exceed their fatuous self-pride.
I think Kurt Cobain captured the Millenial approach to work–"Here we are now, entertain us!"
Hahaha yes noted millennial Kurt Cobain. NAILED IT.
OhPuhleeeez! You must be new around here. Might I suggest you go back and do your own research on this blog. Apprise yourself of something called history and running themes, then you can find yourself free to comment.
As for "students acting like students" a student's *job/responsibility* is to learn. Therefore you are there in class ready to go. That's part of what you are paying for in your *learning* experience. Someone described to me university as a weening period—I suggest you look it up—where there's enough structure for "safety" mixed with freedom to learn what it is to be an adult. You are *not* a consumer, you are buying valuable lessons for life and living. Mommy and daddy aren't there to cut the crusts off for you anymore, or did yours choose your class schedule for you?
Many of us have jobs where ensuring everyone goes home with as many pieces of themselves as they started the day with, and don't take home anything extra, like a slight case of death. I take this very seriously. I do not mind teaching someone their job. People are not born fully fledged with "common sense" but they can learn it. To be "proactive" means someone has to have had prior experience. It's when someone shows up and gives me, "But whyyyyy? It's too hard, I don't see why that's my job!" Then leave a trip hazard. Attitude is everything.
You think you're so special that you won't be working in a "high risk" environment? Guess again. All it takes is someone to leave a bag or a box where you cannot see it and now you're injured. Good thing in Aus is that the OH&S Act makes it possible for you to be instantly dismissed for not following guidelines. Which is great. If you're that self-absorbed and putting myself or my coworkers at risk, I do not want you there.
If I'm the one signing off on your work, ie my arse is in the sling, you will do it *my* way and to the recognised standard until further notice. If the case can be made for a better way of doing things, then present the case. But when the design calls for 7mm screw, you will not be using a 6mm *just because* you like the 6 better. Got it.
Through the 1950s people used to get together with their friends and gossip. They'd do this in bars, parlors, the town square or the front porch. People spent a lot of time with their friends. Then came television. By 1960, television watching had replaced hanging around with one's friends as the big leisure activity. Television, obviously, had its attractions, but the societal move to the suburbs made it harder for people to get together. In some ways, the internet is reversing this by allowing people to spend time with their friends online. It hasn't replaced television yet, but internet time is increasing and television viewing time is falling.
P.S. When I was a kid, they used to make jokes about us using transistor radios and yakking on the phone, though the latter was usually aimed at girls, not boys.
That sounds like a traumatized or low-status person afraid to engage with a high-status person. My 2c, YMMV, Past Performance Is No Guarantee Of Future Results.
Oh Anonymouse – I'm in my 40s and have been reading this blog for around 8 years, back when it had multiple authors and included fond memories of being young and dumb and displayed at least some amusement at living and drinking in a downstate college towns.
It's weird to see it evolve into the bitter blog which despairs of kids when ED IS THIRTY-FREAKING-SIX. No really. On Ed's about page, he mentions being 5 in 1984 and in December 2010 says he's 32.
DUDE, YOU ARE 36. YOU ARE PRACTICALLY A MILLENNIAL YOURSELF. Unless you were knocking girls up at 18, you still aren't old enough to parent a freshman, let alone students older than that.
Scanning the archives, Ed started regularly bitching about his students in mid 2009, at the ripe old age of 30. Not quite a decade older than his students and he might as well have had an onion on his belt.
Except back then he at least still grasped some context: "I can hardly blame recent college graduates for adopting the overwhelmingly disinterested, what-difference-does-it-make-anyway attitude. How long can you be unemployed or working a minimum wage, no-benefit job with 50, 70, or 100 grand in college debt? How many people can graduate and celebrate the passage into adulthood by moving back in with mom and dad before they give up altogether?" Which makes me wonder – what happened in the last 4 1/2 years to make your empathy wither so?
This is not entirely surprising. A few years into 30 and being no longer young makes some experience a second teen emo-hood, except the dramatic generalizations about Them includes generations below as well as above, and it's not as cute because you are old enough to know better (though not old enough to be this sad).
Again – DUDE YOUR ARE 36 YEARS OLD. Legally you are only just qualified to run for President. You are six years younger than Lil Jon – he is an old man compared to you.
As for Anonymouse – less than three years ago you wrote a comment saying this: "When I got back to the USA and found an entry-level job, like the rest of Gen X, I was told I was a worthless slacker because nothing could ever compare to the wonderful Boomers. I could fix their computers and teach them how to use their computers, but there would never be any promotions on the horizon because the Boomers were firmly fixed in their place of privilege." Just two years on and you've gone from describing how the older generation called you worthless to being an old who spouts cliches calling youth facing a crap economy worthless slackers/Special flowers.
What the hell happened to you? Did you have a stroke? How did you curdle into such a stereotype so soon after complaining about other people behaving the same way.
I mean really, people, what the hell? The scary thing is not that young people are becoming more decadent, but how easily some adopt the mean old coot cliches – in Ed's case way too early. Dude, I think you are burned out on the job. You are less fun and connected to youth than a 43 year old. Think about that.
Xynzee: what the hell are you talking about? I work in a highly technical field and younger people have less experience but physical vigor making them alert and able to evolve on the job. The dudes who go on and on about inferior youth are usually scared, because they haven't put the effort into making sure they have something more to offer as they age. As they lose the bloom of youth and they cling to their authority by kicking downwards, rather than exhibiting wisdom. And the tough talk they spout and lack of empathy they show is just a hard shell on their broken down tudes.
I recollect – sorta, because I'm unable to locate it again – a J. K. Galbraith quote to the effect that the major concerns of students were sex and alcohol. Period.
Or, same-o same-o since the 12th century?
Or maybe the 5th century BC.
And, actually, is that such a bad set of priorities? How else to deal with monsters like Cheney not only escaping being thrown off a cliff, but air time and adulation?[staggers off to have another shot of rye]
So what you're saying is, you're not a teacher? You know an awful fucking lot about how to do the job correctly for someone who has never done it before. Based on your copious advice on how to do my job I was half expecting you to be a tenured professor.
Mike D. says:
One big comment thread filled with academics and nobody has mentioned Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone?
Go read it.
Ed could have suggested jobs or sex and gotten a lot of comments after the worries about being the first to comment went away.
Everyone has interests, but usually they're so obvious they can't be seen.
Jobs: macro and microeconomics affect students, even rich ones.
Sex: this is the sun in their heliocentric universe, why they're going through the motions to get successful, why they're doing anything, why they dress and act a certain way, why they reject everything but still worry about being cool.
Even slackers need money to meet someone. The kids with plans are full of it, but they sometimes manage anyway. The kids without plans are the majority, and they sometimes succeed somehow, too. That's the way their lives work, just like everyone before them.
When I was an undergrad, the first time rather than the time I went back just to live on student loans and get into grad school because I saw that as the only way to actually do a job I might like, I was pretty much on autopilot. It was high school years 5 through 9. I was dead to the world, pretty much hopeless and going through the motions of getting through life, having few ambitions, few short term goals aside from the weekend and maybe a movie or a band coming soon. And the women who caught my eye. Very impractical living, it was.
Had some sorts of ideas of what I should do: have a plan, do the plan, cash in. But had very few ideas of what the job was that would fulfill that plan. Still, I could talk about ideas about the things that weren't there in my life: stable job and a stable relationship. Everyone was faking it, but we sure could talk about that important stuff, because we knew that was on the test.
Kevin NYC says:
Do.. this is the most action I have ever read in the comments!
Wow, OhPlease, you're so far into your worship of the young that you're making ASSumptions right and left. Has it not occurred to you that plenty of non-Millenials are mentally flexible and able to roll with the technical punches precisely because they've got years of experience doing so, and also have a perspective gained from seeing fads come and go? Obviously not. Please, OhPlease, just keep on making the rest of us laugh.
I teach college, mostly freshmen. I've been doing it since 1999 (when I was fresh out of my BA) at four institutions (in Montana, Louisiana, and Wisconsin).
I don't think today's kids are any less interested, it's about finding a context for them to discuss it. They know they lack the historical and cultural perspectives of their elders so they would rather not talk and reveal their ignorance. But you take social issues such as the ongoing protests over cops killing unarmed citizens and you place it in a framework of Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed and you get some really enlightening discussions and viewpoints. Because talking about social media and video games is comfortable for them and allows them to explore that which they tend to ignore. I say this a literature professor who has to work triple time to get them to discuss something as simple as The Lottery unless I say "Imagine I told you that we're going into a lottery. Everyone will get an A except for the person who draws the dot. They fail." Then you get effort out of them.
I'm also the ripe old age of 38 and I understand. I'm 20 years older than my freshmen and yet I'm more in tune with their social media, their entertainment, their need to wear their hobbies than I am with many of my fellow GenXers (according to most 1976 is the cut off of GenX). Maybe it's because I'm immature (please,please,please) or maybe it's because I don't have kids so I'm not pearl clutching at every goddamned thing.
Kevin Humes says:
Have you ever read Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, Ed?
When I was in college in 00-04, I'd always listen to who spoke up. They would usually ask or answer the same question I had. I had no need to speak up, I just had to listen, which I am fabulous at.
I whole heartedly agree. Almost none of the kids I know (I'm 42, my girlfriend has 2 kids, 15 and 8) seem to have any interest in anything what so ever. Not getting a job, not having a social life, nothing aside from playing video games and watching sponge bob. I don't know how these lackadaisical
little turds expects to get anywhere in life when they have no plan for what happens after school. Hell our teenager can barely track when his own fucking homework needs to be turned in or when he needs to be at school for a band concert let alone 3, 4, or 5 years down the road.
Could it be that you (as in 'The Parent') are to blame for their lackadaisical attitude? How can they be enthusiastic about anything if they don't have a role model to 'teach' them enthusiasm?
Perhaps putting them in front of the TV to watch cartoons when they were still in nappies might have been the solution to a quiet life for you but it taught them that watching TV is approved behavior.
And now you blame them for doing what you taught them?
Back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, Jenny McCarthy (the famous anti-vaxxer) popped up with the notion that her son was one of a brand-new generation of kids that were going to change the world through their amazing powers of special; the Indigo Children. How would one recognize Indigo Children when one encountered them? Because they are such special snowflakes that they hate standing in line, waiting their turn, or being denied anything in life. Naturally, the only way to honor these exquisite creatures is to humor their every whim and constantly reassure them that they are the pinnacle of human creation.
It seems like that generation took it seriously; use Google-Fu to search for Indigo Children, and you'll find endless forums of badly-spelled, highly-entitled posts from Millenials insisting that THEY are Indigo Children and therefore deserve to be worshipped.
>As to what they look at on Tumblr, the answer appeared to be random nonsense
Appears. But perhaps there are methods in the madness?
Perhaps they took notes when Leary suggested to turn on, tune in and drop out? To me this looks like what you'd do if you were on the way to dropping out of society in general.
Perhaps they're making a revolutionary political gesture, the only one they think is practical and effective?
Also, the next time you get a "meh" from your students, if they aren't really interested in the class, why are they taking it?
They'll probably lie to you, as you hold the cards and they do not. But you might catch one or two of them in a truthful and offensive mood.
Those dammed kids an' their internets. Readin' dammed bloggs all day and postin' snarky comments.
Hang on. I gotta go chase a couple of 'em off o' my lawn!
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