Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Act your age

In Spring 2020, NAS published a piece by Joseph Epstein on the immaturity of students.

Immaturity on Campus

I have no wish to brag—well, perhaps a small wish—but the timing of my retirement in 2002 after thirty years of university teaching was exquisite. Smartphones had not yet become universal. Political correctness was still in its incipient, not yet in its tyrannous, stage. I did not have to undergo sex sensitivity training, which I could not have done with a straight face. In the classroom professors, not yet students, were still in control.

Signs that change was in the offing were evident when I began teaching in 1973. Not all male teachers wore ties and jackets, nor female teachers skirts to class. Teachers had begun to address students by their first names. (I cannot recall having been so addressed once through my undergraduate years at the University of Chicago.) Students moreover were now sometimes invited to address teachers by their first names.

I recall a young female student, on the edge of tears, during an office hour, asking why I had marked up her papers, as she thought, so severely. “Jerry [an associate professor in the same department]” she said, “is never so hard on my writing.” Hmm, “Jerry?” I concluded there was a good chance that “Jerry” had been, to use the Victorian phrase, “intimate with her.” Lots of that, I soon discovered, was going on, at least between younger male faculty and undergraduates. Not a good sign.

The whole piece is well worth reading, because as we know too well, those students are now in positions of power.

What is the response of the putative adults in the room—of the college presidents, administrators, professors—to such behavior? Best one can determine it is by and large to collapse, to cave into the demands of the brattish students. They nod and call for more “dialogue”; express the wish to continue the “conversation”; organize endless panels; claim, in the recent words of the president of Sarah Lawrence confronted by a group calling itself the Sarah Lawrence Diaspora Coalition, to be “grateful for the willingness of our students to share their concerns with me and the campus community.” One can imagine the students’ reaction to such piffle: “Yeah, right, sure, Grandma!”

Panels meet, dialogue ensues, the conversation rambles on, while one awaits the next set of student demands. New deans and associate provosts are hired and put in charge of diversity, of inclusivity, of safety, soon no doubt of sexual satisfaction, transgender bathroom maintenance, and who knows what else. The beat, as the old disc jockeys had it, goes on, and is likely to continue until an impressively authoritative figure arises to cry out to these kids: “Enough! Cut the crap! Act your age! Grow up!


Sam Vega said...

I thought the bit about the parents piling on the pressure to ensure their coddled offspring succeeded was quite telling. I vividly remember one student in F.E. who had a whole raft of different "specific learning difficulties", as opposed to a global disability. She was supposed to be very bright, but couldn't "process information" quickly. So she had extra time in exams, a special computer, could take a dictionary in with her, had a teaching assistant scribe to write her answers (processing, see?) and even - God help us - another teaching assistant who helped her decode what the question meant.

The college provided all these things. Why wouldn't we? We got extra Ofsted brownie points, extra funding, and the head of teaching assistants got a bigger, higher status department. The girl's mother anxiously hovered, threatening legal action every time her daughter found something difficult.

Well, the student passed her BTEC qualification, and on the strength of that was given a place at a local university. They presumably had the same motivations as us.... And the mother than started all over again. I sometimes wonder how the daughter's employment is going, if she got any.

johnd2008 said...

During my middle thirties,in the middle 70s, I seriously thought of a change of career to teaching. At the time there was a recruiting campaign to recruit mature students so I was welcomed with open arms. I went for a visit to the local Teacher training college to meet staff and students.I came away knowing that there was no way I could submit to such a juvenile experience without either going mad or running amok and causing serious damage to staff and students.
Some 20 years later I took my eldest son to his first student accommodation which was in a block of flats and having looked round left him to it. He had been living independently in London having found himself a job there for a couple of years.He lasted there three weeks before moving out to find his own place. when asked why, he said that he could not live in a nursery for infants.
It seems some things never really change.

Peter MacFarlane said...

I'm pretty sure that when I was a student (not so very long ago!) the lecturers addressed us as "Mr. So-and-so" or "Miss So-and-so" and nobody asked how we were feeling. We were supposed to be adults and were treated as such. Of course at 18/19/20 years old we were not adults in many ways, but the point was made, and accepted. Most of us grew up quickly, those who did not generally left for some less demanding environment - perhaps Teacher Training College?

It's quite hard to see exactly when and how it all went wrong.

Ed P said...

Peter MacFarlane has it!
Treat 18-20 year olds, on a journey between childhood and adulthood, as adults, because it forces them to act as adults, which then soon becomes a habit.
The familiarity and mollycoddling prevalent today keeps them childish.

A K Haart said...

Sam - a very interesting story. Rather disturbing too, because it stirs up old suspicions about academic qualifications generally. As if there ought to be a rethink about further education and what it achieves. Maybe the mother took the university place in her daughter's name.

John - I'm always reluctant to say too much about teaching because we have teachers in the family. I couldn't do it anyway and I think that's partly because I'd expect to find what you found - a juvenile experience.

Peter - being addressed as "Mr. So-and-so" or "Miss So-and-so" sounds important to me. Unless there are certain formalities, there must be some risk to standards. One problem is in the whole thing being dominated by numbers, so relaxing standards isn't necessarily seen as decline.

A K Haart said...

Ed - I agree, familiarity and mollycoddling do encourage childishness. It can't be easy for more serious students to rise above it either.

The Jannie said...

SV:"We got extra Ofsted brownie points, extra funding, and the head of teaching assistants got a bigger, higher status department."

It was the same in the school I worked in. The biggest growth industry and user of funds and resources was "special needs" or "inclusion" or whatever the catchphrase of the week was.

A K Haart said...

Jannie - and in that sense, productivity must go down.

dearieme said...

'"special needs" or "inclusion" or whatever the catchphrase of the week was.' In my boyhood it was 'mental defectives'. That had the benefit of being unambiguous and not sugar-coating the problems.

In civilised families, if the matter were discussed the expression would be lengthened to 'the mental defectives, those poor wee souls'.

As for the universities: I caught a student cheating. I rang the powers that be for advice. I had hoped to be told "Do what you must to protect our academic standards." I was actually told "Keep this out of the courts, some of these people have rich and angry fathers."

Nowadays I'd probably be told that "cheating" was an unacceptable term and if I used it again I'd be sacked.

A K Haart said...

dearieme - yes, it's a difficulty we have and won't face - being ambiguous about and sugar-coating problems. "Cheating" probably would be an unacceptable term now - it's certainly unacceptable if applied to a male athlete who identifies as female and enters female athletic competitions.