Virgin's Guide to Burning Man

A Virgin's Guide to Burning Man can be found here.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Is it Really the End of Empire?

Ok so occasionally I will have to use this blog as a forum to vent about my students. As much as I love them and I love teaching, they do seem to continually find inventive ways to shock/disappoint/dismay me and force me to ask: what the hell is this world coming to?!
Now, there is always a mix of bright, inquisitive students, and then not-so-bright, bored students and you go into the classroom kind of expecting that. That's all just the nature of the game. But there are some trends I've been noticing, and I think might be getting increasingly worse as time goes on and these are extra-special problems that give me pause:

1. Self-entitlement: many students these days seem to hold the belief that just because they turned in an assignment they automatically deserve an A. I call it the "But-I-Studied-So-Hard-Why-Did-I-Get-a-C?" phenomenon. Well...did you go to lecture? No... Did you participate in section? No.... Well maybe that might have something to do with it. I think they're so used to getting As in high school with little to no effort that they automatically assume the same amount of effort will yield the same results in college. They seem to forget that everyone else here in college were also A-students, so the competition becomes somewhat greater. And I think this trend is cycling its way out into every day life as well. I remember when a good tip used to be 12%, and for average service, 10%. But nowadays you're miserly (aka it's your fault) if you give less than 18-20%. And now there's tip jars in all the coffee bars and smoothie's like why do I have to give you a tip for just doing your job? At least in a restaurant it makes sense because the service contributes to the quality of the experience. But in Starbucks, as long as I get what I ordered in a cup and not, say, all over me, basically the quality of the experience is not overly subject to the quality of service.

2. A Lack of Resourcefulness: It seems that many students, when they encounter a challenge, too often just throw their hands in the air and don't know how to deal with this. Maybe they've been babied their whole lives and were able to get someone to do it for them? I dunno. But it worries me because when they go out into the job force they are certainly not going to impress employers with the lack of initiative or ability to roll-with-the-punches. For example, last week in class (International Relations) I ran a simulation where the students got to role-play and pretend they were actual negotiators from the UN, US, and various other countries/organizations and try to come to a resolution in dealing with the aftermath of genocide in Cambodia. It was a fantastic experience and went really well, but before the simulation started, when I was prepping the students for it, I got some questions that really stumped me. One student asked, "Ok, so what happens if I prepare all my arguments and responses, and come in totally ready, but somebody says something that I totally hadn't thought of. What then?" ... What the heck was I supposed to say to that??! Welcome to the real world? Maybe you should have prepared better? I hope you can think on your feet? I mean, duh! There's a reason these negotiators are highly-skilled, highly-paid professionals and not just the average Joe-Shmoe on the street.

3. Lack of responsibility: So my basic point of view is that these students are all adults and are capable of making decisions themselves. It's up to them to decide whether or to show up to class and to participate. They are totally free, as long as they are willing to take responsibility for their choices. If they sit in the back of the room and sent text messages all day long, fine, but then they can't complain if they don't get credit for participation. But some students don't seem to quite grasp this notion of "responsibility". For example, my professor overheard two female students talking as they walked on campus, and one of them was explaining that last night she was trying to study for a midterm and her boyfriend was over and he kept trying to have sex with her, but she really needed to study. He argued that he really needed to spread his seed. [yes, I know...] So she was like, "Well what could I do, he really needed to spread his seed!" So she had sex with him and then they fell asleep. She woke up at 9:45 and realized she had slept through her midterm. So she went to the professor and told the professor about how her boyfriend really needed to spread his seed and how it prevented her from taking the midterm, and could she take a make-up exam or something? Turns out the professor said no, and so the girl complained to her friend: "How unfair is that?"

I've learned just to teach to the students who really do want to learn and try to forget about the students who are just killing time until they get their degree and get out. Obviously I don't make this distinction in the classroom, I only do it mentally for my own personal sanity. But sometimes the next generation really scares me. It really feels like it is the end of empire.

Actually I really feel we're at an extremely critical juncture, where we have the choice between politics-as-usual, and a whole new direction: change towards America's true potential and promise. Do we want to be just a hegemon and a selfish aggressor, or do we want to be a leader and an inspiration? We'll see if Americans are really ready for change as this crazy election unfolds...

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