On students, by a student

Michael Yates mikey+ at pitt.edu
Thu Feb 11 06:53:05 PST 1999


Thanks for this post. I do think that many of my students, for whatever reasons, read nothing at all and know very little about anything that I think is important. On another list, pen-l, a contributor who goes by the name of "valis" suggested that a lot of my studnets are probably hung over or stoned. Maybe he's right.

michael yates

Adam Stevens wrote:
> At 08:27 PM 2/10/99 -0600, you wrote:
> >There are probably a hundred contributing factors that could usefully be
> discussed, but I can't help feeling that part of what's going on here is
> that kids understand what the score is in contemporary America. They know
> the game is fixed, that all the important questions have been settled in
> favor of the prerogatives of money and power-
> Actually, I think you're giving them way too much credit. Kids
> today understand nothing. They have absolutely no sense of historical
> awareness. They really and truly don't know anything about the world in
> which they live. What's more, most of them have no interest in knowing.
> I suspect that most of the people on this list are Baby Boomers and
> did not have the experience of attending public primary and secondary
> schools in the late 70s and 80s. Public schools in this country -- and in
> California particularly -- rank somewhere between bad and useless. Most
> kids who graduate high school are barely literate, and many of those who go
> on to college are scarcely better off.
> Some random examples: I remember being shocked when I was in junior
> high (c 1986) that a good portion of the people in my class did not yet
> understand the difference between a city, state, country, and continent. In
> a high school history class I was in, only about 5 of us could name the
> major combatants of World War 2. I recall that one girl (who was white and
> upper middle class) gave "Toyko" as her answer. Most recently I was in a
> review session for an upper division history class at UC Berkeley, and one
> girl who was a senior actually did not know that the Japanese had bombed
> Pearl Harbor. BTW, this individual was recruited by JP Morgan and is now
> working on Wall St helping to manage your money. I fear her case is not at
> all exceptional.
> I think there is no simple answer for why this is so. I do not
> think it can be explained as simply a manifestation of class oppression,
> because this appears to be a generational phenomenon, cutting across class
> boundaries. An easy target for blame is their parents, i.e. the entire Baby
> Boomer generation, who with all their hippy turned yuppy self-absorbed
> hedonism didn't bother to teach their kids a damn thing (yes, I'm well aware
> that I'm generalizing.) Another factor I think (and I'm sure this will piss
> some of you off and you'll say I sound like Allan Bloom) is 1960s cultural
> paradigm shift, aka the "counterculture." Whatever it meant to you 30 years
> ago, its real and lasting effect has been the complete breakdown of
> traditional notions of responsibility, self discipline, and morality. What
> I mean is the "do you own thing" of the 60s has evolved into the "I'm going
> to do whatever I want and I don't care what happens to anybody else"
> mentality of the 80s & 90s. Kids no longer read for pleasure or knowledge
> because it takes too much self discipline when it's so much easier to engage
> in the "revolutionary anti-authoritarian" act of smoking pot and watching
> MTV. Traditional notions of morality have been brushed aside in favor of an
> extreme relativism which excuses any act i.e. "Well, who are you to say that
> it's 'wrong' to kill 500,000 Iraqi children. It's only 'wrong' to you, but
> it's 'right' to someone else, so don't try to impose your morals on me!" (an
> excerpt of an actual discussion with a "liberal" Gen Xer.) Another factor
> is of course the dumbing down of the population across the board over the
> last few decades. The transformation of the US into a "post-industrial"
> economy over the last 25-30 years has eliminated the need for a skilled
> workforce. Now we just need a few educated people to work in the
> information sector, and the rest can flip hamburgers or go to prison.
> Additionally, college is no longer associated with the pursuit of
> knowledge or the love of truth. It is now EXPECTED that all kids go to
> college, as it used to be expected that all kids go to high school. It's
> not something young people do because they have an intellectual interest,
> it's something they do because it's expected of them or because they realize
> they must have a degree in order to make money. In such an environment,
> intellectual curiosity has little chance of developing.
> Forgive me if I'm rambling. I'm a Gen X undergraduate myself, I
> work 2 jobs, and I'm exhausted.

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