Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I NEED a C! (Part 4)

(We now conclude the exploration into the student mindset that declares "I Need a C! with three weeks left in the semester)

Immediately, Sir
This still is not enough.  Self-esteem gives students a false sense of accomplishment.  The lack of awareness about the meaning of work and the purpose of school and life can leave students clueless about why we do what we do.  But that doesn’t explain how this could happen on such a massive scale.  What’s different today, compared to previous decades?

I argue that the third influence that produces the delusional achiever has arisen because of the direction of our culture.

Today, students have no sense of the value of time.  Technologically, things are changing so fast that the difference between now and 2000 is greater than the changes that took place between 1950 and 2000.  The onset of the internet was only the beginning.  Really, it’s that combined with the inundation of cell phones, iEverythings, and all the other forms of technology that rise and fall according to the whims of the fickle (myspace? five years ago it was king, now it’s already an anachronism).

Try explaining to a student what life was like before the internet.  Before cell phones and texting.  That we actually had to call somewhere to get directions.  That we had to actually wait a few hours before hearing about something good or bad happening to a friend or family member.

We encounter this all the time in class.  It’s absolutely infuriating.  Some kid is texting, and the teacher asks them to give up the phone.  “But, it was important.”

Students today have no sense of what ‘important’ actually means.  They think ‘important’ is when my mom gets here to pick me up.

When I was a kid (and no, I’m not that old...), I had to wait after school to be picked up by my mom.  She got there when she got there.  And I somehow survived it all without a cell phone for her to text me exactly where she was, why she was late, and about when she expected to be there. I just had to wait.  Without knowing the reason.  The horror!  The horror!

Not only has technology sped things up, but it has lowered the quality of just about everything other than itself.  Sure, we can start a world war with an iPhone, but have you looked at the state of the film industry these days?  When I was a kid (again, not so long ago...trust me), going to movies was a big deal.  We looked forward to great movies, and appreciated them.  When I was in high school, Shawshank Redemption came out.  And I loved it.  So did a bunch of other people my age.  Today, if a movie like this comes out at all (which is much more rare), who goes to see it?  The 30-and-up crowd.  And this doesn’t just apply to inspirational dramas.  I ask my students at the start of the year what movie they liked over the summer.  Many haven’t seen any.  Some mention the worst Hollywood has served up.  The ability to appreciate a great film has diminished.

Same with music.  Musical quality is almost based solely on emotion these days.  Move me, inspire me, relate to me.  And whatever you do, don’t bore me.  The ability to appreciate the nuances of different types of music is lost on students raised on the electronic shouting that passes for song these days.

Movies need to be loud, quick, immediate.  Something needs to happen!  Otherwise it’s boring.  We don’t have time for introspection, or character.  With Youtube, you have people who know nothing about making movies releasing their little time-wasters, and much of the young generation is more interested in that than actual stories with real characters and interesting conflicts and problems to be overcome.

I could go on about this for a long time.  But what’s the point?  What does this have to do with our subject?  It’s pretty simple, actually.

Learning.  Takes.  Time.

The education reformers can force all the colorful new curriculums down our retching throats they want, but they can’t escape the universal axiom that anything worth learning takes time.

No one becomes a musical genius in one day.  No one masters free-throw shooting in an hour.  No one learns to make a presentation the first time they do it.  And no one–no one–learns to read the first time the pick up a book.

So a student used to having their food packaged (who has patience to cook?), their entertainment spoon-fed at the touch of a button (and again, at far lower quality than a feature film...remember those little mini-TVs back in the 80's?  Those tiny screens...how silly.  How silly indeed...), and their senses stimulated at their whims on the internet is going to struggle mightily when faced with the prospect of learning something that takes months to master.

Why is math so hard for so many students?  Because mastery of this subject takes years.  Years!  In fact, most math teachers despise the new curriculums that get forced on them these days.  Why?  One reason is because these curriculums try to turn every single topic into a path of discovery.  I’m all for inquiry and inductive teaching–I use it all the time.  But there are certain things that can’t be ‘discovered’ so easily.
It took Kepler years, decades really, to determine the planetary orbits were actually ellipses and not the assumed circles.  It took Galileo years, decades really, to amass sufficient evidence to counter the popular notion that the Earth was at the center of the universe.  What about Einstein?  Or Pythagorus?  Or Thoreau for that matter?  Or any of the great writers, poets, economists, inventors, or theologians?  How long did it take these people to discover the things they did?

And we expect our students to do it in a structured 20-minute lesson?


Learning.  Takes.  Time.

There is no escaping this.  And time requires commitment, determination, curiosity, and most of all, the proper perspective.  It takes a right sense of priorities.  Learning this is more important than texting my friends every ten seconds.  So I’ll spend some time each day getting my work done.  I’ll use my class time, because I understand that’s what it’s for.  I understand the balance between work and play.

The delusional achiever, on the other hand, isn’t even aware that there’s a difference.  They don’t see it as work and play.  They see it as school and life.  They have lost sense of the demands of life in the face of a coddling culture that caters to their current whims.  In other words, they live in a world that favors immaturity and works very hard to imprison them there.

Imagine a generation speckled with people living in perpetual immaturity, totally oblivious to the demands of adulthood that have been with us for centuries.  People who think they are old enough to have sexual relationships but are afraid to look for a job and move out of the house.

A Way Out?
So how do we address this cultural diagnosis?

Sad to say, I’m of the opinion we may already be past the point of no return.  On a massive scale, can this tide be stemmed, when our feelings can be tickled so quickly at touch of a button and the click of a mouse?  Who’s going to stand in the way?  Can even the most dedicated parent stand against this tide?  Even at the risk of seeming “irrelevant” or “out of touch?”

Who wants to commit to hours, days, and weeks of work for something with an intangible, far-away benefit such as education, when I can arouse my feelings in ten seconds with my cell phone?  And I can do it a hundred times a day.

This is different from the “when I was a kid” lectures we received about the 30's and 40's (or 50's and 60's even).  We have passed the point, in my estimation, where technological advancement has ceased to improve the world as much as it harms it.  That separates this generation from all the others.  Before, the challenges were first human, and then material.

But today, we first must battle the device before we can access the humanity of the student.  And unless the student wants something great of their own humanity, and understands how to get it, our efforts will at best produce adults who go to college so they can work at Walmart.

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