Archive for the 'society' Category

“Where there’s a will there’s a won’t.” — Ambrose Bierce

November 19, 2009

I came across this quote and felt that it accurately depicts a great many of my students right now.  It’s sad.  I don’t want my students to be demotivated.  Teachers have told me my teaching hasn’t changed much since the first few weeks and say I continue to do a great job, so I’m left a little puzzled as to why my students are becoming less and less willing to answer questions during discussion.

I come back to the idea that maybe it’s not all me.  If you take any group of students there will be a few that refuse to do anything.  They simply won’t.  You can give students seven or eight different interventions.  You can force them to have pencil in hand.  You can modify their standards so they need to achieve ludicrously little.  Some will still not budge.

I can be stoned in academic and educational/political circles for saying this.  Many chant “all students can learn” and act as if saying the words will bleach away the dirty stains of student apathy.  All students can learn.  It does not mean all will attempt to.  I think the government is starting to understand this and education will be changing soon.

A solution I’ve been thinking about is to let high school be an option.  Why not offer technical schools or vocational training starting right after middle school?  I haven’t thought through all the repercussions, but this is what many European schools and Asian schools do.


Why Johnny Can’t Think Critically

November 3, 2009

I’m laying around with the flu right now.  As relaxing as that is, it does give me a bit of time to respond to an article my dad sent me:

The “everyone can do math” article is cool, and it’s true that students want to be successful and normally give you a better effort if they see small successes.  It’s interesting that the man featured in the article said he would see if his explanation was bad when a student didn’t understand and would change the lesson instead of automatically saying the student couldn’t do it.  Teaching is more and more leaning towards this philosophy, and I agree that we should focus on using only what works and discourage blaming student’s ability.

The problem is that students develop learned helplessness when lessons are constantly catered to them, and this affects their attitude and effort (notice these are different than ability.)  They don’t feel that they should have to work to understand anything.  However, in life it often takes an arsenal of tricks and study tools to communicate and understand subjects and other persons.  We will not always have things catered for us.  I have one student in my class that expects me to teach him the lesson over again individually during work time, and if I refuse to reteach everything he says, “But I don’t get it.  How am I supposed to do it?”  I’m trying to train him out of this thinking that he’s allowed not engage and not think critically about the lesson I give all the students and then wait for more tailored, individual instruction.  I’m trying to show him how to advocate for himself, take notes, ask classmates who are getting it questions, ask specific questions if I seem unclear, and come in at other times for more difficult problems.

I’m not so much afraid of our students being less talented than students of other countries.  I am afraid of the tremendous apathy I see in students, and I am afraid our students will not be able to critically engage with someone’s thoughts when those thoughts aren’t directed solely to that student.  I think this is why students are graduating lately and expecting jobs to be handed to them.  Generation me expects to not have to work for their $70k paycheck and are disillusioned when they have to work hard to make $35k.

I’m not simply saying “suck it up.”   I am saying that students need to advocate for themselves, use resources, ask questions, and figure out solutions if they have problems understanding material.  Right now I’m trying to find ways to teach these things to my kids.  Does anyone have ideas how to teach this alongside the curriculum?


August 17, 2009

After reading Generation Me, I got to thinking about leadership in our generation.  I don’t think we have leaders like we used to.  I’m not sure our generation will accept leaders.  Here are some ideas I’ve been thinking about since being disheartened by Jean Twenge’s book:

Living In Criticism

If a leader does emerge, count the costs, make a decision, and point a direction, our generation will be unhappy with it.  Our country loves to criticize, to satirize, and to tear down.  Already the country is getting upset with President Obama because he’s withdrawing troops next year instead of immediately.  They’re getting upset that a national health care bill is has not arrived by now.  The news actually spent the time to criticize President Obama’s jeans when he pitched the opening pitch at the MLB All-Star game, saying they did not look fashionable.

I don’t think our generation will slow it’s hyper-active, critical spirit.  This would be mostly because technology (Ipod, internet, credit cards) is allowing us to have what we want, when we’d like it, and it’s taught us that we don’t have to be measured, reasoned, or patient in our lives.  This also means that when we’re tired of something, or we don’t like it, we have plenty of options.  Example: how many countless times have you clicked on a link in a google search to find that the link was loading slowly.  Then, instead of waiting, you quickly hit the back button and try the next link.  If a Youtube video doesn’t load quickly, we get irate.  I’m going to extrapolate this type of response as an explanation to what I see in my students today.  Students repeatedly ask me questions and, while I am mid-sentence explaining the answer, interrupt with another question.  It seems to me that the students are getting bored with the complete question and want to back up and try a different route to get an answer without me talking nearly as much.

This bleeds into how we view religion, also.  We’re built to criticize, to deconstruct, and to take apart claims of the religious.  Any decision made by a pastor or leader will soon be criticized because it’s not perfect, as no plan will ever be.  We’re trained to distrust anyone but ourselves and our feelings or comfort- a dangerous thing when our hearts are deceitful.

Criticism is no longer something that we would base in fact or reasoned explanation.  We may criticize now purely based off our personal tastes about anything that is in our scope.  If we don’t like how our President dresses, we aren’t slow to complain.  We are slow to think if even discussing the matter has any consequence.  And I’m not sure if this has always been the case, but I feel like our leaders suffer more from destructive criticism today.

Too Much to Think About

This has been an issue with the church for a long time.  There are so many religions on the worldview market that many people don’t know how to differentiate different worldviews and make a decision on what they will reject.  Now, however, most are tired of critically thinking and having to deduce what might not be true and decide that as long as a person is an okay person, they’ll go to heaven… or whatever the good reward is after death.

This apathy might be from the conflict that arises between our desires and feelings and a tenant of a belief.  This is most apparent while we cross-walked.  Out in Dinkytown, with a giant cross at our side, we saw hundreds of drunk students walk by and claim allegiance to the Catholic (or Lutheran) church.  After being asked about what they believe, most would say that drinking isn’t bad, Jesus himself drank wine, and as long as you’re an okay guy, you probably will make it to heaven.  A great majority believe it didn’t matter what you believed, because all worldviews were basically the same.  Many went on an on about their friend who wasn’t the same religion, but they thought that was cool.  The distinct feeling you may get from listening in on these conversations was that most didn’t want to commit seriously to an idea.  Most wanted to be okay with everything.

Good luck to the next revivalist.  Maybe I’m saying this a cynically, but I honestly believe it is tougher now to have meaningful discussion about religion.  The general public, on the surface, doesn’t want to be inspired by meaningful ideas or by moved by God.  Most are happy being moved by anything that’s easy- alcohol, TV, music, movies…

Everyone’s a leader on the internet

It’s funny how quickly some become experts on subjects.  We’ve all had the experience in college or high school where students would argue relentlessly with a teacher on any point they could, even though the professor or teacher was completely qualified to give sound judgments in their area of expertise.  This sense of the grand self makes our generation more willing to speak out about anything, and, with the advent of blogs, everyone can see your opinion.

This is deliciously ironic that I’m writing this on a blog.  There are a few things I can say in my defense.  Blogs as a communication or discussion tool are not what I’m (hopefully constructively) criticizing.  I’m criticizing the idea that all have equal say now.  I’m also criticizing the now-oft-applied rule that popularity is the new measure of importance.

Look at or  The thing that drives them is the populous.  Digg relies on word of mouth to develop its content.  Those who think something is cool simply “Digg” it.  The crowds decide what is important.  Similarly with when a question is asked, the populous responds and the best answer is given by the number of approving votes.    We’re removing the discerning editor and replacing it with the discerning people to deliver content.  This isn’t bad!  What is bad is if our generation mistakes popularity with importance, meaning, or truth.  What is bad is if we make the mistake of erasing any distinction in understanding or qualifications, such as having a Ph.D. in the subject.  If I we were to ask on “Which worldview is correct?”  Would a popular response be a truthful or a meaningful, or even a coherent one?

I would really like to hear what people have to say.  I think are things to be thankful for and positive about, but that’s for my next post, I think.

Generation Me Highlights

August 13, 2009

I read Generation Me by Jean M Twenge, Ph.D.  I would recommend reading this book simply for the wealth of data that shows Generation Me (those born after 1980) is extaordinarily self-absorbed and yet extraordinarily unhappy because of their unrealistic expectations and inflated self-entitlement.  I find this book interesting because it lines up with what teachers around me are saying and what I see in different schools as I teach.

Here are some nuggets:

  • “In the early 1950’s, only 12% of teens aged 14-16 agreed with the statement “I am an important person.”  By the late 1980s, and incredible 80%- almost seven times as many- claimed they were important.” Pg. 69
  • There is a general agreement among professors and teachers that (according to Professor Stout, pg. 70) “students learn that they do not need to respect their teachers or even earn their grades, so they begin to believe that they are entitled to grades, respect, or anything else… just for asking.”
  • In a recent college survey, 98% of freshman agreed with “I am sure that one day I will get to where I want to be in life.”
  • In 1999, teens expected to make around $75,000 by the time they were 30.  The average income for a 30-year-old that year was $27,000.
  • There was a study that noticed a 42% greater drop in marital satisfaction after having children.  The study concluded that “children seem to be a growing impediment for the happiness of marriages.”  How unfortunate.
  • It is noted that 57% of men and 43% of women 22-31 agreed to live with their parents in 2002.  The author attributes this to shrinking salaries, crippling student debt, and the extended period of adolescence that people have now dubbed the “twixter” years.
  • In 1967, 45% of freshman agreed that having lots of money was a life goal.  By 2004, 74% agreed.
  • The book claims that before 1918, 1% to 2% of Americans experienced a major depressive episode.  Today, the figure is around 15%-20%.
  • Using a standard test that measures anxiousness, Twenge compares children from the 1950’s to today.  She found that regular schoolchildren in the 80s reported higher anxiousness levels than child psychiatric patients from the 50’s.
  • Twenge notes that now relationships before college are generally characterized as one night stands called “hookups” that are focused on sexual activity with no level of commitment.  This, the author considers, is a reaction to the emotional breakups that are tied with “going steady” with someone.  Generation Me has no qualms with divorcing sex from romantic entanglement.
  • The author notes that while Generation Me has a romantic expectation gap that leaves them depressed and unfufilled.  94% of single women in their twenties agreed that “when you marry, you want your spouse to be your soulmate, first and foremost.”  Yet, Twenge details that women will claim they are not looking for the perfect husband , yet in the same breath will detail their idea of a good husband that is unrealistic.
  • Generation Me believes, much more than the previous generation and with a strong correlation of .7, that external factors affect their circumstances more than their internal factors such as hard work or ambition.  This leads Twenge to theorize that Generation Me is apathetic about political and religious endeavors, as they agree that “you can’t change things. “
  • Similarly, this belief that life is uncontrollable is making Generation Me more and more willing to blame circumstances for their own problems.  This is seen in an 86% increase on product liability cases from 1993-1996.  There are anecdotes that drive me crazy, like the one on page 153, “One young man sued the Wake Forest University Law School because his professors used the Socratic method to question him and his classmates, which, he says, caused him fatigue and weight loss.”  What a joke.
  • Pg.155: “One set of parents sued a school that expelled their kids for cheating, saying that a teacher had lef the exam on a desk, making it easy to steal it.”
  • There are some upsides, the author states, such as this generations willingness to accept differences.

Please check this book out if you have the time.  I’m sure I’ll have much more to say along these lines in the near future.