Same old song
A colleague and I were discussing frustrating and unproductive student behaviors. You know the list of gripes faculty have about students: unmotivated, under-prepared for higher ed, unprepared for class, apathetic, etc.
I wondered if it’s always been this way: faculty complaining about students “these days.” Sure, there’s a lot that sets the Millennials apart from prior generations, but the real question I wanted an answer to is this: Have faculty always longed for “better” students? And closely related: Have teachers always thought back to their own time as students as the good old days when students were serious, worked harder, etc?
To begin to get a handle on these questions, I decided to look back several decades into the teaching and learning literature. Surely, the titles of the articles would suggest the hot-button and critical issues teachers were facing then. Generally, articles were more focused on the quality of teaching, than they were detailing with students’ behavioral issues. Evidence-based pedagogical scholarship was really just getting started in the 40s and 50s. Quality of programming, growing enrollments and hiring enough qualified faculty were issues discussed then as now. Technology was different, but it was also discussed. Specific to Penn State was a large experiment dealing with television and televised lectures and how that might revolutionize higher education, definitely prescient of MOOCs, blended/flipped/online and other technology-enhanced instruction that are part of today’s literature.
But as to teacher’s views on students’ attitudes, behaviors, and preparation, there is a long history of teacher frustrations:
“It became rather customary to say that a certain large percentage of the Freshman must fail because of lack of preparation, or lack of brains, or both. The attitude, generally speaking, of the state university was that the Freshman must adapt himself to collegiate methods and subjects; there should be no mollycoddling!” P186. Rightmire, G.W. 1930. The Floundering Freshman. The Journal of Higher Education, 1(4): 185-192.
“A lack of seriousness in the college student today is possibly due to the absence of a realization of his own importance in this drama of education. He is the star- teachers, books, equipment, and all else are the props, scenery, and cast. The inner force in him is his will power that must be the propeller to set the machinery into action.” P32. Arnoldy, M.D. 1955. Stimulating an Appetite for Knowledge and the Projection of It. Improving College and University Teaching, 3(2): 32-33.
“As a teacher handles more and more freshman and sophomore classes in college, he becomes aware of the deficiencies of our mass education: students lack of interest, poor reading ability, poor writing ability, lack of basic knowledge, and lack of good study habits.” Karner, E.F. 1965. Our Dilemma of Mass Education. Improving College and University Teaching, 13(1): 38.
“… the majority of students in the sample spent far less time in preparation than the assumed two period standard frequently listed by colleges and universities as desirable.” p309. Marwardt, F., Sikkink, D.E. 1970. Student Preparation Time. Improving College and University Teaching, 18(4): 308-309.
So what’s a teacher to do? Allowing for some occasional venting about students “these days,” we need to face the reality that teachers have always longed for “better” students. Ah those good old days…