Unforeseen Results

Just before I left on this book tour [and yes, I’m writing this on the road, which I usually don’t do], I read an article on how unprepared recent college graduates and even those getting advanced degrees happen to be in terms of what one might call personal preparedness.  The article, by a professional business recruiter, stated that most graduates had little idea of even what to wear to an interview, let alone how to get one.

Then, on one of the airplane jaunts, I read about how college students are moving out of engineering and science courses because “they’re too hard,” despite the fact that the average college undergraduate studies half as much today as the average student did thirty years ago.  To complete this depressing litany, I finished up with an opinion piece by a scientist who lectures occasionally, and who cited figures to show that today’s students have trouble learning anything in science without repeated repetition of the material because they don’t easily retain what they’ve heard in the classroom without that repetition.

But to top it all off, last night I ran into an attorney who teaches part-time at a prestigious southern law school, and we got to talking after the signing at the bookstore.  What she told me was truly astounding.   She set up a class where attorneys in various fields came and discussed the actual practice of law and where the students, all in their final year of law school, were told to be prepared to ask questions and were given the time and opportunity to do so.  First off, all were buried in their laptops, and not a single one could ask a question without reference to the laptop or notebook.  Second, not a one could ask a follow-up question or one not already prepared on the computer.  Third, not a one engaged in extended eye-to-eye contact with the visiting attorneys, and fourth, not a single one asked any of the visiting attorneys for a business card, despite the fact that none of them had job offers and all would be looking for positions in six months.  Considering the fact that almost all law firms are becoming very picky about new hires and that many have actually laid off experienced attorneys, none of these law students seemed to have a clue about personal interaction or personal networking.  Oh… and almost none of them actually wore better clothes to that class.

If this is what the new, computerized interactive net-based society has to offer, we’re all in big trouble, and those of us who are approaching senior citizen status may well have to keep working a lot longer for more reasons than economic necessity.


9 thoughts on “Unforeseen Results”

  1. Ryan Jackson says:

    Unfortionately I have to chime in that some businesses follow suit from these colleges. (or just match it well)

    My place of business relies on very clear cut directions for any given process. Common sense is not expected or encouraged and neither is independant thought. The audit process discourages giving any sort of coaching or defect based on anything that is not spelled out very very specifically in black and white. This largely stems from some managers wishing their people and thus themselves to have good results, but being unwilling to put the effort in. It also, unfortionately, stems from fear. The business is afraid that if we were to coaching, defect and discipline for mistakes that aren’t explicitly stated that we’ll just send an employee running to HR for being unfairly pressured and judged.

    As an aside on the clothing issue. I have a mixed stance on this. For a serious and important event (such as an award dinner or a meeting with the board) I am all for dressing completely to the nines and giving a very formal appearance. I have a similar thought on an interview for a brand new job. But in a case involving meetings with people who already know me, or where those who know me can be questioned about me, I won’t alter my dress. Not talking being sloppy or unkempt, but my normal work attire is a deliberately untucked dress shirt, normal fitted jeans and dress shoes/socks. When I go to an internal interview I stay in this same choice. Doing otherwise tends to backfire, at least where I’m at, because the interviewer wants to see the real you, not a shell you put on to try and impress.

  2. Joe says:

    Classes are too hard because the average college undergraduate studies half as much today as the average student did thirty years ago.

    It takes a lot of practice and studying to understand, say, Math and figure out how all the disperate topics relate. After that it’s obvious, and one wonders why one didn’t grok it earlier. So one tends to skip steps… which makes it even harder for those still struggling with the basics.

    Since the knowledge you learn prior to university also matters, we also have to consider how much schools stretch kids.

  3. Cindy says:

    [i]jeans and dress shoes[/i]

    *reset defaults*

    Okay now.

  4. Linda van der Pal says:

    If I look at the way kids are educated here in the Netherlands, I’m not surprised. When I was in secondary school, we were just expected to learn everything by heart. Nowadays, it’s all working in projects and no learning facts anymore. So it comes as no surprise to me that it takes a lot of repetition for students to learn anything, they simply haven’t learned how to learn anything by hear.

  5. AMos says:

    @Joe: I’d be cautious to lay the blame on primary and secondary schools and teachers. A larger responsibility rests on the parents and especially the students themselves.

    @Mr. Modesitt: I teach college freshmen, and I have to say my own experiences mirror those you’ve listed above. I frequently have to repeat myself, and even then am asked multiple times. I generally find myself, several times a week, speaking to a student who is looking at me, who then asks me to repeat what I’ve said because they weren’t paying attention. I often face disbelief and suspicion from students when we have an announced quiz, or they are expected to bring a different book to class, because, despite being on the syllabus from the beginning of the semester, they did not know about it.

    I’m a young professor, so I can’t compare my experiences to earlier decades or generations, and I’m curious to know whether this is becoming more common today, and if so what role technology plays in this shift.

  6. My wife has been teaching at the college level for over thirty years, and she finds that especially over the last ten years the inability of students to concentrate and focus, and especially to listen, has increased dramatically.

    I believe the excessive reliance on visual technology is a major factor in this change,especially combined with entertainment and primary education that requires continual and rapid, if not instant, shifts in subject matter and perspective.

  7. Joe says:

    @AMos: I’m not laying the blame on primary and secondary schools and teachers. I simply stated students aren’t learning enough at primary and secondary schools.

    There are many causes for this, including parents, teachers, and politicians. I would only blame students if the importance of learning had been made very clear to them. I don’t think it has, given the emphasis on passing tests rather than considering how each student has improved each year.

    FWIW when I taught Computer Science to university students over a decade ago, they cared more about getting their assignments done, and passing exams, than they did about the subject, which was of course rather discouraging.

  8. Jason says:

    As a high school English teacher for the past 16 years, it is all too common to see students who have been handed everything their entire lives and had people make excuses for them their entire lives when they have not done what they should. I think some of it has to do with the move to create an atmosphere where “everyone succeeds.”

    This is actually crippling kids. Social promotion tells a kid it is okay not to learn, we will keep you moving through the system so you don’t feel bad for being left beuind your by left behind by your peers. Schools get rid of honor rolls and valedictorians so the other kids won’t feel bad about themselves in comparison.

    Kids are told as long as they try hard enough, they can be or do whatever they want, so every kid thinks they can become a rock star, movie star or sports star. So, in their minds, why bother with math, science, reading and writing? Why bother training their minds at all?

    Our society has sheltered kids too much, given too many opportunities, excused too many vices and kids are not prepared for when they cross that imaginary line that separates “students” from “adults”. One day, they are high scholl students not expected to be responsible for much or skilled at much. The next day, they should be fully capable of taking care of themselves the rest of their lives.

    Our current societal system has set them up to fail. Kids need to experience failure in their lives. Sheltering them and having them live in a cushioned box keeps them from growing mentally and emotionally. They need consequences for bad decisions in order to grow. But, that is just not happening at home or in the schools.

  9. Izac says:

    “Our current societal system has set them up to fail. Kids need to experience failure in their lives.”
    From what you and others have described, the “kids” will experience failure—especially, the recent grads living with their parents without a source of income. At some point, the student becomes responsible; becomes that “adult” subject to the consequences of his or her actions and inactions. So, I agree, “the kids today” do need to experience failure–and, more importantly, learn from that failure.

    I know I wasn’t the brightest or most motivated student in school–especially in the first semester of law school. Most subject, including Math and Science, came easy until law school. But the failure wasn’t the system I grew up in or my parents–at least, not at that stage.

    My grades were C- level, the first time I’d ever been that low, after my first semester of law school. The two classes I did well in were the classes where I limited the use of my laptop and had NO access to the Mighty Internet. After that semester I unplugged the computer for a semester and took notes by hand, along with applying myself to the homework. I won’t say that I got straight A’s, but I wasn’t beating myself up for lack of effort.

    For college and beyond, I recommend unplugging the classrooms–especially of any internet access.

    What are the solutions? Now that the failure has been identified, we take the next step and come up with a solution.

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