“Connected” or “Disconnected” ?

One of the seemingly unfathomable and comparatively new outlooks my wife the professor has noted among students entering college in the last two to three years is a comparatively much lower level of understanding of certain connections and values that used to be easily comprehended by past students.

For example, students given full tuition scholarships, which require at least an even “B” average, are blowing off classes and not doing the work…. and they lose a four-year scholarship, which is worth tens of thousands of dollars. And we’re not talking about well-off students with family money, nor are these students disadvantaged minorities. They come from working or middle-class families; they have good grades in high school and high SAT/ACT test scores. Some of them will overcommit to part-time work in order to pay for what those of us in an older generation would have considered luxuries, such as newer cars and I-phones, but they’re not using the money to buy textbooks, or even borrow them, or in the case of music students, not even to purchase the music they’re supposed to be learning as part of their major, complaining all the time that they don’t have the money. It’s almost as if college is an imposition.

At the same time, they pay for everything with plastic, almost as if they had no idea of where the money represented by the endless card-swiping comes from.

Then there are those of higher than average intelligence who cannot take a series of events, or pieces of music, or facts and synthesize what they have in common or how they differ. Nor can a majority of them write a coherent paragraph. Far too many of them feel that they have no obligation to learn, and that every professor is under an obligation not only to inspire them, but to spoon feed them what they need to know. This is not helped by an administration whose overt and clearly expressed philosophy is that professors are solely responsible for keeping students in school and that student retention is a higher priority than a good education.

A majority of these students have little or no intellectual curiosity, as well as little knowledge of either American culture or history, let alone the history or cultures of other lands.

Yet, they’re generally good young people, if as self-centered as most teenagers have been in at least the past several generations. They’re not mean or vicious, but they don’t seem able to figure out what work needs to be done unless they’re given specific directions. And when they reach the end of those directions, they stop and look around blankly.

In many ways, for a generation cited as the most connected in history, it’s almost as if they’re totally disconnected from anything but their electronic “reality.” They don’t talk to the people around them. Far too many of them don’t understand deadlines and get upset when professors don’t “understand” that they’re stressed or have emotional issues. They don’t really seem to make a connection between the quality of work and success. They don’t understand, or want to understand, the history that led to where they are.

Too many of the voice students can’t even explain what they feel when they’re singing, and yet they want to be professional singers… and they don’t get the fact that unless they can master their own bodies, and understand the feelings and muscular control necessary, they’ll never make it as singers or teachers of singing. In fact, many actively reject connecting to their physical feelings.

Disconnection may shut out a world they find unpleasant or unimportant… until that world crashes through their electronic bubble and asks them to pay the bills with real physical work requiring meeting standards on someone else’s timetable. And it will… sooner or later.

7 thoughts on ““Connected” or “Disconnected” ?”

  1. Ralph Wilson says:

    Singing and musicianship is something that cannot be ‘faked’ and there’s no Wikipedia shortcut to that sort of learning, it takes the 10000 hours of practice. That aside, Heinlein made a similar point about the US school/college/university system in his commentary in ‘Expanded Universe’ in the 70s (if memory serves me correct), bemoaning the lack of real learning.

    It’s difficult to what disconnection is a symptom of, or what the cure is, however scientific discoveries continue to be made and musicians continue to scale higher technical and artistic peaks. No real answers here, just observations.

    May I say that although I don’t always feel qualified to comment, I always enjoy your blog.

  2. Nathaniel says:

    I do wonder what you/your wife’s experiences would be if she didn’t work at a university in a region populated by, shall we say, a group of people who are told they are inherently superior to non-members by virtue of their birth into the group, rather than anything they’ve done themselves.

    My wife is a professor across the country in a different field, so I get to hear all about the odd smug superiority of the professors that come out of BYU, regardless of actual accomplishment, so sometimes I read your blog and wonder if that corresponds with undergrads in the rest of Utah. The way you describe your wife’s students certainly doesn’t track to anywhere near the same degree with her experiences with business majors in Louisiana or Washington.

    1. Some of it’s definitely Utah, but according to other professors I know who teach from east coast to west coast, all of them have noted the difficulty that a great majority of current undergrads, and sometimes grad students, have in writing coherently and well.

      1. Alan Naylor says:

        Speaking as a middle aged student in Ohio, I can state quite clearly that these trends are strong here as well. Professors struggle with large class sizes filled with students who want to be spoon fed the information without really learning anything because they feel they can always ‘Google’ it in some fashion. The students frequently feel entitled to not have to put forth any real effort outside the classroom. Often they don’t really know the material and complain when test time comes. And despite a very vocally established anti-cheating policy I see a great deal of cheating going on. Notably this is most prevalent in the Middle-Eastern exchange students. The professors often let these students cheat without consequence, even when the cheating is pointed out to them.

        Many students I interact with have trouble with simple 250 or 500 word essays. They don’t understand the format or how to string together coherent sentences without creating one long run on paragraph. I don’t believe these Millennials are unintelligent but they are definitely lazy, unfocused and unmotivated to do anything they are not forced to.

  3. Devildog says:

    My daughter is a musical theatre major in Ohio who has an exceptional singing voice and works very hard with her acting and dancing skills. She is ridiculously focused and she is the exception when compared to her peers. She really has a hard time connecting with her peers who seem to be very unfocused and unsure of themselves. We talk about it all the time. I don’t understand the situation at all.

  4. John Prigent says:

    For some reason I’m reminded of my days as a ‘mature student’ for a professional qualification with graduate entry. On exam days I’d see the youngsters frantically reading up on the day’s subject, doing last-second revision, while I leant on the wall peacefully reading a novel after finishing my study reading a week earlier. Then I’d stroll in, sit the exam and finish the papers in half the allotted time, and stroll out leaving most of those kids still wondering about the meanings of the questions. Yes, I passed with flying colours each time – but saw few of those youngsters taking the next stage of the exams 6 months later. I can’t know whether they had dropped out or were resitting the exam I’d passed, but either way they hadn’t been properly prepared.

  5. Tom says:

    Reading the “Ghost Books” and some of the blogs has led me to believe that students are totally responsible for the outcome of their education. There is no doubt that if the students are as disconnected as to not know why they are at school, then that is indeed so.

    Starting a new job one would expect the new employee to receive some guidance from colleagues, at least initially. Going to school is work and there one would expect that the teacher would guide the student (not give directions but give guidance). Education requires such a partnership: focus and application from the student and guidance from the teacher.

    Focus and application may have been natural for Mr. Prigent but most people need some guidance and encouragement to achieve such a state. This is particularly difficult when all one’s communication is text-like and not requiring analysis or at the least connecting the dots. This means that only a great calamity will make thinking a requirement for continued existence. Not the best of futures.

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