Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dammit, Jim...

I'm an anthropology professor, not a psychiatrist / social worker / life coach / guru - and definitely not your mother.


Interim (midterm) grades are due this Monday. I have exams from my two sections of ANTH 100 to grade, and will be collecting essay exams from another class next week. So, there is plenty to do. However. What has me feeling especially anxious and overworked at the moment is having to respond to students "in crisis."

I have been thinking about the blog discussion at The New York Times on "Have College Students Changed?" In particular, I think about this response from Linda Bips, a psychology professor at Muhlenberg College (and the author of "Parenting College Freshmen: Consulting for Adulthood"):

In my experience, freshmen today are different from those I knew when I started as a counselor and professor 25 years ago. College has always been demanding both academically and socially. But students now are less mature and often not ready for the responsibility of being in college.

Many of today’s students lack resilience and at the first sign of difficulty are unable to summon strategies to cope. The hardship can be a failing grade on a test, a cut from the team, or a romantic breakup. At the first sign of trouble many become unable to function and persevere. Often they even anticipate difficulties and their anxiety alone paralyzes them.

Whatever the causes might be, the effects that I observe are students apparently unprepared to meet the demands of higher education - and I am utterly unprepared to respond to them. I sometimes feel rather tested and I see this as not necessarily the student's fault. (Though it is true also that sometimes particular individuals push against the limits of my patience...)

There seems to be a serious gap between the expectation that a college education ought to be accessible to everyone, and what this actually requires. If college students are changing, then is college changing? Should it not?

Is the work of college professors, too, changing?

No answers this evening. Just questions.

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