The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"Time is the best teacher, but unfortunately it kills all of its students." ... ... Robin Williams.

Commentary of the Day - January 10, 2006:  Kids Today.  Guest commentary by Beverly C. Lucey.

First, let's get one boneheaded perception out of the way.  Kids today are not worse than ever.  There.  I said it.  I'll stick by it.

Some teachers have always had a 'jungle' class.  One that was out of control.  I, myself, was part of a determined coup who designed and executed a plan to make our middle-aged Latin teacher, Mr. McDonald, cry.  We were successful.  He insulted us constantly, and he deserved it.  My sophomore geometry teacher, Miss Tobin, called us zombies.  She encouraged us to drop out of school.  There was no hope for us, we who cluttered up her classroom with confusion and questions she couldn't answer.

When she was appointed as a guidance counselor, this woman who had such disdain for students, could now be more spirit dampening to even more students.  Plus she got her very own office.  Across the state, my future husband was making up aboriginal tribes for history presentations.  He kept a straight face while insisting to Miss Shea that the Lemmin Stepahuts had been recently discovered on an island off New Zealand.  Why, he'd read it in the Society of Sailing Explorers Weekly, which surely she herself knew about.  Also, there were daily organized disruptive mumbles in which sporadic miscreants could be heard saying HunkaShea, Miss HunkaShea.  She was a large woman.  They were mean.  And many long spots of instructional time were lost to Miss Shea saying, "Who said that?  Who?  Was it you Mr. Donnelly?  You Mr. Murtaugh?  Miss Hogan?  as she approached each possibility only to hear HunkaShea behind her.  Or a calculated fart.

Adult Americans in the 1950s were likely shocked by the films Blackboard Jungle, and Rebel Without A Cause.  Why, where were their parents?  Oh!  Then we saw gang related rumbles, racial hatred, and disrespect for authority in West Side Story -- death with singing and dancing.

In 1960 the words from Bye, Bye, Birdie whined:

I don't know what's wrong with these kids today!
Who can understand anything they say?
They a disobedient, disrespectful oafs!
Noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy, loafers!
While we're on the subject:
You can talk and talk till your face is blue!
But they still just do what they want to do!
Why can't they be like we were,
Perfect in every way?
What's the matter with kids today? ...

(Lyrics- Lee Adams)

Certainly changing times bring new problems into the classroom.  So do new policies.  Weapons change, the substances abused change.  But the kids?

When I started teaching high school almost a decade after the premiere of Bye Bye, Birdie, many veteran teachers spent lunchtime and faculty meetings doing their own versions of the aforementioned Broadway melody.  In fact, their bad attitude and behavior continued through the decades until I left.  The show and details and the cast changed, but the observations from the Grump Troop remained the same.

My unsubstantiated theory is that approximately 5-7% of any student body in the US is destructive and/or dysfunctional.  Anytime, anywhere.  Since we don't want to leave any child behind, and funding depends on a low dropout rate, we make every effort to retain students who might be better off elsewhere.

Hence, during my high school teaching years the following events occurred:

A student took a chair and smashed the glass side of a doorway frame spewing shards all over nearby students.

Some students left their chewing tobacco in the water fountains or stuck behind a pole in the back of a classroom.

Two girls got into a horrible fight and a teacher who was trying to separate them got kneed in the groin.

A student borrowed some munitions from his Reservist father and set off a tear gas bomb in the lobby.

We had numerous instances of bathroom vandalism, theft, and irate students telling us what we might do to ourselves instead of annoying them.

On one field trip to Boston, one of our students approached strange men and indicated she was a hooker looking for a date.

Only the student who laced an instructor's coffee with some hallucinogenic was expelled.

Meanwhile, most of our students cared about their grades, behaved, volunteered for activities, and were a delight to be around.  Why do we forget that?  Why does one student and perhaps two of his buddies seem like a monstrous clump of negative energy that blocks out the positive?  I don't understand the physics of it all, but I do understand the psychology of it.

Our memories are bad.  We forget that high school was not for everyone before World War II.  We bemoan sinking SAT scores and now the questionably designed assessment tests, but we forget that a greater percentage of students now are taking the SAT or the ACT, and all students have to take the assessment tests.  Even the students who have special needs, learning disabilities or are just grabbing hold of this nutty new language of English have to take those Benchmark tests mandated by No Child Left Behind.

I began teaching aspiring teachers at a small women's college in Georgia and supervising their practice teaching.  Most of my students were around 21.  And most of them insisted that schools had changed so much since they were in school.  What's with these kids, they said.  We never acted like that.  Have you seen how they dress?

I'm now teaching general education courses in speech and writing at a large university in Arkansas. Sure, students are coming to class wearing pajama bottoms and the girls are lugging huge purses of sequin coins or gold lamé usually carried by 80-year-old yentas in Miami.  Sure, many students are pierced and tattooed in a variety of places.  Their Pentecostal aunties are upset.  I'm not.  Except for the 5-7% who lie about missing deadlines, or profess not to know what plagiarism is, or expend more energy on b.s. than studying, the rest are sweet, often quite bright, and a joy to have in class.  Let's not forget that.

© 2006, Beverly C. Lucey
Beverly C. Lucey is a freelance writer and college instructor from Arkansas.  More of her work can be found at Tulip Tree Publishing.

The IP comments:  I would agree with Beverly that when it comes to basic intelligence and behavior students are pretty much the same today as they were in years past.  However, what has changed at least as far as the IP has been able to discern is the quality of their preparation for college work.  There has been a decline over the past few decades.  But this can't be blamed on the students.

Printer friendly version.

[ home | web rings | links | archives | about | freelance contributions | donate | mailing list ]

The Irascible Professor invites your  .

©2006 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
Technorati tag(s):