Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Entitled

Every teaching assistant at a large state university has had the experience. At least I did as a TA in the University of Missouri's history department. Sometime during the semester you'd get a call from a junior assistant coach -- as new to the academic life as you were -- who just wanted to drop by and have a Coke.

How strange. I was mystified the first time it happened. What did he want, the pleasure of my company? Had he confused me with a football fan? Didn't he know that us intellectuals prefer baseball? Ah, the arrogance of youth. I kind of miss it.

After some puzzling small talk -- what do you think of this weather? where you from? -- my visitor got around to the point: He mentioned a student in a freshman survey course, a student whose name didn't register at once. Mainly because he just sat there without anything to say. His thoughts, if any, were clearly far away. Maybe on the football field? It seems that said student had failed a quiz or two, not surprisingly, and he would make an awfully fine guard or tackle or whatever if only his grades were better and he stayed eligible, and could I see my way clear to ... well, even I could see where this was heading, and the conversation was closed.

The young coach had carried out his assignment, I'd done my duty, no hard feelings. That's the way it worked. Every system has its little accepted corruptions that accumulate like sludge on the gears. I don't know if that kind of visit still happens. It shouldn't.

There's been one big change since my days behind the lectern. It's no longer the coaches who appeal, wheedle, growl, grovel, or whatever it takes to raise a student's letter grade. It's the students themselves.

Naturally enough, a team of academics has written a paper about this sad trend. ("Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting and Motivational Factors"). The syndrome now has a name (Academic Entitlement) and an abbreviation (AE) -- just like Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Doubtless there will soon be federal grants and endowed chairs to study AE and a drug to treat it. And sure enough, it'll turn out to be more widespread than anyone ever suspected.

The four scholars who did this Pioneering Study trace the origins of AE to parental pressure, material rewards for good grades, competitiveness, and "achievement anxiety and extrinsic motivation." They conclude that AE is "most strongly related to exploitive attitudes towards others and moderately related to an overall sense of entitlement and to narcissism."

At the risk of putting all that in plain English, these kids are spoiled brats with character problems. But how will they ever get over them if they're not allowed to fail -- and learn from their failures? If their mediocre performance is regularly rewarded with As and Bs, how will they learn the difference between excellent and run-of-the-mill?

The saddest aspect of these kids' condition is that they're unaware of it. They actually think they're pretty darned good, and deserve those good grades. More to be pitied than scorned, they may come out of school with no idea of what real accomplishment is, and the intrinsic satisfaction of doing something well.

They may never thrill at a formula elegantly devised, a mission truly accomplished, a sentence well written, a simple procedure done with care every time, an experiment perfected, a form that perfectly follows function.... Not for The Entitled the sense of awe that may be the first step toward God. If a teacher dropped one of these students off at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he the might emerge a few hours later with only one question: Is this going to be on the test?

But why should they be any different from what they are? Raised in an age when self-esteem is all, they're told how great they are from K to 12 and may graduate without the faintest idea of what greatness is, or demands.

Consider this newly named syndrome another argument for universal military service. Call it Greenberg's Theorem: There's nothing wrong with these kids that six weeks of basic training at an Army base in some barren clime wouldn't cure -- if they didn't manage to have mama or papa get them out of it.

But if they stuck it out, they'd soon learn that it's results that count, not influence or manipulation. Or even effort if it's misplaced, if it amounts to nothing more than the same mistakes endlessly, energetically repeated.

To quote a deluded young senior at the University of Maryland: "I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade. What else really is there than the effort that you put in?"

Well, for starters there is talent, insight, intention, humility, tolerance, an openness to criticism and a determination to learn from it. There is an appreciation for what is noble and contempt for what is base. And the love of knowledge for its own sake, not for the rewards it might bring, and . . . well, you get the point. Unless, of course, you think you're entitled.


Principals Australia calls for job preparation -- in pre-school!

Does the nonsense from "educators" ever stop? It's true that little kids do have career thoughts. Most little boys that I have known have wanted to be firemen or policemen when they grew up but I know none who grew up to be so. The Archbishop of Westminster wanted to be a truck driver when he was a boy.

THE head of Principals Australia believes toddlers in daycare should be given early career counselling to help them work out what they want to be when they grow up.

Kate Castine, who runs the Principals Australia career education project on behalf of the federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, is calling for "career development concepts" to be included in the new national curriculum, according to a report in The Australian. The call was immediately rejected as "crazy stuff" by a leading childcare operator, while the state and territory children's commissioners warned against pushing academic-based teaching on children still in nappies.

But Ms Castine said research showed students as young as six could identify what they wanted to do when they grew up. "The argument that children should be exposed to career development concepts at an early age has been endorsed by current worldwide research," she wrote in comments posted on the department's official online forum, seeking feedback on the latest draft of the "early-learning framework". "Reference to career development competencies needs to be explicit so teachers understand its importance."

Ms Castine said her concern was that little children rarely think beyond what their parents and relatives do for a living. "They identify very, very limited careers, usually associated with their family," she told The Weekend Australian. "That makes quite good sense but what needs to happen is that children who are very young need to identify there's a whole range of possible careers ... and not just what they see at home."

Queensland's biggest childcare chain, the community-based C&K, yesterday rejected the kids' careers counselling as "crazy stuff". "What about letting children be children?" said C&K's chief executive Barrie Elvish. "It's bad enough that kids in years 11 and 12 have to choose a career. How on earth can you get a four-year-old to think about what they'll be doing in 20 years' time?"


Indian students boost Australia's export economy

VASHA Vankadesh is the new face of Australia's export economy. As part of an exploding diaspora of young Indians now studying in Australia, she contributes more than $30,000 a year to the domestic economy as she ploughs her way through an engineering degree at the Australian National University in Canberra. But Vasha's investment in Australia is unlikely to end there.

The 18-year-old from Chennai, in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu, was one of the 96,739 Indian enrolments in Australian higher education and vocational training courses last year, a massive 54 per cent increase on the almost 63,000 Indian enrolments in 2007 and up from just 11,313 in 2002.

With India projected to be the fifth-largest consumer market by 2025, Australian-trained Indian graduates and skilled workers represent a future trade and investment bonanza as they return home to jobs in the business and government sector.

Australia's now well-established business links with Southeast Asia can be traced back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s when many students from that region studied in Australia.

"You're now seeing the beginnings of that sort of relationship between India and Australia," Australia's High Commissioner to India, John McCarthy, said yesterday.

Indian students now make up almost 18 per cent of Australia's total foreign student population, the second largest group after China, which represents 23.5 per cent of the total foreign student body. Foreign students are now Australia's third-largest export income earner, behind coal and iron ore, contributing $14.1 billion in direct income and an additional $12.6 billion in value-added goods and services, a new Access Economic report has found.

Vasha says she chose Australia over Britain and the US because it was closer to home and cheaper. "I was quite nervous, but since a large number of (Indian) students are now in Australia they're really helpful to new students," she said. She plans to return to India at the end of her four-year degree.


No comments: