Monday, October 26, 2015

Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges

None of this is surprising in the light of the way Leftist academics have gone hysterical about minor matters, such as "micro-aggressions", "trigger warnings" etc.  Students have been TAUGHT to feel threatened and helpless amidst the rough and tumble of everyday life. They have been taught that they must be protected from evil influences by their elders at all times.

And the relentless attacks on Christianity have not helped either.  Christianity gives people guidelines about how to behave and comfort amidst distress.  I was greatly helped by the  behaviour guidance I received from Christianity in my teenage years. I was given wisdom that I could have got from nowhere else. So although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I sent my son to a church school and encouraged his interest in the faith.

In a world where all values and traditions are questioned, young people can be forgiven for feeling confused and alienated -- not knowing which way to jump or how to behave wisely.  Christian teachings put their feet back onto the path of tried and true values

And the assistance of the clergy and Christian youth workers is valuable but often not accessible on campus.  They would once have done much of the personal counselling and support that is now being demanded of academics -- JR

A year ago I received an invitation from the head of Counseling Services at a major university to join faculty and administrators for discussions about how to deal with the decline in resilience among students. At the first meeting, we learned that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.

Faculty at the meetings noted that students’ emotional fragility has become a serious problem when it comes to grading. Some said they had grown afraid to give low grades for poor performance, because of the subsequent emotional crises they would have to deal with in their offices. Many students, they said, now view a C, or sometimes even a B, as failure, and they interpret such “failure” as the end of the world. Faculty also noted an increased tendency for students to blame them (the faculty) for low grades—they weren’t explicit enough in telling the students just what the test would cover or just what would distinguish a good paper from a bad one. They described an increased tendency to see a poor grade as reason to complain rather than as reason to study more, or more effectively. Much of the discussions had to do with the amount of handholding faculty should do versus the degree to which the response should be something like, “Buck up, this is college.” Does the first response simply play into and perpetuate students’ neediness and unwillingness to take responsibility? Does the second response create the possibility of serious emotional breakdown, or, who knows, maybe even suicide?

Two weeks ago, that head of Counseling sent us all a follow-up email, announcing a new set of meetings. His email included this sobering paragraph:

    “I have done a considerable amount of reading and research in recent months on the topic of resilience in college students. Our students are no different from what is being reported across the country on the state of late adolescence/early adulthood. There has been an increase in diagnosable mental health problems, but there has also been a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life. Whether we want it or not, these students are bringing their struggles to their teachers and others on campus who deal with students on a day-to-day basis. The lack of resilience is interfering with the academic mission of the University and is thwarting the emotional and personal development of students.”

He also sent us a summary of themes that emerged in the series of meetings, which included the following bullets:

    Less resilient and needy students have shaped the landscape for faculty in that they are expected to do more handholding, lower their academic standards, and not challenge students too much.

    There is a sense of helplessness among the faculty. Many faculty members expressed their frustration with the current situation. There were few ideas about what we could do as an institution to address the issue.

    Students are afraid to fail; they do not take risks; they need to be certain about things. For many of them, failure is seen as catastrophic and unacceptable. External measures of success are more important than learning and autonomous development.

    Faculty, particularly young faculty members, feel pressured to accede to student wishes lest they get low teacher ratings from their students. Students email about trivial things and expect prompt replies.

    Failure and struggle need to be normalized. Students are very uncomfortable in not being right. They want to re-do papers to undo their earlier mistakes. We have to normalize being wrong and learning from one’s errors.

    Faculty members, individually and as a group, are conflicted about how much “handholding” they should be doing.

    Growth is achieved by striking the right balance between support and challenge. We need to reset the balance point. We have become a “helicopter institution.”

Reinforcing the claim that this is a nationwide problem, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an article by Robin Wilson entitled, “An Epidemic of Anguish: Overwhelmed by Demand for Mental-Health Care, Colleges Face Conflicts in Choosing How to Respond" (Aug. 31, 2015). Colleges and universities have traditionally been centers for higher academic education, where the expectation is that the students are adults, capable of taking care of their own everyday life problems.  Increasingly, students and their parents are asking the personnel at such institutions to be substitute parents. There is also the ever-present threat and reality of lawsuits.  When a suicide occurs, or a serious mental breakdown occurs, the institution is often held responsible.

On the basis of her interviews with heads of counseling offices at various colleges and universities, Wilson wrote:

    “Families often expect campuses to provide immediate, sophisticated, and sustained mental-health care. After all, most parents are still adjusting to the idea that their children no longer come home every night, and many want colleges to keep an eye on their kids, just as they did. Students, too, want colleges to give them the help they need, when they need it. And they need a lot. Rates of anxiety and depression among American college students have soared in the last decade, and many more students than in the past come to campus already on medication for such illnesses. The number of students with suicidal thoughts has risen as well. Some are dealing with serious issues, such as psychosis, which typically presents itself in young adulthood, just when students are going off to college. Many others, though, are struggling with what campus counselors say are the usual stresses of college life: bad grades, breakups, being on their own for the first time. And they are putting a strain on counseling centers.”

In previous posts (for example, here and here), I have described the dramatic decline, over the past few decades, in children’s opportunities to play, explore, and pursue their own interests away from adults. Among the consequences, I have argued, are well-documented increases in anxiety and depression, and decreases in the sense of control of their own lives. We have raised a generation of young people who have not been given the opportunity to learn how to solve their own problems. They have not been given the opportunity to get into trouble and find their own way out, to experience failure and realize they can survive it, to be called bad names by others and learn how to respond without adult intervention. So now, here’s what we have: Young people,18 years and older, going to college still unable or unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, still feeling that if a problem arises they need an adult to solve it.

Dan Jones, past president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, seems to agree with this assessment. In an interview for the Chronicle article, he said:

    “[Students] haven’t developed skills in how to soothe themselves, because their parents have solved all their problems and removed the obstacles. They don’t seem to have as much grit as previous generations.”

In my next post I’ll examine the research evidence suggesting that so-called “helicopter parenting” really is at the core of the problem. But I don’t blame parents, or certainly not just parents. Parents are in some ways victims of larger forces in society—victims of the continuous exhortations from “experts” about the dangers of letting kids be, victims of the increased power of the school system and the schooling mentality that says kids develop best when carefully guided and supervised by adults, and victims of increased legal and social sanctions for allowing kids into public spaces without adult accompaniment. We have become, unfortunately, a “helicopter society.”

If we want to prepare our kids for college—or for anything else in life!—we have to counter these social forces. We have to give our children the freedom, which children have always enjoyed in the past, to get away from adults so they can practice being adults—that is, practice taking responsibility for themselves.


GAO: 73% of 8th Graders Don’t Know Much About Geography

Seventy-three percent of American eighth graders tested below the proficiency level in geography last year, according to a report to Congress by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Analyzing nationally representative test data from the U.S. Department of Education, GAO found that only 27 percent of eighth graders nationwide scored at either the proficient (24%) or advanced (3%) level on standardized geography tests in 2014.

Nearly half (48%) exhibited only partial mastery of the subject, and a quarter (25%) scored below basic competency on the geography tests.

The 2014 results showed virtually no improvement since 1994, when 4 percent of eighth graders tested at the advanced level, 24 percent at the proficient level, 43 percent at the basic level, and 29 percent were below basic competency, the GAO reported, even as Americans become increasingly dependent on location-based technologies such as GPS (global positioning system).

“Geography is generally taught as part of social studies, but data show that more than half of eighth grade teachers reported spending a small portion (10 percent or less) of their social studies instruction time on geography,” the report to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Humans Services, Education, and Related Agencies stated.

Although “research suggests that K-12 education is critically important for learning the fundamentals of geography,” GAO’s analysis of teacher survey data found that geography skills - “such as spatial dynamics and connections, use of maps and globes, and other countries and cultures” – were typically taught just “one or twice a month.”

Even though geography is defined as one of 10 core academic subjects in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), states do not have to include it in their mandatory assessments.

As a result, educators said they were under “pressure to emphasize other subjects” such as math, reading, and science, and that “allocating resources for geography education was challenging in the face of greater national and state focus on tested subjects.”

However, the lack of proficiency in geography among three quarters of eighth graders is worrisome because the need for future workers who have advanced geographic skills is increasing.

“According to the Department of Labor, employment of specialists in geography, or geographers, is projected to grow 29 percent from 2012 to 2022 – much faster than the average 11 percent growth for all occupations,” the GAO report noted.

“Among the many activities that can depend on analysis of geospatial data are maintaining roads and other critical transportation infrastructures, quickly responding to natural disasters…and tracking endangered species,” it stated.


Education Dept. Urges Schools to 'Better Support Undocumented Youth'--And Help Them Apply for DACA

The U.S. Education Department is out with a new "Guide for Success" that suggests the "important" ways teachers and school administrators can support the growing number of "undocumented youth" in the nation's public high schools and colleges.

"The Department hopes that educators, schools, and campuses will, as they see fit, draw upon the tips and examples in this Guide to better support undocumented youth and, ultimately, move us closer to the promise of college and career readiness for all," the guidance says.

Undocumented children "represent one of the most vulnerable groups served by U.S. schools," and therefore "it is imperative that educators and other personnel understand the unique needs of these students and receive high-quality training and support on how to best serve them."

The guide reviews the rights of undocumented students; explains non-citizen access to federal financial aid and private scholarships; and offers "tips for educators" on how to support undocumented  youth in high school and college.

At the top of the "tips" list: Share information about President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives temporary legal status to children who were brought to this country illegally by their parents.

Since the program began in 2012, more than 680,000 young people have received a temporary reprieve from deportation, and another 400,000  may become eligible in the next few years, the guide notes.

Beyond reducing "the stigma of being undocumented," DACA gives illegal aliens access to internships, "stable transportation and housing," and paid work experience.

In addition to promoting DACA, high schools are urged to "embrace and value" the diversity and cultural backgrounds of all students.

Specifically, teachers should "understand the cultural and educational backgrounds" of their students; they should "model multicultural sensitivity"; they should "engage in self-reflection to address personal biases and increase multicultural competence"; and they should "incorporate discussions around diversity and immigration into instruction."

High schools also should "consider establishing safe spaces" where undocumented children can "share, engage with their peers, and build a school-based support system."

Beyond all the diversity and multiculturalism pointers, the guide urges secondary schools to help undocumented students understand how they can get into -- and pay for -- college.

Among other things, teachers and school administrators should "encourage scholarship sponsors to change their policies to be inclusive of undocumented students."

And finally, teachers and school administrators should "be empathetic and build positive relationships with undocumented youth and their families." This includes speaking to families in their own language, hiring interpreters if necessary.

'Undocumented Immigrant Awareness Day'

The tips for higher education include the creation of "open and welcoming environments" by hosting an "undocumented immigrant awareness day" on campus; educating all students "about the challenges and strengths of undocumented students, such as by hosting an Undocumented Week; and "each day, highlight(ing) an issue faced by undocumented students or celebrat(ing) an accomplishment of the undocumented immigrant community."

And, of course, colleges should designate key staff as "DACA specialists" to give accurate information and guidance to eligible, undocumented students.

There's much more in the guide, which states that these are only suggestions: "The U.S. Department of Education does not mandate or prescribe practices, models, or other activities in this Guide," it says.

The Education Department plans to  release a similar resource guide for early-learning and elementary school settings in the coming months.

John King, who is now performing the duties of the deputy education secretary, introduced the new guide during a roundtable with undocumented students at San Francisco State University, which is described as a leader in supporting the success of undocumented youth.

"The university has advisers to help undocumented students successfully navigate financial aid options and other university resources, as well as a task force of faculty, staff and students dedicated to supporting the academic, professional and personal success of undocumented students and prospective students," the Education Department explained.

San Francisco, of course, is a sanctuary city, which does not honor routine requests from federal immigration officials to keep criminal aliens in local jails until immigration officials can take custody of them.

On July 1, a Mexican national -- released because the local sheriff's department refused to honor an ICE detainer -- shot and killed  32-year-old Kate Steinle as she strolled with her father along the San Francisco waterfront.


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