As an instructor at a community college, I have seen students come and go in the eleven plus years I’ve been teaching there. When I started, in 2001, I was so out of my element that the shock of higher education sent me reeling to the sidelines, wondering if I had made a wise choice. It was tough getting back into the textbooks and trying to teach someone else what I thought I already knew. Well, that was the problem. I just thought I knew it. I had forgotten so much I had to really hit the books and study just to relearn what I used to know. It was a long haul, but eleven years later, I am quite comfortable with my competence as a college instructor.
Then there is the student. Eleven years ago, I had some bright and capable students. A lot of them. Most of them had a desire to learn, some more than others. Some of them might have carried themselves through those first couple of difficult years while I was trying to figure out what it was I was teaching. Then something strange happened. Each following year, the students became less interested in learning and more aloof in class. It was as if they expected to get a degree just by showing up for class, figuring their presence, when it was convenient for them, justified handing them a slip of paper saying they had an associate degree.
It hasn’t gotten any better. I do have a few really good students who want to make a difference in their lives and honestly try to learn. Most of them do only what is necessary to earn a token C. Of course, it has always been that way, as far as I can tell, even in my own college days. Then there are those who just don’t give a damn. I suppose they have nothing else to do, and someone else if paying the bill, so why not go to college?
When I was in college, I wouldn’t have dreamed of going to class without reading the assignment. I wouldn’t have been caught dead not knowing the answer to a question the professor asked in class. I would have died of embarrassment had I failed an exam or a homework assignment. I, and most other students of my day, had a learning ethic. We knew the importance of it and did it. We stuck with it until we got it.
What I see today is the quest for instant gratification. Few students want to spend the time digging for an answer. They just want someone to tell them what it is so they can get on with their lives. Now, this isn’t the case for all students, and I want to make the point that most students do, at least, tolerate my blathering in class about the subject matter and give me some measure of respect. But the real desire to learn has been lost somewhere in our recent history. Parents no longer seem to instill in their children the important of education and the need to accept responsibility for their actions, or lack of action.
We can try all of the high-tech solutions we have, follow all of the new learning theories that have come along (how many have there been in the last four decades?) and test students to death. But until the family unit recognizes the need for education and makes that a priority in a child’s life, nothing is going to get any better. If someone doesn’t want to learn, it isn’t going to happen, no matter how many games you wrap the lesson in or how many tests you give. It just isn’t going to happen.