August 29, 2011
They watch me as I walk into the classroom on the first day of school. The boys fidget. The girls giggle. Some eyes are sparkly and eager. Others, lost and confused.
First-graders? Good guess. Try community-college freshmen. Yes, during my twenty-some years as an instructor in a two-year college, I continue to be amazed at how young and naive these students seem . Other than the size of their clothes, the hair on their bodies, and the pitch of their voices, I’d swear I was teaching the first grade. The second first grade.
As in the first year of elementary school, these fledglings also have to learn a new way of life: buying their own textbooks, developing college-level study skillls, reading hundreds of pages for the next class, and learning to type and upload essays online. Still, despite the tougher requirements heaped upon this new breed, there are striking similarities between them and their pint-sized progenitors.
First, although both have to furnish their own school supplies, the Big Chief writing tablets and Ticonderoga pencils with number-two leads have been replaced by iPads, laptops, and portable hard-drives. Crayolas have stepped aside for highlighters. And book satchels have taken a back seat to backpacks. As for lunch pails? Look on Ebay. Today’s kiddos subsist on Cokes and potato chips from the vending machines or burgers from “Mickey D’s“.
Second, since community colleges are also commuter colleges, they do not offer dormitories. Therefore, many students still live at home. Although privacy policies prohibit parents from becoming involved, many of these newbies still depend on Mom and Dad for emotional and financial support.
Finally, both groups are highly distractible. Surrounded by television, video games, and other electronic gizmos, it is no easier task for an eighteen-year-old to concentrate than it is for an eight-year-old. Some of my colleagues even pass around a shoe box, at the beginning of class, into which students must toss their cell phones. Only when class is over are students and phones reunited. Moreover, to guard against students checking their email and Facebook during lectures, teachers can activate programs that block students’ computers from the Internet.
Is this new generation of students changing the definition of college, as we’ve come to know it? I’m turning the floor over to you. What are your observations?