Several weeks ago, a local college rolled out a new campaign in a public-service commercial. Their strategy: “We believe everyone is college material.”
While I can understand what the advertisers were trying to say, the “touchy-feely, fuzzy-wuzzy” slogan galled this professor.
The first time I heard the commercial, I was slamming out essays. The pain that my students’ copious comma splices, fragments, “text-ese” and other essay no-no’s were inflicting made me yearn for a nice, slow a root canal without Novocaine, or any kind of “caine”.
I have taught college English since the late 1980’s. I love teaching college students and wouldn’t want to teach any other level. During my years in the classroom, I have taught many kinds of students: returning students, first-timers, part-timers, you name it. While there are a decent number who are there because they want to be and have set aside time to give me their best effort, too many fit within the second category I am writing about. Good kids, probably. But they are the ones who would have done better to hang back a year or two and do something else, instead.
Found a job. Enlisted in the military. Traveled to Europe. Enrolled in a trade school.
Anything but showing up in class in body only. Straggling into an 8:30 a.m. class at 9:20, just as I’m winding up. Or, after they have already arrived late, telling me they have to leave twenty minutes early to go to work. I can’t help wondering why they haven’t had a heart-to-heart with their bosses about coordinating their school requirements with their work schedules. Attending school is every bit as much of a commitment as is working.
Yes, college is tough. That’s why it is called college. It is a proving-ground for life. And no. Not everyone is ready for it. At least, not at first. Sometimes, not ever. Those of us who remember our college days have tales to tell. About “mean” professors assigning at least fifty pages of reading per each book. About writing essays in response to challenging and, sometimes, downright impossible topics and turning them in by the end of the period, finished or not. And toting all of our required textbooks to class.
(*Raise your hands, here, if your backpack weighed more than you did, back then.)
Back in “the day”, there were no cell phones, no tablets, no Internet, and no e-books. While I am certainly not campaigning for doing away with the Internet — as that would take away my Facebook — I have noticed that students these days seem more distracted by their surroundings. technology, other students, their very lives. Pick one or all.
And what is this I hear about today’s students not being required to have textbooks? While I understand that those textbooks, especially the ones thick as a New York City phone directory, probably cost the same as one semester of college, purchasing them from the college bookstore is not a student’s only option. They can buy them used online, rent them, or find a friend who has finished the course and is dying to unload it.
Also, back then, there was no “bargaining” for grades. We took what we knew we had earned, barring unusual circumstances, of course. Today, it seems everybody wants– no, demands –an A, whether they have earned it or not. Recently, some young lady asked me why she got a zero for a quiz when she waltzed in after I had taken them up. When I advised her to review the “no late or make-up work” policy in my syllabus, she protested.
“But I came, didn’t I? Don’t I get a grade for being here?”
In a perfect world, maybe.
In conclusion, getting a job, traveling abroad, enlisting in the military, or learning a trade are all noble pursuits. Those experiences give people’s lives dimension and texture. Even the best student needs a breather after high school. There is no shame in not plopping down behind a college desk immediately after high school. In fact, waiting until they are ready and finding other ways to enrich their education might make students not only the best, but phenomenal!