Sunday, September 23, 2012

Student percentages (and a ramble)

I know I gripe a lot about the "special snowflake" students, but really, they're few in number. (But like any vocal minority, they sure make themselves heard). The really horrible people - the demanding, entitled ones - are maybe 5 to 10  percent of the population. And then there's maybe 20%-30% who are really only in college for that piece of paper that's "supposed" to get them a job  (Good luck with that, in this economy).

But then there's 10-30% (if you're lucky, 30%) who really do care. Who want to learn, who are willing to work hard, who listen when you critique their work because they have learned that constructive criticism - all that red ink - is how they get better over time. (I try to be kind. I don't, unlike another prof I know, write "WTF????" on a paper if it doesn't make sense to me. But I do tell them if the writing is awkward, if they've used the wrong word, if they are not supporting their argument well, if they have taken the lazy way out of doing the research....and I would hope that they would realize Not To Do That next time.

And a certain percentage of them do.

And there is a percentage of students who, even if they're not going to go into high-powered careers where they do lots of groundbreaking research, they're decent people. They're nice. I have a few students who always wish me a good day at the end of class, and you know, it makes a difference.

It so much makes a difference. I make an effort myself to be polite to the students (even as I may be critiquing their work strongly) and I make an effort to "see the person." Sometimes I fail at that; I find it harder with the people who are demanding not to just write off their behavior as "They've been given everything all through their lives and now they expect it." Of course it's possible some people are insecure, some didn't get enough love and care as a child, some are having a hard time adjusting to adult life...but sometimes it's hard to see that. (And some people really do try to take whatever they can get without working for it in this life).

A lot of my "nice" students are the Fish and Wildlife guys. Many of them come from more humble backgrounds than our pre-meds do - at least, that is the sense I get. However, though they may come from financially humble backgrounds, by and large, they are wealthy in one big way: They seem to have good relationships with their families. A lot of them talk about going fishing with their grand-dads, or getting together with extended family for meals, or going to their niece's or nephew's birthday parties. And I think that connection really DOES matter. I think college-aged students who interact a lot with people of different generations (especially older generations) often have a sense of perspective and community that the students who are only surrounded by other 18 year olds do.

I know I was a better person than I might have been when I was in college, because I attended church. And I felt like I NEEDED to attend church. It was good sometimes to talk with people older than myself who were NOT just my professors, who had a different perspective on life. I know these days I need to get out of the hothouse atmosphere of the campus on a regular basis - when someone like me spends too much time immersed in what goes on on campus, things get stretched out of proportion. Things that are really small in the grand scheme of things seem HUGE, because you are looking at them from such a close and tight perspective.

So it's often a relief to go to church, or go out to lunch with a couple of friends from church, or go do something with someone not affiliated with the university. To get my head out of my work for a while.

Sometimes I think that the way school and especially college is set up may stunt young people a little bit, by making most of their interaction with their own-aged peers. Maybe I'm prejudiced in that; I didn't like my peers much when I was a kid (I was one of those little kids with the invisible-to-anyone-but-the-bullies tattoo that said "Tease me. I cry easily. It's fun.") I have to admit, even today, I often have more in common with people 15 or 20 years my senior than I do with my own-aged peers....the women from church I prefer to hang out with are mostly in their 60s; most of the ones in my own age group (with one big exception,  and she is a friend of mine) are SO wrapped up in their kids' lives that they don't seem to have time for much else. And I suppose that's fine, it's just...there's a point I think where you become too wrapped up in living through your kid.

So I don't know. I think people do interact better when they have a range of ages around. I am not sure why but I have that sense. I don't know if it's the perspective of the older people, or if there is still some vestige of respect-for-elders that cuts down on the "Lord of the Flies" aspect, or what it is....but it seems to me that people act better and are kinder when they don't just interact with their own peer group.

And so, as I said, I get maybe 20% or so of the students who won't set the world on fire, who have decent but not outstanding grades - but they're good people. And I'd rather work with people who are basically kind and decent, if not hotshots, than with people who can earn top grades but do so while being jerks to the other kids in the class, and also sometimes the prof.

The older I get, the more I find that basic human kindness can trump skill or talent.  (The Scripture for this morning's sermon was the famous chapter 13 of First Corinthians. Again, the older I get, the more I see the truth to that. And the speaker made the point that the word used for "love" there translates poorly into English, that the word really used is "Agape," which is a sense of love we don't always seem to have much of in our society....)

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