Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Focus on the locus of the hocus pocus

Whence this abysmal inability to pay attention? The implications are grave.

Many of my students display gross incompetence in matters of focusing. And they often suffer as a result. Yet they do not learn from their errors. Perhaps because some of us do not ensure that they reap as they sow? . . .

Read exam instructions? Forget it. Loaded shotgun + own foot = blammo! Bother to review the course resources that often contain exam questions . . . along with the answers? No way, bud. Too rational. Truly listen in class instead of zoning out or transcribing mindlessly? Fat chance. Ears are for holding designer shades, not absorbing the life of the mind. Or any sort of life outside the self. Or avoiding a big, fat F.

The little darlings have been pampered so much that they believe they simply don't need to focus properly on situational demands. Who, after all, has ever held them strictly accountable? I can see that they've never had to take their parents and previous teachers seriously -- it's how they treat me and my courses. Pleasure principle 1, reality principle 0.

The consequent narcissism infects all their choices and relations. And the distractions of the digital realm exacerbate the myopia, enabling an extraordinary level of insulation and obliviousness. Apps that do everything for them lead them to think that everything in life should be so easy.

THIS is the zombie apocalypse. The shambling, anomic hordes of clueless egotists.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.


  1. Yes.

    They're used to moving ahead based on the law of averages. Like their high school teacher, their professor can't fail a large percentage of the class without being blamed for it and risking his/her job (tenured or not), regardless of evidence that work at the appropriate level was required and not performed (that's now called having "unreasonable expectations".) All they have to do is make sure they're slightly more competent than the clueless person sitting next to them. Worked in high school, why should it be different now? In this they're supported by completion-rate-crazed adminiflakes.

    For my final, I told them 75% of the points would be from questions repeated from the three midterms (solutions were posted) and the remainder: one problem on topic A and one on topic B (one section in the text each). It made no difference. To get 75%, all they had to do was memorize solutions, and no more than 12 students (out of 70) got that much.

    Maybe we're already seeing what happens when the zombies hit the workforce: they don't get hired, and when they do (in some sort of service industry) and we have to deal with them, it's all-around incompetence.

    Merry Christmas to you too!

  2. Peter K: Check out this vid (if someone hasn't already posted it on this site). Millennials in the workplace:

  3. It's easy to criticize this post as an old fogey with the time-worn complaint, "Those darn kids these days." There is something new under the Sun, however: modern electronic communications.

    It's been going on for quite some time now. In his 1985 book "Amusing Ourselves to Death," Neil Postman lamented about how television has turned nearly every aspect of culture, including education, into entertainment. The ailment of short attention spans, sometimes called "herky-jerky brain," has gotten much worse since then. Personal computers and video games were bad enough, but I've noticed students' ability to focus has gotten much worse in the past 5 years, with tablet computers and especially smart phones. I am toying with the idea of allowing texting in my large, general-ed science class for non-majors, because I simply cannot stop it. I do know that I get the last laugh, since that behavior is terrible for their grades.

    I've found that reading to students, in the way that "Charlotte's Web" was read to us when we were in fifth grade, helps noticeably, for getting students to follow instructions on homework and exams. I know, it's hard to keep the bile down, upon realizing that this is what higher education has come to: but why not, since most of my students have the minds of fifth graders. If they could do eighth-grade math, I'd be ecstatic!

    1. "The Shallows" by Nicholas Carr, is a more recent reference on this phenomenon. Another is "Alone Together," by Sherry Turkle. Another is "The Dumbest Generation," by Max Bauerlein.

      And now, it being the day after Christmas, I am going to go outside and play!

  4. Sometimes I think if I simply pointed the ELMO at me and projected myself on the screen, they would pay more attention to me that way than me in person. I'm going to try it in January!

  5. Froderick: I AM an old fogey and I'm damn proud of it, too. I only started to notice changes in the student population about five years ago, just like you. Changes I wasn't expecting and didn't immediately recognize as a trend. For the first twenty years of my teaching career, students were the same, even with the rise of the Internet. But let's do the chronology. I started having some weird eighteen-year-olds in 2008. They were born in 1990. Their high school years, fourteen through eighteen, saw the explosion of Web 2.0, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. They came of age during this unprecedented communications revolution, and then they came to me in 2008 -- all addled and self-absorbed. I hate the unthinking argument, "Every older generation looks down on the younger generation -- nothing new [insert worn-out historical references here]." I didn't at all, until I was taken by surprise about five years ago. History has ups and down, and we're definitely living in a trough right now. Finally, I should say I've read all three of the books you mention, and indeed have taught some of this material.