Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Obvious and the Oblivious

First misery: "The instructions say we have to do A and B and C, so, like, are we supposed to do A and B and C?" "The instructions say we have to do A and B and C, but, like, can I do C and B and A -- does the order matter?" "The instructions say we have to do A and B and C, but, like, what's A and what's B and what's C?" Repeat until your head explodes like a tomato hit by a sledgehammer. Splat!

Second misery: I'm noticing a new low in student civility – a now common neglect of the most rudimentary expressions of thanks. Yet manners are necessary social glue. Maybe this is old news to you, but I'm only just now noticing this specific element of the more global degeneration. I'll help them out conspicuously in various ways, sometimes beyond what duty requires, but as soon as they get what they want they ignore me completely. Most don't even bother with a simple "thanks" that would take a mere one nano-unit of energy to dispatch. Hey, I just gave you, in response to your request, a long review of your essay draft that, if followed, will certainly improve your grade -- howzabout just one brief reach-around, no? Too much to ask, I guess, of a generation that's increasingly narcissistic and decreasingly empathetic. My crystal ball shows me a future of large-scale sociopathy . . . .


  1. If undergraduates are uncivil to professors, they are even ruder to their graduate TAs. I recently went to a review session held by our TAs during regular class time in the professor's absence, and was appalled by the peremptory tone the students used to ask questions while their classmates kept up a dull roar of chatter. At least half of these questions were on previously addressed testing mechanics, and shortly after someone asked if there would be a practice test or example questions for the third time, 95% of the class spontaneously walked out, filling the lecture hall with their noise. The remaining students moved down to the front and had a lively discussion about some of the material's finer points for another 25 minutes before winding down and taking off ten minutes early with the TAs' blessings.

    In a class populated almost exclusively by premed students, I wish I could say the 5% who remained were the only ones likely to get into medical school, but the acceptance rate is over 15% for our university, and likely better for students enrolled in this course. And we wonder why it's so hard to find a doctor who actually listens to his or her patients...

  2. I often wonder about the relationship between the 'death of civility' and the increasing diversity of the university environment. After all, people have historically been tolerably good at civility when it pertains to members of their own social collectivities; otherwise, not so much (see: racism, sexism, classism, nationalism, colonialism, heterocentrism, etc). Systemic sociopathy has a long history, indeed.

    During whatever 'golden age' of civility there supposedly was, both professors and students tended to share membership in the same major social identity groups, being white, male, upper-middle/upper class, Christian, (outwardly) heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied, and the like. Academe certainly has a poor record of embracing those of us who fall outside of those categories. How much of the observed incivility we witness in classrooms today is attributable to the playing out of long-established inter-group hostilities, now that the university has become accessible to a much wider range of students and faculty, and a sense of being among 'one's own kind' is no longer a given? And, if this is the case, what do we do to address this? Is there scope in the classroom to effectively form a new and productive sense of shared identity among myself and students who hail from practically every identity category imaginable?

  3. "How much of the observed incivility ... is attributable to the playing out of long-established inter-group hostilities ..."

    Is saying "please" and "thank you" the exclusive province of the "white, male, upper-middle/upper class, Christian, (outwardly) heterosexual, cisgendered, [and] able-bodied"? Maybe the "observed incivility" is attributable to being badly brought up.

  4. I sometimes randomly say, "No THANKS for you!" to colleagues (ala "No soup for you") when I notice their students not thanking them for rudimentary things... and we chuckle. Because the alternative--to bash heads against each other--is too painful.

    I recently met with a student to conference on her paper at her workplace because she couldn't make it to campus during any of the times I'd made available (i.e. 8 a.m. - 7 p.m.). Instead of being thankful that I was willing to meet with her during her break so HER paper would get a better grade, she complained that her entire 20-minute break was taken up with the one-on-one conference.

  5. "Is saying "please" and "thank you" the exclusive province of the "white, male, upper-middle/upper class, Christian, (outwardly) heterosexual, cisgendered, [and] able-bodied"?"

    That's not at all what I was saying, and (I hope that) you know it.

  6. I get more than enough rudeness from white males, just like me. Increasingly many students of all kinds seem never to have heard of good manners. I think their parents either thought that correcting lapses would be bad for their self-esteem, or were absent. Whatever the cause, we have a generation of yahoos on our hands. One might call them educated barbarians, if they were educated.

  7. A former student of mine, now doing a PhD elsewhere, reports that after she had three times scheduled a meeting outside her office hours with a student, coming onto campus especially to meet him, and the student hadn't bothered to show up or call any of the three times, she declined to schedule a fourth meeting and told the student he could come by her office hours if he wanted to see her.

    We've all seen that behaviour and we all learn never to schedule a meeting with a student at a time when we weren't going to be on campus already. The kicker is that her supervising professor told her she was being unhelpful and unco-operative and gave her a negative TA evaluation on the strength of it.

    This is where the lack of common civility comes from; the rude little bastards are being backed up by people in positions of power.

    My student is seriously thinking about saying the hell with it, and joining the real world, and I can't say I'm discouraging her.

  8. "One might call them educated barbarians, if they were educated."

    This may be one of my new favorite lines. Thanks FFfF!

  9. @Joe: Thanks, but I stole "educated barbarians" from "Balsamic Dreams: A Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation," by Joe Queenan.

    @Merely: If there's anything that drives me absolutely, stark, raving, BATSHIT loco, it's when some higher-up backs up some whiny little smeghead, especially when it's an egregiously wrong whiny little smeghead, and very especially when the little snot is clearly lying. I feel like screaming, "Whose side are you on?!?!?!"

  10. I think they are being less civil in email messages because they are more and more sending them from mobile devices, with tiny keys on the keyboard, so they are being as compact as possible with their messages.


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