Like many of the professorial generations(s), I suspect, I'm both encouraged by and skeptical of these protests. It sounds like many of the protesters are finally learning to think, plan, schedule, organize, etc. on their own. But I can't help wishing that they'd learned a few more of these skills before college, in scouting, or by making dinner for the family after letting themselves in with the latch keys that were such a supposed badge of shame in the '70s, or just by organizing more of their own studying/homework/extracurricular/laundry/food/transportation lives. Then they might have been a little more open to learning that critical thinking we were all talking about in the thread below in college (rather than fixating on getting the right answer in the quickest possible way), and they'd be in a position to actually take on the sorts of real-life problem-solving they now find themselves facing: not only finding a solution, but finding a way to describe the problem.
“I did everything i was supposed to do: went to college, got good grades, participated in sports and clubs, graduated on time. 3 years later I have nothing to show for it,” complains one person on the movement’s Tumblr – WeAreThe99Percent — referring to the 1 percent who get everything.”.
“Everyone said when I was growing up that if I worked hard + was a good person that I could be anything I wanted to be…. Well I’ve worked hard + I think I’ve been a good person and I didn’t want to be… the 99 percent,” writes another.
This is not our fault.
Growing up, we were told: you are unique. You are special. You are brilliant. You must follow your dreams. Go to school, get a degree, pursue what you love.
Four years later, look at us. Mired in debt. Jobless – with no prospects. This is not what it said on the motivational poster.
Is it our generation’s fault that sixty-three percent of employers say recent college graduates don’t have the skills we need to succeed in the workforce? Is it our fault that study after study suggests that it’s not the fact that you attended college but the fact that you were accepted in the first place that is most predictive of your future success? Is it our fault that college is a bankrupting credential that imparts little additional value?
We did what we were told to do.Now we need someone to tell us what to do next. . . .
If you’re looking for a coherent message, you’re like many of the people standing in Liberty Plaza on Thursday as night falls. They aren’t there to take a stand. They are there to see if people are planning to take a stand later. They wouldn’t want to miss that.
“I came down to see if they’re serious. I don’t get that vibe yet,” Brandon Coward, a twenty-something who recently moved to New York tells me. “It hasn’t found its base. I don’t know if it ever will.”It’s a large tent. To call it Babel might be charitable. . . .
I talk to a recent college graduate, Walter, dressed in 1940s garb. He isn’t into non-violent protests, he says. But this one seems to be making headway. That’s the point, says Walter. “Getting the word out.”
“That this is happening.”
“This whole park is just a big discussion basically,” Andon Zebao, the dreadlocked director of operations for the nonprofit New Forest Earth, tells me. “It’s about getting together a bunch of people who realize that there’s a problem and trying to figure out what the solution is.”
Easier said than done. The protesters I talk to agree on three things. They are not sure what the point is yet, but would like to find out. The system is broken. And the media, they feel, are ignoring them. It’s pretty big for a molehill. But is it a mountain yet?
To some extent, they're now doing in the public parks of the United States what they should have been doing in college, which isn't an entirely bad thing; it beats not doing it at all. Still, I can't help agreeing that the older generation (their parents, and also we, their professors) let them down, in not refusing at some point to tell them what to do, and making them think on their own earlier and more deeply. On a more hopeful note, I'm sure that they're also using some of the skills we taught them. Petri is a good example of that (albeit from the luckier, employed, side): she moves effectively between larger points and specific evidence, plays effectively with the mountain/molehill proverb, and works in a nicely-phrased, appropriate Biblical allusion.
I'd be curious to hear what others think of the protests, and/or how much you've heard your students talking about them. My (mostly rather practical-minded) students seem a bit skeptical, and I was certainly glad that none of them apparently heeded the call that one said he'd received on twitter: to skip classes as a way of rejecting "the corporate machine" (or something like that). While I sometimes worry that my university is in danger of becoming an arm of corporate America, I don't think we're there yet, and I do worry that more privileged unemployed college graduates, many of whom will probably slide silently and fairly comfortably back into corporate jobs in a year or three when the economy improves, might lure my university's generally less-privileged students away from doing what they need to to acquire a much-maligned credential that they're still going to need to compete with their more-privileged peers. The college diploma may not stand for everything it once did -- and, I'm enough of an optimist to hope, may stand for again -- but it's not yet a piece of worthless "corporate" paper either.