Friday, November 20, 2009

Where Does the Buck Stop?

Lately, I’ve been feeling like a triage doctor in a disaster area clinic tent. No, nascent critical thinking doesn’t cause immediate death, but I believe that strong thinking, reading, and writing skills empower people to build healthy lives. I blog about education to further the conversation and promote positive thinking; this semester, I’ve felt short of those energies.

For a myriad of reasons, a larger majority of my students are resisting critical thinking this semester. When I wrote one student about an entire viewpoint the student’s argument ignored, I got a very polite email explaining that the student preferred to simplify the issue by avoiding that part of the problem. %$@#? In truth, I found that student’s candor refreshing. Most students greet my encouragement to take on complexity with a “I don’t know what you mean” stare. “That would mean I have to look up another article,” one student told me as if my expectation required a run across a minefield. “Yes,” I countered. “Sometimes research argument writing isn’t a linear process. Our research leads to additional questions we didn’t have at the beginning, and we need to double-back to find answers.” “I don’t double-back,” the student told me flatly. At no point have I given a zero or threatened failure. Most students, for the first time in my fifteen years, are telling me that what I’m asking for sounds exhausting and difficult, and like the Bartleby they might never read about because the story exceeds five pages in length, they sigh, “I would prefer not to.”

I’ve drafted numerous rants against “the millenials” in my head, but really, what I want to ask is, where does the buck stop? What changes in my expectations reflect my flexibility and understanding of changing generations and what changes reflect a lowering of standards? If students prefer not to take guidance on persuasive argument, do they fail despite having turned in a paper of the required length? After a semester of patient persuasion, do I have the energy for the fallout that position would require?

co-posted on Between Classes

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