Friday, February 27, 2015

Life in the Pissant Swamp: Students Answer the Question

Every time I teach new students I learn what I already know, most of the young people in my introductory general education classes simply aren't capable of thinking let alone of critical thinking.

I recently gave students a pop quiz asking them to note one difference and one similarity between the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. Student answers to this straightforward question, something we talked extensively about in class, fall into what we might call several genres, most of them irrelevant to the question.

First, there are the students who not knowing much substantive about the subject spout platitudes. Americans were happy the country was progressing, say those who play in this genre, the US strived to make everyone equal, they claim. Apparently, they not only did not take much away from their high school history class, the discussions in my class, but they fail to recognise that terms like happy and progressing are ideologically loaded terms rather than empirical ones and are more appropriate to a theology or civics class rather than a history class.

Then there are those who play in generalities. America, they write, was changing, both eras, they say, wanted to better the economy. They say something, in other words, without saying anything hoping that you will feel sorry for them and give them partial credit for at least trying. I don't give them credit for speaking in irrelevant generalities.

Finally, there are those who actually answer the question correctly. "Unlike the laissez-faire approach of the Gilded Age the Progressive Era sought to reform society", to choose one example. Sadly, this is an extreme minority of the class.

One day I asked students why they were wearing slippers to class thinking they might be dedicated followers of celebrity fashion. One student, however, revealed the truth about slippers in public. We wear them, she said, because we are lazy. This is what we teachers have to work with, lazy students who think they deserve a passing grade simply because like Mount Everest they are there. Welcome to my surreal Monty Python world. And you expect miracles from us? Get real. God I will be so happy when I don't have to teach GenEd classes anymore.

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