Breathe Slowly, But Do It Quickly

Within minutes of Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” statement, a viewer created a Twitter account. The site had 14,155 followers the next morning. The Facebook page, “Binders Full of Women” had 266,671 likes the next morning.

This is the state of social media today. We are regularly bombarded with information, and our students are inundated with facts, lies, stats, damned likes, information and misinformation, opinion and analysis, spin and no-spin. They walk into our class often the most well-informed yet the least knowledgeable generation we have ever seen. This package of data is being carried around by a frontal lobe incompletely developed, surrounded by raging hormonal impulses. (Does this shirt make me look fat? Did she just smile at me? Why didn’t Bobby call last night? Does Gina think I’m a creep? By the way–thank god I’m not 18 again.)

Do we really expect an 18 year old at 8:00 in the morning to want to talk about presidential politics, T.S. Eliot’s thoughts on angst, Pythagoras ideas about angles, or the chemical compound of skunk scent ? Sure they can know the facts but do we really think they can contextualize and think critically (and intelligently) about which person has the better tax plan? Hell, this is a generation bombarded daily with reminders that their own parents and grandparents can’t manage money on a grand, national scale.

But, it’s way too easy to pick on the 18 year old (mostly because they aren’t here to defend themselves). Let’s admit first that college students haven’t really changed that much nor have college professors. Anyone who has taught for an extended period of time will tell you that the quality of student work is declining. When I first started teaching, the faculty near retirement said so. Fifteen years later, the faculty near retirement say so. I suspect when I near retirement, I’ll say the same thing. I’m kind of young, though, so I guess by the time I retire the current students will be slinking around in the primordial sludge barely capable of monosyllabic grunts. Let’s face it: the students can’t keep getting worse–there is a bottom and we can’t keep reaching it every generation.

We might, then, want to look a little closer in the mirror at our own expectations. Just because an 18 year old (or a 15 year old) can hear the conversation doesn’t mean he can understand the cacophony around him. One of the glories and beauties of the 21st century is how much knowledge and understanding we have about the world around us. Concomitantly, one of the real pains of the 21st century is how much knowledge and understanding we have about the world around us. We are awash in specialists who can break down and report on 101 reasons the economic future of bananas is bright. That report can be used to impact marketing campaigns, bombarding us with 15 reasons banana X tastes better (and is better for you) than banana Y.

And so we might step back and take a breath. People live longer than ever and they live better for longer than ever. Seventy is the new 50. There’s plenty of time for our 18 year olds to grow up. Plenty of time for our 15 year old to figure out how to be a grown up. Plenty of time to learn and plenty of time to teach. After all, tomorrow will have plenty of information and a whole slew of new Twitter pages.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

FiveThirtyEight

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scott Adams' Blog

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

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