Do Profs Need AA Batteries?

No, not the kind that power a remote, anti-aircraft batteries, like those used to shoot down enemy fighters.  Why?  A story in Boulder’s Daily Camera describes the current crop of university students and their parents, referring to the parents as “stealth-fighter parents.” It is hard to know who comes off worse in this story. Let’s start with the parents, described thusly:

These so-called stealth-fighter parents don’t just hover, they are directly involved in their child’s life and schoolwork, even in college.

They are expert researchers and will show up to meetings with loads of data. They’ll dig deep into a professor’s background.

“That parent will know what your dissertation was and they’re going to call you out if something is wrong in the classroom with their child and expect you to fix it,” Gonzales said.

They’re less likely to argue with a professor for hours, and instead will find a loophole or confront that person’s supervisor.

Some of these parents will skip the discussion phase and take action immediately, such as filing a lawsuit or pulling their student out of school.

Dear stealth-fighter parents: do not try to pull this crap with GG. Any issues your progeny have with professors belong between the student and the professors.  You say you paid good money and so have a right to carp at professors? No, you made an investment in your kids–arguably you gave your kids the money.  They are the ones who have a right to carp at professors. You can try to prompt them with arguments and data, but you know what?Remember that your goal as a parent is to have your kids become self-sufficient adults. Just to be clear, GG is paying those same sky-high tuition bills for his kids and has not even thought of contacting a professor at those schools.

The good news is that GG has not seen a shred of this behavior. The only time GG has spoken with parents of students has been at commencement, and parents have uniformly been gracious and complementary.

OK, so that’s the parents.  Just how does this article describe the students?

[M]illennials and Generation Z students believe they are special and that their feelings matter above all else. They have increasingly short attention spans.

They have high levels of anxiety and depression, in part because their parents are always looking over their shoulders. They grew up in an era of terrorism and intense economic pressure, and have likely never experienced personal failure.

They’re entrepreneurial and grew up surrounded by ethnic and racial diversity. They’re narcissistic and tend to have an inflated sense of self.

And then there are the selfies, Snapchat stories and other means of getting immediate validation from friends and peers.

Wow.  This is how colleges and universities view their customers? And advice later is that we need to cater to them?

Well, maybe that isn’t quite the advice; maybe it is, this is what you have to work with. It isn’t entirely clear.

How many college students without military service have ever faced “personal failure”? Is that so new? High levels of anxiety is new?  (GG has had students in his office pleading that they “just can’t fail this course or will lose their scholarship/be kicked out of school/lose their visa” pretty continuously his whole career).

Some of this does resonate.  Students are disinclined to memorize anything; it takes real work to (1) convince them that some things are worth memorizing (not a lot, just some things) and (2) get them to demonstrate that they have memorized anything. There has been a steady drumbeat of requests for “how am I doing in this class”that maybe has increased over the past decade; it is hard to say. Student writings are often haphazard and loosely linked thoughts that border on stream-of-consciousness. Higher reasoning (indeed, the ability to make or attack a logically-based argument) seems to have lost out to simpleminded “gotcha” logic. But none of these have been large game-changers; students  have always been lacking in some ways and part of our job is to recognize deficiencies and develop strategies to correct them.

GG’s take is that these kinds of generational summaries are exaggerations–at least that is the hope.  Making such broad-brush stereotypes might insult some and suggest to others that they could behave differently and get away with it. For traditional students just coming from high school, college is and has been a place of transition from dependency to independence. The old saw is that respect is not given, it is earned, and college is a place to both learn how to earn respect and to succeed at it. Whining and letting others fight your battles does not earn respect. Parents should be there for emotional and often financial support, but they should not be students’ advocates in the school.

And students? Hey, it isn’t as bad as you think.  The unemployment rate for folks who get through college is under half that of those who never get a degree. Buck up, and work on clever retorts the next time somebody shatters your “special feelings.”

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