The problem with kids these days

I was just reading an article titled “On Stupidity” which in general terms is one of a long line of essays and books bemoaning the decline of intellectualism.  The article is written by an American Professor of English (I feel for the guy, it must suck being an academic in America these days) and he touches all the usual bases regarding the problems he sees with new students.

It was, however, refreshing how positive his conclusion was.  I was fully expecting this to be another “kids today” moan but he acknowledges that young people for all their perceived shortcomings may actually be better prepared for the rapid changes facing the world.  This was a relief because I hate it when people reflexively blame everything on young people.  I hated it when I was a kid and I hate it now.

If you could find the oldest writings in antiquity, I swear it would be complaining about kids at some point.  Daubed on a cave wall somewhere are marking that were the maker’s way of saying “What the hell is wrong with kids today?  They’ve got no respect, they never listen and don’t even get me started on that noise they call music!”  Every single generation has copped this shit and every generation of adults think they have a harder time with kids than the generation before.

The article provides a handy checklist of the shortcomings the Professor sees with his incoming students:

  • Primarily focused on their own emotions — on the primacy of their “feelings” — rather than on analysis supported by evidence.
  • Uncertain what constitutes reliable evidence, thus tending to use the most easily found sources uncritically.
  • Convinced that no opinion is worth more than another: All views are equal.
  • Uncertain about academic honesty and what constitutes plagiarism. (I recently had a student defend herself by claiming that her paper was more than 50 percent original, so she should receive that much credit, at least.)
  • Unable to follow or make a sustained argument.
  • Uncertain about spelling and punctuation (and skeptical that such skills matter).
  • Hostile to anything that is not directly relevant to their career goals, which are vaguely understood.
  • Increasingly interested in the social and athletic above the academic, while “needing” to receive very high grades.
  • Not really embarrassed at their lack of knowledge and skills.
  • Certain that any academic failure is the fault of the professor rather than the student.

    Like I said, his conclusion is very balanced otherwise I’d be kind of pissed off by what looks like a “same old, same old” list of complaints.  But I would make two points about that list.  First, as I look around me, that list isn’t the problem with young people, it’s the problem with people!  Look at the debacle the “debate” going on around the US Presidential elections is descending into if you don’t believe me.  Young people definitely aren’t responsible for that bullshit.

    Second, kids don’t exactly have a lot of power over the path they follow to get to university.  Kids don’t run the schools that fail to provide them with a better education.  Kids don’t run the media that is consistently doing a disgustingly effective job of dumbing down public discourse.  And kids definitely don’t run the governments that seem hell bent on fucking up anything and everything that might possibly make things better.

    The complaints about digital media and the internet dumbing everything down really shit me to tears.  The powers that be are terrified of the idea of information getting out of their control.  The internet is one of the most powerful tools for the dissemination of knowledge that humanity has seen.  The fact that is can be used to spread trivialities and lies is not the fault of the internet, it’s the fault of people pushing lies and trivia.

    Like every generation, kids aren’t failing they are being failed.  Instead of obsessing that the internet is teaching kids to skim and they’re losing their ability to explore ideas in depth, educators and parent need involve the internet in the learning process.  And for that to work, us old people have to work!  It’s pathetic to think in a world that is changing so fast education has to be locked into old ways of learning.  The idea that the internet can’t provide depth is flat out ridiculous.  With one click on a search engine you can find thousands of references for any topic.  It just requires a little creative thinking to come up with ways to explore depth.

    Try these:

  • Use a search engine to research a topic.  You have to use at least three different sources.  You can’t use anything that shows up in the first 50 search results.
  • Instead of saying you can’t use Wikipedia because it’s unreliable (a common restriction), use Wikipedia but you have to reference the talk page for each topic.  Explore the conflicts/differences of opinion that are creating edits.  Find other sources that back up the conflicting points of view.
  • Translate a classical text (poem, prose or play) into txt abbreviations and emoticons.  Discuss what bits of meaning get lost in the translation.  Do you think you can bring through the themes more clearly by using txt and/or emoticons?
  • Write a MySpace/Facebook/blog for a famous historical or fictional character.
  • Find someone (a journalist/academic/politician/pundit/blogger) you disagree with but you can still respect what they say/write.  Explain why you find yourself able to respect someone’s intelligence and/or honesty while still disagreeing with them.

    Wow, why am I giving this stuff away?  I should be charging some government department a fortune for saving the future like this.  If you’re a local teacher feel free to invite me in to run a session in your classroom.  Actually, no.  Don’t invite me into a classroom.  I’m sure one or both of us would end up being arrested.  But feel free to use any of these ideas.  I’d love to hear stories of any of them in action.

    If you want to see a horrible yet funny vision of a constantly dumbed-down future, watch the movie Idiocracy.  It may well be a documentary that slipped through a crack in space/time caused by the Large Hadron Collider.  But if things turn out that bad, it won’t be the fault of successive younger generations.  It will be the fault of successive older generations who fail their children.



    Filed under General Angriness, Internet

    16 responses to “The problem with kids these days

    1. Great post Mr. A,

      I totally agree, and have been saying this all along. Our kids may be messed up, but it is the adults, that made them that way. Their parents, the culture, our society, etc, are what forged them into the kinds of people they are.

      I believe that people, in general, have lost the ability to be objective, unbiased, and are instead governed primarily by their emotions, their needs, their wants, etc. and spend no time whatsoever thinking about anything outside of that small sphere of personal self interest.

      Naturally, this will be what the kids end up learning because that is the attitude they are presented with, and because kids today are maturing faster than they have ever been, they pick up on these things, either directly or indirectly, and in the absence of any proper parenting, end up running, full throttle, with it.

      What’s ironic is that, in the list of shortcomings that this professor listed, there are a lot of supposedly fully grown, mature adults for whom, with only minor tweaking, that list would be a dead on description…

    2. KenderBard

      The problem with the idea that it is the generation before’s fault that the generation of now is the way it is, whether it is true or not, is that there will be too many people saying, ‘Well I raised -my- child right!’ Or simply a bunch of people who don’t care, leaving the adults who really did do an honest job to watch their children flail and struggle in a society created by the majority of idiots.

      I absolutely love your classroom ideas, by the way. I read them and all I could say was, ‘Wow, I would pay money to see a professor actually using this.’

      In fact, I think I may print out a copy and hand them to my favorite professors. As a Junior in college now, most of my peers are mature and insightful. A goodly lot of the stupid and the hopeless get weeded out around Freshman and Sophomore level. But I wonder if this would keep some kids interested.

      If any of them plan to implement the ideas, and I hear some feedback on their success rate, I’ll post to let you know.

    3. The current state of education is just a system of propaganda designed to create a mental prison.

      My early education made me pro Angle-American. My reading of (real) history now makes me realize that the last 500 years of the rise western empires has been the greatest destructive force the world has ever witness. Now we are seeing via recent world events that America and NATO by miscalculation or design can cause the greatest killing of people ever. Within each and everyone of us is genius. If this is brought forth, than education itself will be changed forever.

      I did a test with my wife many years ago. After she had fallen asleep one night, I suggested to her that in the morning, I would direct her to open a cupboard door and as she was doing so, I was going to click my fingers and she would tell me the square root of a 5 digit number. The next morning I directed her towards a cupboard and clicked my fingers. Within a second she said the correct answer (I checked with a calculator). She reported strange mathematics occurring in her mind. This test proved to her forever that she could do things that she never imagined was possible.

      True learning occurs when you un-learn what you have been conditioned to believe.

    4. Angle-American = Anglo-American 🙂

    5. dismutased

      Such a lucid blog post Angry, I’m impressed with your ideas.

      Blaming kids for all the ills of the world drives me up the wall! I know people who complained that adults treated them unfairly when they were kids/teens, now they are doing the same in reverse!

      My advice for kids? Forget the windbagging of their elders and just get on with learning about the world and bettering themselves in their own unique way.

      We have a duty of care to teach children HOW to think not WHAT to think. Give them a solid framework to pin their OWN thoughts and opinions on to.

      An example of unique net-based learning for children is my son’s penchant for all things mechanical. Through several net games and real time physics applications, he can learn all about mechanical principles and their application in the real world. He has learned to design some pretty intricate mechanical contraptions and gained an intuitive understanding of these things.

      People forget the net is a user/content interface dynamic, rather than a pool of information. We can help kids learn HOW to navigate it, same as the thinking principle.

      I say go kids! Continue to delight us with your new ways of approaching situations and keep on pissing off the oldies!

    6. the problem is that most people that have a way to impact these “dumb” kids, usually throw their hands up and give up or post longwinded blog posts about how this generation is so dumb, but that might be good, then reference films like “Idiocracy” as if that was a representation of the majority, when in reality it might as well be the present and not the future.

    7. Phyre: I’m totally on board with you about that list describing many adults.

      Kender: I would LOVE to hear if any of the ideas are successfully implemented.

      Alan: My favourite quote about school cam from Matt Groening in his pre-Simpsons strip “Life in hell”. Essentially it was that school is just pointless busywork designed to acclimatise you to a life of pointless busywork in the workforce.

      Dismutased: Spot on! Teaching HOW to think and to KEEP thinking is much more important that what to think (which pretty much means “stop thinking now”)

      Jorge: What?

    8. custador

      I had a flat out rant at somebody in my office about this the other day.

      For a bit of background, the basic educational exams in Britain are GCSEs (taken at 16, typically 10 to 12 subjects taken) and A-Levels (taken at 18, typically 2 to 3 subjects taken).

      A-Level results have been improving year-on-year for the last 10 years or so, and the response in British media is the same every single year: “The exams are getting easier, the kids are dumb, they’d never pass the old exams!”

      So, the conversation went like this:

      Dumbass: “See they’ve made A-Levels easier again.”
      Me: “What do you mean?”
      Dumbass: “Even more A grades this year.”
      Me: “Oh. Do you not think that maybe there’s just an awful lot more pressure on kids to acheive these days?”
      Dumbass: “Oh come on, don’t be stupid!”
      Me: “What A-Leveles do you have?”
      Dumbass: “Me? Well, I, er…”
      Me: “I have six, including maths and physics. And I did maths and physics in a year instead of two years.”
      Dumbass: “Oh, er, really?”
      Me: “Yes. Would you like to know how many years’ past papers I studied?”
      Dumbass: “Er….”
      Me: “25 years. I’ve read and answered every A-Level question that’s been set in 6 different subjects in a 25 year period. They’re not any now than they were 25 years ago, I promise you.”
      Dumbass: “They must be, how could these kids do so much better otherwise?”

      At this point I ended the conversation rather than risk getting fired for what have surely followed.

    9. Ignorance is a wonderful thing. Mind you, in the US, the Bush administration actually *have* lowered standards so they could fake the success of their policies. I’d doubt the same thing is happening for A levels in the UK.

    10. Catherine

      Yesterday I was walking home wearing my university jumper, and this stranger congratulated me on being a university student, commenting on how he didn’t think that young people cared about education any more, and how he didn’t know anybody who went to university.
      That last part is relevant because he was missing a tooth and headed in the general direction of the bottle shop. I don’t even need to describe his appearance, because I’m pretty sure you have a mental image of what this guy looks like, and why he didn’t know anybody who was ‘educated’.

      It made me angry to realise how ingrained into our psyche these stereotypes are. That our society want us to be able to pass judgement so quickly and shallowly on people based on our perceptions of them.

      Consider the stereotyping of young people on shows like A Current Affair. Where they say “a typical Gen Y-er…” and list some general observations that don’t seem to match most of the young people you actually know.

      I’m trying to think of what I want to say, but the thought of people like Anna Coren makes me angry and makes my head hurt when I try to contemplate how and why they even exist.

      Even I’ve blamed “those young kids” for some things. But I’d like to think that I mean it in the way of “they told you that this is what you should do and you believed them?!”, which you can’t really blame kids for.

      Hmm. I’m going to blame university and its insatiable appetite for my work for my inability to create a sustained logical argument (or even train of thought) outside of the essay.

      Something about how everything we know (science, etc) is based on other people’s findings and theories, which are biased even when they try really hard to be unbiased? From an Arts subject I took, nonetheless.

      I’ve done most or all of the things you’ve listed. Everyone uses Wikipedia but doesn’t admit it. Because you’d think that an article that can be edited by anybody in the world, at any time, would be a more reliable/whatever source than some article some guy wrote in order to get his research grant.

      Well that’s my rant. Sorry it’s such a long comment, but if I start ranting on my own blog I’ll never get anything done.

      And no, I have no idea why I decided that wearing a uni jacket would be a good thing. Maybe so people understand my specific type of crazy.

    11. TheChaser

      After watching your videos on youtube and reading some blog posts I have started to question the logic of just about everyone who ranks higher than me.
      Didn’t you always hate when people would always say you couldnt do something, but couldn’t for the life of them present one reasonable argument as to why?
      You’re right, the world is made by idiots.
      God help us (or something else becasue I’m an atheist, but not a bigot, I just can’t comprehend how people can fall for religion’s lies).

    12. TheChaser

      Coming to another point that everyone blames kids for – the collapse of morals.
      People CONSTANTLY blame the internet and video games for society’s shortfalls in the youth age group, little do they think of the television that they spent so many happy hours in front of as a kid, or talking to friends on the telephone, or listening to rock music.
      The more things change, the more they stay the same…

    13. Vladimir

      Well, that may be at least partially due to changes of what constitutes a knowledge. I wonder if medieval scholar would consider today’s, say, MIT graduate as an illiterate ape? After all, he’s fluent in neither Latin nor Greek, nor is he skillful in explaining Holy Scriptures….

    14. Jackie

      Living in the U.S. as I do, I have seen the way kids act today and marvel and what they get away with on a daily basis. Their lack of respect for ANYTHING. Now, I’m not labeling ALL kids as sarcastic and disrespectful but it only takes one bad apple. If I spoke to an adult the way some kids do today, I would be spitting my teeth out and not sitting for a month after my father got a hold of me.

      Kids today are so materialistic. I’ve seen 9 and 10 year olds with $300 (USD) cell phones. Now what on Earth does a 9 year old need with that? Where do they get the idea from? THEIR PARENTS! They see their parents with the “latest and greatest” so they whine long enough and hard enough and they get the phone so their parents don’t have to listen to them. Parents figure if they’re occupied with the cell phone, Xbox 360, Wii etc then THEY, the parents, don’t have to deal with them.

      My children, I have a 16 yr old and a 12 yr old, do NOT have their own computers. They use mine and only when I can be there to monitor each and every site they go on. They do NOT have a myspace page. I know, that makes me a bad parent right? WRONG! Have you SEEN some of the pictures girls are putting on there? Again, that would be the parents fault for not looking at what their kids are doing.

      My 16 yr old is in a group in her High School called TGIF…Thank God I’m Female. They go around to the elementary and middle schools and talk to girls about, of all things, sexual harassment and good/bad relationships. Now, when my daughter first told me about it, I admit, I was appalled but, I’ve since calmed down and agree and she’s now heading the group. Do they need to do this? OH YES. Again I direct your attention to the 9 and 10 yr olds who cry and have a full blown five alarm hissy fit because they don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend! People wonder why so many teenage girls are getting pregnant! Because they don’t communicate with their kids! And yes…that means you too Sara Palin.

    15. Catherine: Done even get me started on those so called “current affairs” tabloid programs. And you’re welcome to leave as long a comment as you like!

      Chaser: Question those “above” you is a very wise idea

      Vlad: With a subjective enough viewpoint you can prove just about anything 🙂

      Jackie: I think your approach to kids and computer use is spot on! I do the same. And kids can’t buy $300 phone, as you point out, parents buy it for them. And yes, isn’t Sarah Palin the best advertisements for abstinence only education?

    16. miley lover

      music roxs

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