You can’t blame the youth…

The title of this post is taken from a Peter Tosh song, in case you were wondering.  Thomas H. Benton has written a two-part piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education (part 1part 2) about the — you probably guessed it — decline and fall of intellectualism in the younger generation.  Spare me your yawns, as I am having trouble keeping my own away.  He seems to have a fondness for bulleted points that summarize his position nicely and make it easy for commentators like me to poke fun at him.  His observations on the younger generation of which I count myself a part characterize them as (and I quote):

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.

Well, lets see here.  Before I venture to even discuss this guy’s argument (if I even do), lets get a little checklist going here.  Argument that the younger generation isn’t carrying the helm of progress forward?  Check.  Argument that the younger generation has been perverted by its new technologies and habits?  Check.  Argument that there is not enough respect for the academics who are tasked with teaching these children the lofty idealism of American academia?  Check.  

So, what in intention started out as an indictment of the internet and American parenting has actually ended up a silly little polemic against American anti-intellectualism.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not someone who believes that those ‘liberul professors outta be tied up and shot’.  Far from it.  But when an English professor gets after me and my chums for not having enough respect?  Please.  This guy is trying to give me a hard time because I apparently do not have enough respect for all of these enlightenment ideals he holds dear.  His chief concern, I suppose, is that my generation will not have the desire or capability to produce enough GDP to give him a tidy stipend in his twilight years from the social security fund.

Pardon me for speaking for my generation, but if this baby boomer wants to give us shit for our perceived stupidity, he should know that we’re all actually quite resentful of what they have given us:  A world whose environment is almost certainly headed towards catastrophe, a Middle East fundamentally opposed to the idea of the United States, not to mention the ideas we are supposed to stand for.

Forgive me for being unimpressed by the best efforts of this shoddy English professor.  And they can’t seem to stop wondering where America’s perpetually healthy anti-intellectualism comes from!

I am being a little unfair to the guy.  He did finish off his little paper with an argument about how things are not really all that bad and that this is mostly just the older generation’s fear of the younger generation’s new methods.  I’m only unforgiving because this guy is just spewing out the same-old points and counter-points instead of confronting the thing that this article really does point out: his own uselessness.


4 responses to “You can’t blame the youth…

  1. Well there’s respect for professors, which it is fair enough to ask for, then there’s ‘respect’ for their arguments/books/articles etc. I thought the whole idea of higher education was to expand your knowledge, critical ability and challenge the way yourself and other look at the world. From my time at university, I’ve come to learn that many academics;

    1) Have such disregard for students its a joke (not just at my university it seems). The professors students respect the most are those that don’t take themselves and their profession too seriously and learn from discussions with students etc.

    2) Luuuuuurve the sound of their own voice. Not only have academics created their own jargon packed language threaded together to keep the lay-person what is easily understandable (for example, I study politics & IR which ANYONE could understand the general ideas of, but academics manage to make it generally incomprehensible so as to secure their own position in the ol’ ivory tower).

    3) Get ruder/futher detached as they age… seemingly more patronising as well.

    What I do agree with though is this guys argument that students do try to blame anyone but themselves when they mess up. I’ve know quite a few people who have challenged the result of coursework or whatever because they didn’t get a top grade. Ok, so you may think you know the subject matter just as well as those marking it, if you come from a different theoretical perspective or whatever, but you have to have some audacity to believe you know how a paper should be marked more than someone who does it for a living. Instead of blaming and whining, students should show some self reflection and change their approach to work without sacrificing their beliefs or whatever.

    Interesting article! 🙂

  2. You are smart to point out that most students blame their professors when they fuck up.

    I took a History course on the British Empire, and of course one of the required books was Said’s “Orientalism”. I’m not someone who is going to take everything an academic has to say lying down. I wrote a paper (pretty okay in my estimation for a mid-level History class, especially given that the paper was a silly ‘response’-type paper with minimal requirements) that disagreed with Said’s central thesis: namely that the West’s opinion of the east is formed by silly tales of adventure and exploit.

    There has to be some rational explanation for how the Europeans dominated such large swaths of the East for such a great period of time. This didn’t happen on account of their reading Arabian Nights or looking at paintings by David. The Enlightenment produced a work ethic that valued reasoned perspectives. It’s silly to think that the enlightenment rationale was not turned towards the East. I had to be chauvinistic about my own arguments but I hardly think it’s a bad one. I got a B- on the paper (pretty bad for this A student), and consequently dropped the class.

    It’s a little different over the pond, but American academics are stuck in a permanently reactionary and even more permanently politically-correct stupor. Anything that might be construed as insensitive to a particular group of people is stifled.

    Don’t get me started. Thanks for reading my blog by the way. You’re providing me with meaningful commentary.

  3. Lol, you don’t have to thank me for reading your blog, its a pleasure, I really enjoy it! It’s refreshing to read an original blog, unlike ones like mine that rely on Youtube vids to fill the gaps! 😉 How long have you been blogging btw?

    Well, I’m not sure about the politically correct thing, but it seems most academia is in a pretty poor state at the moment. I’m studying Global political economy this coming semester and was reading a book by a guy called Gilpin who just came out with all this stuff that is stuck in such a narrow ideological framework, but is kind of gospel in western academia. So he’s just throw away terms like ‘Russia’s economic melt down in the mid 90s was brought on themselves’… I mean, that’s such a laughable statement I can’t believe it can get into a published book. But anyway, it’s off topic, but an example of how narrow things are.

    Lol, you A students always expecting the top marks eh? 😛 You know it could be possible you got a B? I’m only kidding, I guess everyone knows when they’ve done something badly or whatever and can compare it to other pieces of work they’ve done to get the standard.

    On the whole British empire thing, I can’t really say as I haven’t really studied any theories on the whole thing or whatever, but that Said guys thesis seems to trivialise things a bit. To me it just seems imperialism can take all kinds of forms, some more subtle than others (US and British in comparison… I know the term US imperialism gets thrown around a lot, but I can’t find any other way to explain the US’ extraction of Iraqi natural resources and wealth for the advantage of US based companies… just like we used to, although we could be a little more up front about it).

  4. Do you think that Benton was more railing against postmodernism as an anti-intellectual force in academia than against the students themselves? The article sounded to me more like an indictment of his peers for institutionalizing that dreck back in the 60s. Out of curiosity, what cause do you attribute to America’s sinking academic performance among other nations?

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