Can you imagine being 15 years old and having to decide what you want to do with your life?
Several of my professor friends (who want to remain off the record for obvious reasons) describe the incoming university freshman class’s maturity level equal to that of a 15-year-old’s only a decade ago.
They see college as merely an extension of high school.
Parents are involved in waking students up for classes.
Students are more interested in the fraternity and sorority issues than studies.
They turn in subpar written work.
And overall, they see learning as a necessary evil to give them a four year break from life.
Of course, this is an over-generalized look at a small group surveyed. But after working with students for nearly two decades I can give credence to at least a bit of the insight.
Although today’s students have access to the most information of any generation in human history, we see more and more students trying to catch up from a maturity standpoint. It’s almost as if we are pushing maturity and ‘growing up’ off to another time, while also pushing students to declare a major that will train them for a specific career path which they may ultimately reject. To me, it seems like a paradox. We want students to be mature enough to decide what they want to do, but we’re not teaching them be self-aware enough of who they are in order to make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives.
I’ve been thinking about this tension for some time and would like to offer a few thoughts.
1.) Students Need Time to Explore
Today’s high schools are doing all they can to produce students who can score well on tests and fill out university applications to prove the schools can contribute quality students to quality higher education institutions.
I believe in high school and the university, don’t get me wrong. I think higher education is precisely what we need to develop humans to think well about the world’s most complicated issues. So, as you read this, know I am committed to helping students get university-level education.
The problem is the system. High schools are forcing students to memorize information and regurgitate for tests in order to get certain scores. Only recently have a very few high schools incorporated classes that actually give students a creative outlet to see the world a little different way. My point: high schools are catching up; but, right now in our current state of education, incoming college freshman aren’t ready for academic exploration. They’re used to memorizing and presenting they information they think the professor wants to hear.
There’s something very different about a student who brings life experience to the classroom, and that’s why I’m such a fan of programs like The KIVU Gap Year.
2.) Students Need to Learn How To Fail
It’s no secret. We live in a society that desires our kids to be the most successful they can be from the earliest age. If you don’t agree, just go watch some little league baseball this spring. Don’t watch the kids. Watch the parents in the stands.
It’s absolutely INSANE.
We’ve lost the ability to teach and train students to grow into their athletic potential. We expect that they perform with perfection in elementary school. I don’t know about you, but logically that’s about the craziest idea I can think of.
Translate that to the classroom and you get parents who actually lobby teachers and administrators for grades. I’ve seen it first hand.
I watched a mother go to the school to meet with a math teacher to lobby for her student to get extra credit for an A while the student’s scores produced nothing but a C.
The problem here is that we create these safety nets for our students. We don’t encourage them to actually do the work and allow them to fail.
If you want your students to grow into healthy adults, you have to put them in environments where they learn from their mistakes. Remember when you were in high school? The wrong answers on the test are the ones you remember the clearest, because those were the ones you questioned when your teacher passed out the graded tests.
Failure is the epicenter of learning, not achieving a particular grade.
3.) American Students Need to Leave the Country
Going on a spring break trip to Mexico doesn’t count.
American students need to see how the rest of the world functions, because you and I both know there are cultural differences in the way we raise our children. Most American students don’t have a clue what it means to live in a different community. They don’t know what it means to get food in a different way than just hopping down to the grocery store on the corner. They don’t know what it means to have to think about getting clean warm water from any place other than the tap in the bathroom.
Those things aren’t bad. They’re just different.
Learning to watch another culture function outside the one you grew up in helps you to a.) appreciate your culture more and b.) create new fundamental ways of thinking about issues.
Every student I’ve ever taken overseas comes back with a new appreciation for the way they were brought up, and they’re able to begin talking with some level of expertise about another culture. They start thinking about new ways of achieving their newfound goals. They identify problems and are able to at least begin seeing the university as a tool to solve those problems rather than the current state of the “4 year party” we see happening in universities today.
No matter what you think about the solution, the problems are evident.
Students have too much school debt.
We seemingly have a product that isn’t actually producing for our economy.
We have students in their mid twenties who are now going through “quarter life crises.”
And, if you’ve been on the side of a conversation wondering where the leaders of our country are today, we need to start addressing the issues.
These just happen to be three I see every single day.