Monday, July 10, 2006

The Political Spin on the Boy/Girl "Crisis"

A college professor [identified as amike] of 34 years experience wrote the following observations. I cite them because in reading the literature there is a weary, predictable redundancy in complaints about what entering freshmen know and don't know.

The pretention of academics is simply overbearing when it comes to pointing out their perceived deficiencies of youth. These observations are more interesting because of the gender context.

Unspoken in any of these discussions is a factoid about college that a guidance counselor tipped me off to. Today's college graduates are taking longer to graduate by two years. These days a typical graduate will spend six years getting what used to be a four-year degree. This comes as a shock to me and other parents as well.

But here's the gender divide observations. See what you think.

I've been in the ed biz for 34 years now, and I am really curious to see how this chain develops. Those of on the faculty side of the desk are stuck (this is not a complaint) with what comes in the door on the first day of class. I haven't tried to tally the changes over the last 30 years, save the students of the millennium generation (is that what we're supposed to call them?) are a tad more docile than the students I first taught during the tail end of the Viet Nam war. Here's a couple of observations, and I'm wondering if they tally with any other faculty who may drop by to comment here. First...let me say that I teach undergraduates exclusively, in History and American Studies, and about 60/40 per cent general education requirement students (the havetas) and 40 per cent majors (the wantas)

Observations without proof:

* Men do less well in the required courses than women do. They're less willing to devote time to things they're made to study, and more vocally resentful of the idea of required courses.

* Women do better on collaborative work then men do. They're more group oriented in the ways they interact. They're more willing to assist each other and more subtle about making sure the members of the group pull their weight.

* Women are more willing to make use of academic resources available to them: tutors, the learning center, and faculty office hours. Men, especially men who have diagnosed learning disorders (such as dyslexia) are far less likely to avail themselves of the assistance available to them by law. They feel, somehow, that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and they'll take a lower grade rather than show that particular sign.

* Among the average students (we get those, and I rather like working with those) men are more likely to ask questions related to technical issues (how long, does it have to be typed) and women are more likely to ask clarification questions...what do you mean by. . .

* Neither sex handles the written language well. They handle it worse, if anything, than students did thirty years ago. Neither seems to think that grammar matters, or that clothing what they think in powerful language is important.

* Women are more vocal than they were twenty years ago. Neither sex is as vocal as it was thirty years ago. Neither sex is as willing to contradict faculty positions or risk being wrong as the best students were when I began my career. Some of my colleagues breathe a sigh of relief about this. I rather miss the fracases into which some class sessions developed.

All in all, I wish my students worried less about what I thought and more about what they thought. I can see why Americans have been so passive regarding power structures in general and government in particular. Perhaps the one thing good which might develop out of the current national situation is the reawakening of youthful anger.


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