As an educator, it has always bothered me when another educator makes blanket negative or critical proclamations along the lines of “students are just lazier than when we were in school” or “students are not interested in learning or working.”
Indeed, I have also been bothered when people from one generation make fun of a younger one just because things are different or have changed. As an example, the older generation is always disgusted with the younger generation’s music, dancing, clothing styles and more. This is normal and predictable.
But when it comes to education, these types of statements or ways of thinking are more damaging and dangerous. Teachers should know better. Are students often lazy, unmotivated, uninterested, disengaged and even seemingly apathetic? Sure, they are. Were we not the same when we were students? If one’s memory is lost, then let me reassure you that we all were lazy, unmotivated, uninterested, disengaged and even seemingly apathetic at one time or another.
First, isn’t our primary job as educators to motivate, engage and facilitate interest in learning with our students? Some teachers still expect all students to arrive this way all day everyday in their classes.
Second, isn’t this similar to what happens to older people when they put down younger people for their music, dancing or dress? Our perception has changed. We’re forgetting that we, as students, were really the same in general.
It took those special and passionate teachers to change that.
But in addition to having to be reminded of our primary roles as educators, as well as being aware of the natural trickery of our own memory/perception challenges, we also need to show and share with one another the truth.
The truth is that today’s students are performing and producing at higher levels in so many areas beyond what their predecessors accomplished.
There are thousands of teens worldwide who have started their own businesses in the global economy using the Internet and other tools. Regardless of the technology making it possible, my generation or others did not have these young entrepreneurs launching companies and products that they created.
When I was in high school, I do not recall anyone doing much volunteer or service work. And certainly, no high schooler was organizing service projects for others to participate in for worthy causes. In my various positions in schools over the last 15 years, I have seen students organize, lead and facilitate professional level service projects that not only benefitted their campuses but their global communities.
These includes things like blood drives, benefit fashion shows, special Olympics and events for special needs students, diversity and tolerance events and programs, full blown benefit concerts and multimedia shows and so much more. They are partnering with off campus professional service and non-profit organizations at unprecedented level.
In terms of documented academic progress based on standardized tests, data supports too that students are more successful and productive that before. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress and their annual The Nation’s Report Card: Trends in Academic Progress, there have been many gains from students over the years.
9 and 13-year-olds are outperforming their 1970’s counterparts. Indeed, students scored higher in reading and math. In reading, these groups improved at every level, so even the lowest-performing kids now are ahead of the lowest-performing kids then. In fact, kids in the low and middle range showed the greatest gains.
Today's high school students are taking more math and science courses and more are going straight to college after graduation than their peers from a generation ago. That's the finding of "The Condition of Education 2012" a report from the National Center of Educational Statistics, which covers all aspects of education, from preschool through college.
According this report, as of 1990, only 49 percent of high school graduates had taken chemistry and only 21 percent had taken physics. But, by 2009, the number of high school graduates with a chemistry class on their transcript had jumped to 70 percent, and 36 had taken physics. Most encouraging of all, in 2009, 30 percent of high school graduates had taken biology, chemistry, and physics in high school, up from only 19 percent taking all three in 1990.
There was also a slight increase when it came to advanced math classes. In 1990, only 7 percent of grads had taken a calculus class, and a mere 1 percent had taken statistics. By 2009, 16 percent of seniors had taken calculus and 11 percent had taken statistics. The rigorous coursework is helping to ensure that today's students are prepared to go to college immediately after graduation. In 1979, only 49 percent of students headed to either a two-year or four-year college right after high school, but that jumped to a high of 70 percent in 2009.
But beyond all of this data, it should be obvious that today’s students are producing more and performing at higher levels. They are using technology and resources at unprecedented professional levels consistent with their adult counterparts. They are starting their own businesses, service projects and more. They are often assisting or co-facilitating in classes and teaching one another. They are taking college classes in high school. They are learning at home and on their own continually. They are asked to do more, compete at higher levels and have higher expectations from others.
As a nation, our educational, as well as our social and economic challenges, are daunting and significant to say the least. We have lots of re-thinking and innovation to do in order to be truly successful in this rapidly changing global economy. I certainly don’t have all of the answers. But I do know that blaming the students is not one of them.
(photos courtesy of Buchanan High School, Minarets High School and Foter)