Monday, August 9, 2010

The New Normal

I know that some of my fellow educators look at some of our students and wonder if they have any idea of what is going on in the world and our country. I don’t believe we should draw conclusions that they don’t simply because of some of their behaviors which are less mature than those of my readers. My experience and plenty of national survey data on college students suggests that they do—and that they are rightfully concerned. And, so as they return to our campuses this fall, more and more commentators, including me, are making reference to what has become known as “the new normal.”

The new normal assumes a long term period of very sluggish economic growth, structural high unemployment, poor job creation, continuing low inflation, and even the real possibility of deflation, destitute state budgets, lack of political support for more stimulus, and an obsession with the deficit which has created a tolerance for the suffering of the unemployed that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago—that is both the tolerance and the current prolonged level of unemployment.

So, as apparently more and more Americans are resignate to this state of affairs, both those with and without jobs, what are we going to be telling our students this fall about what they should be planning and expecting for their future, about the purposes of college?

How much do we level with them?

How can we encourage them and still be truthful to them?

A first step might be to get them to understand: 1) what is the new normal? 2) how did we get here? 3) what are options for us as a nation and as individuals, especially for our students who have not yet chosen careers and found a place in them?

-John Gardner