Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What’s On Your Mind?

John Gardner
Four short, common little words. But oh what a door opener for conversation, if only we would take the initiative.
I think we need to ask this of our students (and colleagues) more often. If you did so often enough, it would convey to them, if nothing else, your expectation and assumption that something is indeed going on in their mind.
And that says a lot in a country that seems to be preoccupied this week of my blog with March Madness, a unique American preoccupation in the month of March with “college” (i.e. post secondary  institution level) athletics—in the sport of basketball in particular. I have been dismayed this week by how many more people I have heard speaking about March Madness than I have about America’s latest little war, against Libya, Congressional posturing over a possible government shutdown, and the most serious thing of all: as yet unknown potential fallout (pun) from a horrific environmental accident in Japan.
So what’s on your mind?
What’s on my mind are such things as:
1. The race to the bottom our country is headed pell mell on in a rush to cut all government spending for social services,  the societal consequences be damned.
2. The ever increasing obsession in my profession with the minimal standard of retention (=a C minus and a pulse, which says nothing about what people have learned, can do, and value added received).
3. The increasing inclination to measure institutional quality primarily through wealth and resources, amount of money raised, etc.
4. The cascading of stresses on our students from the havoc wreaked upon their parents by the Great Recession.
5. The lifeboat exercises underway on our campuses as we reel from politically mandated budget cuts.
6. My fears that the cuts on campus will mirror the cuts in the larger society with the result that we make war on the poor in the academy just as we have in the rest of the society.
7. The unfailing belief in better living through new gadgets. As Emerson wrote in the late 1840’s: “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind”.
But, in spite of what’s on my mind, the students will be coming to us in droves again this fall, many not knowing what they want out of life with all the certainties falling around them, but still blindly believing that somehow the better life lies through us.

I am glad that I have more than the above on my mind. But many of our students have only these things on their mind. They need our help more than ever.

1 comment:

  1. The best thing that we can teach our students is that life does not end with college. Your degree is not a ticket to freedom. Too many of the students who graduated with me (me included) were told that our lives were waiting for us and that we would be the most prepared to grab it. We need to teach our students that, just like institutions should not be measured by their fundraising efforts, they should not measure themselves by their income. Happiness and healthiness and the continual pursuit of knowledge are more important.