By L&T Columnist Gary Damron
After years of serving as a pastor, I now teach and advise college students. Should any of them take a look at my college transcript they’d see the painful truth that I really do understand what many of them are going through. On academic probation my first two semesters, I basically hadn’t completed most of the work required for my courses.
Still ruminating on a recent educational conference, this week I’ve also come across an article on empathy and self-centeredness. Author Frank Bures referenced a study of American values seen in television shows for young teens. Programs from each decade of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s all ranked high in community feeling, benevolence and tradition. However, in 2007, those had fallen dramatically and were replaced instead by financial success, achievement and fame.
There may be a number of reasons for the drastic movement; one perhaps is the self-esteem movement of the 1980s which the author asserts led young people to a sense of self-importance and even narcissism, and another could be grade inflation. He reports that thirty percent more students are receiving A’s while SAT scores are declining.
The subject of one session I attended was on note-taking, which I felt would be important for students, but the suggestion that a teacher meet students halfway by providing worksheets with one-word fill-in the blanks seemed unhelpful.
Another talked of how to cover all the content in a course – valuable to a history teacher – but her main emphasis was measuring student success if they grasped ten percent of the content, and allowing extra credit assignments for the other optional ninety percent.
Our final speaker at the conference, no doubt a highly-paid individual doing what he loves, provided good examples of connecting with young people, excellent techniques and an up to date analysis.
His premise was that teachers should not try to push students into taking courses so they can graduate and get an eight-to-five job. Rather, we should be asking them, “What is your dream job” and if, for example, they want to teach scuba lessons we help them see the possibility of achieving that.
It conjured within me a mind picture of thousands of graduates who haven’t realized their passion, sitting home at age 40 while Mom and Dad trudge off to their 40-hour jobs, with maybe one scuba teacher in the bunch.
We heard Alvin Toffler speak in 1975 on “Future Shock,” and none of us in that audience could have imagined how far the age of information would bring us. With all we have available are we really better off?
College students today view their self-importance as on a par with celebrities, yet their ratings of empathy and an ability to see others’ viewpoints have dropped. At the same time, the sense of well-being has plummeted for many because focus on self brings anxiety, depression and despair.
So, going back to my bad example as a first year college student – there was no glamorous turn-around which led to a fabulous outcome. Self-discipline and self-control had to finally kick in before I received a diploma and found a career.
If any young person can learn that the true source of worth is found in accomplishment, through self-discipline and self-control, and by giving back to those around them, our jobs as educators, pastors and parents will be successful.