So Many Hands to Hold in the Classroom

Today’s commentary comes from Lynda C. Lambert, a writing instructor at community colleges in Maryland.

Over the 17 years I’ve taught writing at the college level, I used to occasionally have a student who was afraid to choose a topic for an essay, or even to ask a question, because she didn’t know what was “right.” One young man chose not to turn in an assignment at all, because he didn’t understand the instructions and was afraid to say so. Now, instead of the occasional student in this condition, I’m getting classrooms full.

So many of them are so unused to thinking on their own that they cannot formulate an opinion without being told what opinion they are supposed to have. And if someone shares his opinion, he is obviously—as far as many students are concerned—trying to foist it on others rather than offering them an opportunity to challenge that opinion and debate it.

What fascinates me most is that, over the past five years in particular, students have become quite sure what we faculty members should be doing for them, which is essentially giving them the answers to the questions that we pose.

“What do you want me to say?” they ask. “Where’s the template? Where’s the model?” Examples and explanations are no longer good enough.

In past years, when we were faced with these kinds of students, all that seemed to be required was convincing them that they were safe, showing them that their education was now in their hands and that they were free to explore.

In the past, I have watched students who had seemed to be unprepared for college suddenly stuff themselves with knowledge once they realized that the banquet had finally been served. Those days are gone. The majority of students today expect assignments with finite parameters, clear grading paths, and a checklist of things they can tick off to get an A.

“Pick my own topic for an essay? What do you mean by that? What topic do you want me to pick? Is there a list?” It would approach the comical if it weren’t so sad. <Read more.>

Via Lynda C. Lambert, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.