Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The College Kids Are Not Alright

You probably believed, as I did, that the people who were suffering the most from the school shutdowns, mask mandates and social distancing were young minority children. After all, they had less access to remote learning opportunities, and ergo, they were the first victims of the mad school shutdown policies.

Apparently, such is not the case. We are not going to go into the business of tallying up the damage produced by these policies, but we must notice that college students have also suffered from them. In part, we measure the damage in terms of visits to the student health services, or the number of suicide attempts and nervous breakdowns. But we must also consider that, as James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley point out, students who lost the habit of functioning on campus did not instantly revert to pre-pandemic form. (via Maggie's Farm)

The result of all the shutdowns-- students desocialized and disconnected from each other and from their duty to attend classes and to do homework. As the authors point out, and as the survey they cite shows, “remote learning has been a disaster.”

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education survey, college faculty reported “a disconcerting level of disconnection among students, using words like ‘defeated,’ ‘exhausted’ and ‘overwhelmed.’” One professor said she “knew the pandemic was wreaking havoc on people’s lives. But she didn’t expect that its impact on learning would be so profound, even when students returned, with excitement, to campus.” Some professors attribute these difficulties to deaths in students’ families or to financial insecurity, but the truth is that colleges themselves are partly responsible for the students’ malaise. Remote learning has been a disaster. Many students, even when finally allowed to return to campus, were kept isolated in their dorms for weeks. 

Maintaining mask mandates and cancelling social events have also played a role.

Importantly, the authors emphasize that attending classes and functioning as a student on a college campus constitutes a habit-- or even a series of habits. Once you break down those habits or render them toxic, students need time and effort to relearn the habits:

The more likely explanation for students’ struggles is that they have gotten out of the habit of being students—attending class, studying, turning in papers, and the like. It won’t be easy to restore the old discipline. Just as today’s second-graders are now having to learn the basic norms of classroom behavior that they missed during their remote classes in kindergarten and first grade, college freshmen must learn or relearn the habits that will enable them to do challenging academic work.

What does it look like on the ground? The authors describe it:

As Chronicle respondents reported, since the return to in-person instruction, “Far fewer students show up to class. Those who do avoid speaking when possible. Many skip the readings or the homework. They have trouble remembering what they learned and struggle on tests.” Ashley Shannon, English department chair at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, told the Chronicle that students are “by and large tragically underprepared to meet the challenges of university life—both academically and in terms of ‘adulting.’”

If remote learning was bad for college students, imagine how bad it was for younger children:

It should come as no surprise that the decline in standards in colleges and high schools associated with remote schooling has had such consequences. Remote learning failed to engage students. Many colleges didn’t even require students to turn on their computer cameras, reasoning that lower-income students might be embarrassed by their surroundings at home. High schools that conducted tests over Zoom found that cheating was rampant. Even conscientious parents didn’t realize until it was too late how little students were learning and how far they were falling behind.

So, the lockdown and shutdown policies, combined with the mask mandates, damaged students. And you were wondering how these students were going to grow up to compete in the world markets.

Colleges will of course adapt, by inflating grades and downgrading assignments. Obviously, when these students apply for jobs, the problems will reveal themselves:

If the past is any guide, colleges will try to accommodate struggling students by requiring less work from them. They will lower expectations in the name of saving students from the stress and anxiety of failing. They will offer higher grades in the name of equity. Some of the professors interviewed for the Chronicle story said that they would do more “hands on” or experiential learning because those kinds of classes get students more “engaged.” But these approaches merely pass students along, without addressing the underlying problem.

What can professors do? The authors correctly point out that professors should be more paternalistic. They should be more strict and require greater discipline. They should be more like Tiger Moms and less like coddling American parents:

If college professors want students to act like adults again, they must teach them how. This will mean acting more paternalistically, with clear consequences when students miss classes or fail to hand in assignments. Faculty will need to reassess students’ abilities, enroll them in remedial classes if necessary, and slowly bring them back to the level that they should have reached when they were admitted.

None of it will be easy. Reinstituting real standards will require more work on the part of faculty and administrators. It will disappoint some students and anger some short-sighted parents. 

But after two years of drop-off in enrollment and a tight labor market that is making students question the value of higher education, colleges owe it to students to get them back on track.

Q. E. D.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Vote harder!