I'm now caught up with the current batch of posts (more will come in later today and tomorrow) so I started to read the Times Op-Eds. Frank Bruni's latest on Sarah Huckabee Sanders now has me scratching my head about things. It is not just that this seems some Orewllian nightmare we are trapped in. It's that my students, who may have voted for the first time in a Presidential election last year, might very well have only the Trump administration as a reference point for an adult consideration of national politics. What will they make of that?
In response to one student's post I brought up the movie Breaking Away. If you've seen it, you'll recall that the protagonist goes through disillusionment after the bike race with the Italians.
Dave: Everybody cheats. I just didn't know.
Dad: Well, now you know.
This is a low point for Dave, but he rebounds from it to perform something noble and achieve a better balance within himself. That, of course, was in the movies. And Breaking Away came out while Jimmy Carter was still President. What about now?
I so wish that I could give students a more optimistic view - partly idealistic but also partly based on actual experience. These students seem to have a much grimmer perspective. And the dissonance they repeatedly see between their own performance and that of the classmates only serves to reinforce the grimness.
In years past I have sometimes worried that Econ students (and Business students too) were far too mercenary in their outlook. That doesn't seem to be the issue now, for reasons that I don't understand, though perhaps this reflects some adjustment to the current state of the economy. In any event, the diligent students aren't money grubbers the way some of my students in the past were. However, they are lacking trust in their peers and they are resentful of the sloth they see in their classmates. The feelings are very strong on this point. It is hard to counter this view and I am struggling to do so.
We often ignore college as a way to shape the moral outlook of students. Having such a pessimistic view regarding the nature of people surely will shape their own behavior, I fear for the worse.
Yesterday in class we had a little party. I brought in cider and apple doughnuts from Curtis Apple Orchard and for 15 minutes or so we were in party mode. (The semester is way too long and this is one way to acknowledge that fact.) We played a game of Econ 490 Jeopardy - I gave a bunch of wrong answers but that had as their questions terminology from our class. They guessed as to the right questions They had fun with that. That only took a few minutes so afterward I spent some time talking about volunteer work I do outside the university and after that segued to what Peter Drucker has argued. People should have two careers - one the normal career we think of, the other in volunteer activities where the person satisfies the social conscience. Teaching as a retiree can be a bit of both all wrapped into one - if the teaching is effective.
I don't know whether that message got through at all, but lately I've been quoting The Magic 8-ball when engaging in this sort of casual empiricism - signs point to no. Their most recent blog posts didn't show this sense of volunteerism at all but did reflect a great deal of suspicion with the under performers whom they encounter, with no sense of responsibility to help these other people do better. If that is an accurate depiction of their current mindset, we should be asking what might be done to make things better. I wish I knew.