University Student Behavior

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A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsb...

A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsburgh University Commencement. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As late as the early 1960s, the professor had a near absolute authority to discipline a class in whatever way the professor saw fit. Some professors would even slap students who made foolish comments. Very few people would want to return to those days–a university student should not be afraid of a professor. However, student behavior since the early 1960s has worsened in the college and university setting.

The problem began in 1964 with the student revolutions. Beginning with the “Free Speech Movement” at the University of California at Berkeley, which originally allowed anyone, no matter what the person’s ideology, to speak, the student movement degenerated into an orgy of radical leftism. Students took over administration buildings, and in the case of the University of California, the entire campus. It took then Governor Ronald Reagan calling out the California National Guard to restore order. Such protests continued, though with less radical effects, from the 1970s until the present. Today, however, at the classroom level the problem is with students who talk in class out of turn, walk out early if they feel bored with class, use cellphones and other electronic equipment in class, or smart off at the professor in class or in an e-mail. I suppose in some colleges and universities there has been much more serious disrespect than what I have experienced, but even the relatively “minor” problems in my classes point to some fundamental problems in American society.

“Respect” can mean the respect due any human being for being human, respect for a person’s position (for example, respect for the president of the U.S.), or the respect that is earned when someone lives a good moral life or does a job well. All three forms of respect play a role in the classroom.

Students should respect the professor’s position. The professor worked hard to gain degrees in his field and is in a position of authority over students–not arbitrary or overbearing authority, but authority as someone who teaches, guides, and helps maintain decorum in the classroom. Too many students think they know more than the professor, even in the professor’s own field of study. This is highly unlikely to be the case and is most often evidence of a student’s immaturity. Pampered, spoiled students whose parents have protected them from the harsh realities of life tend to remain at the developmental level befitting someone younger than they. They still hold on to the attitude that they know everything and that older people are ignorant fogies who accept only outmoded ideas. Some students will mature out of this immaturity (especially women), but many do not. I can have a sense of humor about that form of disrespect in class, but if students do not grow out of such arrogance, it will harm them in the future. Other students rebel against any authority figure, no matter how benign. Their misbehavior is not as much personal as it is about a hatred of authority in general.

Students lack respect for human beings qua human beings when they talk in class about non-class related subjects when the teacher is giving a lecture. They are also disrespecting other class members and exhibiting a “me, me, me” attitude that damages the American social framework more than any other attitude. It has become practically difficult to discipline students for such behavior, especially for large classes. Except for test days, I do not fight over phones–if students do not listen in class, they will not do well on exams, and that will be their punishment.  It is the “I don’t care; I’ll do what I want” attitude that so exacerbates me and other professors. Of course if students talk out loud in class about last night’s ball game or about other topics having nothing to do with the lesson for the day they reveal their disrespect for not only the professor, but also for their fellow students. One of the worst behaviors I have seen is when a student walks out of school due to being bored or due to disagreement with the professor. This behavior shows disrespect for both the professor and for the educational process in general.

Then there is the respect that a professor earns for doing a conscientious and thorough job in teaching, who carefully integrates research and teaching, and who helps students to excel. Despite the fact that a conscientious professor does a good job, bad apples in the class who disrespect the professor’s work (usually out of sheer spite) can make trouble for the class and encourage otherwise good teachers to receive poor evaluations by stirring up trouble in the class. Such agitators are dangerous, and if the professor detects their handiwork, the professor can take steps to confront and discipline them.

Being a college or university professor is a tougher job than in the past–the behavior of high school students in the 1970s has become mainstream behavior on college and university campuses). I fear what the future holds for college and university professors without a restoration of the traditional family, parental discipline, and a commitment from college and university staff to affirm the importance of classroom discipline.

The Prom and Wedding Racket

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Prom couple

Prom couple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my minor regrets in life is not attending my high school prom. At the time I was in a Fundamentalist religious group that opposed dancing, I was too shy to ask anyone out, and I did not have the money to go anyhow. Then, in 1980, the prom was a nice event and students dressed up for it, but it was not the ostentatious showy event the prom has become today.

My wedding was on a modest budget. My wife bought a beautiful white dress that served as a wedding dress. I wore my suit and tie. Church members made the wedding cake. It was a nice wedding, and even though it was not fancy, it was just as much of a wedding as one in which a family paid tens of thousands of dollars. Weddings like mine are becoming rarer, with a slew of wedding planners out there to make sure that families spend as much money as possible, and wedding shops willing to take their money.

A prom is a special event, but it is basically a date to a high school dance–a special date, for sure, one that is a great complement to the one who is asked. It is fair to expect those attending the prom to dress formally. In my days a suit and tie was acceptable, although some better off students would rent tuxes. Now proms have become rackets in which attendees demand the best dresses and tuxes in order to keep up with the other students. Shops who rent and/or sell prom outfits are quite happy with the new arrangement. Instead of being a nice date, proms become a way to show off and “keep up with the Jonseses.” The prom then becomes an ostentatious event for middle class parents to show that they can dress their child just as well or better than their neighbors. Poorer students who wish to attend the prom may pressure their parents, already strapped for cash, to rent expensive outfits. Acceptance is so desired by high school students, and this will trump common sense almost every time. The winners are the businesses that make million of dollars exploiting the immature insecurities of parents who are often no more mature than their children. Prom clothing is even marked by the year, like cars–“These are the prom dresses for 2012.” “God forbid that we’re a year out of date.” The parents will make excuses about elegance and how it is so good to see their child dressed up so nicely–I do not know how much of that is sincere and how much is male bovine excrement. I think it is more of the latter.

Weddings have become a racket as well, with families often spending ten thousand dollars or more on them. The money could be better spent in the form of a check to help the new couple get an easier start on their own. Instead, families must scrape, plan, rehearse and rehearse, buy the fanciest wedding dresses, buy or rent the fanciest bridemaids’ dresses, in order to feel superior to their neighbors–“Oh, did you see the Smith’s wedding. Her dress wasn’t half as beautiful as what y daughter is wearing.” The silliness of it all is humorous to watch, and the makers of wedding outfits are laughing all the way to the back. Businesses have a right to solicit business, and if they appeal to man’s baser instincts, it is not their fault that people yield to their baser instincts and buy more than they should need. I do not know how many times I’ve seen a family spend tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding, only to see that marriage dissolve in divorce less than a year later.

Sometimes it amazes me how much many American people are suckers.