I am still a student

I am still a student.

Let me explain…

At a recent conference, I had a fellow attendee launch into a brief rant on the laziness of students today during a session on mobile learning in the classroom. He/she then stole a glance my way and said, “you know those young millenial students of course” which I was supposed to read as not me. Unfortunately, my reaction was to smile and nod because that is what I do when I am uncomfortable. By the time I found my voice, the session was over and nobody had defended students. I do not know who the “younger students” are supposed to be. I am, according to many studies that define millenial date ranges, a millenial. And a young one at that. Right on the cusp of Generation Y and Generation Z. I graduated from my undergraduate program three years ago. This means that the first years I met in 2014 have only just graduated this May. I’m pretty sure this three years is not a generation gap. So if those “young millenial students” are lazy, entitled, privileged, [insert negativity here], then why would I assume I am excluded from this belief?

So I will be offended. Every. Single. Time.

There are many theories about why my generation are [fill in stereotype here] that lead to this kind of student shaming in public forums.  (And YES! Student shaming is a thing. If you are doubtful, please read Chris Gilliard, Jesse Stommel, Joshua Eyler, and Lora Taub and Jenna Azar’s remarks on the subject).  In this case, my laziness was defined as stemming from a reliance on technology in which technology makes everything easier, faster, and/or more immediate. I often wonder if it is this stereotype that causes the most disappointment. This belief that we are “tech savvy”, whatever that means, and then the disappointment that follows when we cannot map servers without prior training or experience. I did not grow up with technology. I read books. For fun. Like hundreds of them. Jane Austen and Ayn Rand. Maya Angelou and J.K. Rowling. Markus Zusak and Thomas Hardy. That was my thing. We had dial up internet, no cell service, and lived in a “you can’t get there from here” town. Not technologically advanced. I work as an Instructional Technologist now because I learned from patient, empathetic, and passionate faculty (I’m looking at you Victoria Szabo and Mark Olson) who gave me the space to learn AND be a human. Being human meant I could make mistakes and skip a reading because I picked up an extra waitressing shift to cover rent. I understand (some) tech now because I learned how to use it and ask critical questions while doing so. If that is what defines me as lazy, then we need to redefine the term.

I’m not an exception either. I went to school with students who had similar experiences. I work at a school where students have similar experiences. And this isn’t even taking into account the difficulties illegal immigrants, children of illegal immigrants, homeless, LGBTQ, religious minorities, ethnic minorities, adult students, and/or students with children deal with on a daily basis. Plus there are normal life surprises like illness, death, bursting water pipes, fires, oil changes, break-ups, assaults, and so many other things to contend with. This isn’t laziness. This is life. And this is why I am offended and hope to ALWAYS be offended whenever students are bashed and over-generalized. Because students are human first, students second (seriously, shout out to Mark Olson for making this a practice in his classroom). Such a simple concept with a huge impact when put into practice.

Teaching requires empathy. If we think our students are lazy, then we’re doing something wrong as educators. We are not reaching them in this moment, we are not empathizing, we are not hearing them. Or worse, we’re not listening. We have to value our students’ voices, their experiences, their humanness. Because learning is messy and tough and requires vulnerability. As educators, we should be protecting this vulnerability and this humanness, not shame it.

So I’m sorry that this post is retrospect. I’m sorry that I did not make this clear when it was brought up in that conference session. Because really I should have owned my status as a millennial student and pushed back against the rhetoric we are experiencing in education. Because I am offended and what was said is offensive to so many. As an educator, as someone who works closely with students as a collaborator on digital projects, as the sister of two students, as a former tutor counselor to a hundred low-income, first-generation, rural VT/NH Upward Bound students, and as a recent graduate/millennial student. There are many reasons to be offended.

I am still a student and I hope to always see through that lens.

Also this post is amazing and says many of the things I was trying to say only better!

As always, timing is everything. As I was working on this post, the twitter world tore this Chronicle of Higher Ed piece to shreds.  And they had good reason.  The article is rude, unfeeling, unfunny, harmful, sarcastic, degrading, and hateful. Then there are the comments.  Is there any humanity in internet comments? The answer is that yes there is (because we don’t all want to be as extreme and one-sided as the author of said piece), but it is shouted down by the many, many trolls. This post is not a reaction to that, but it needed to be noted as a larger part of a very troubling conversation we seem to be having about students these days.

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