Is lack of attention endemic?

I just finished grading a batch of assignments from my University of Phoenix Online course (web programming I) and am rather amazed at the number of students who didn’t answer the questions in their answers. I asked questions like “why….” and got answers more akin to “what…”.

This seems to apply across the board to students that I’ve worked with; while some of them are great, pay attention, do the work, and excel at doing good work, many seem to be unfocused, not completely paying attention, convinced that they’re “too cool” to really need to learn, or uncritically accept any random incorrect nonsense they find online.

I recall some students from the last class I taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Rather than the typical 30-40 year old professionals in continuing education, these two were maybe 20-23 and they spent most of the class screwing around, reading sports results on the Web, IM’ing pals, and generally not paying much attention to what the rest of us were discussing. One of them had reason, he got it and it was unclear why he was in the class since he turned in great assignments and did all the lab projects in just a few minutes. The other student, however, her work was inferior and she didn’t do very well in the class, and, in particular, didn’t seem to learn much.

Is being cool more important than learning?

Stupid question. Of course it is. It’s the same reason that so many bright kids drop out and slack off with crummy grades in high school: being teased for being smart is miserable and it’s easier to get a “C” or a “D” and be able to gripe about the teacher with your pals than to really apply yourself, get the “A” and risk taunting. One of my family members went through just that experience in high school, where he had excellent grades and ended up highly influenced by a fun-loving, slacker gang and graduated far, far from his potential. He was not eligible for much post-high school other than junior college, and even that didn’t help him break out of the typecast mold.

I believe that instead of worrying about standardized test scores and penalizing schools with more diverse populations (less diversity almost consistently equals higher test scores on standardized tests) we would do much better as a society to laud and reward intellectual success. Our culture as a whole seems to reward and point the limelight at monetary success, not intellectual success, yet surely the foundation of a strong future for our cities, our culture, and our nation is a smart and engaged populace?

3 comments on “Is lack of attention endemic?

  1. Well, coolness is part of it. I think it’s more complicated, though, and I think it boils down to a sense that there’s not much point in making the effort, instead. After all, for one reason or another, school (even into college) has long seemed dedicated more to crushing the will than much of anything else. More importantly, although the traditinal hacker type has long been willing and happy to upload data into his or her brain and give it context later, the average human can’t really do that, and most school seems to expect it: the “are we ever going to use this in the real world?” problem seems to get worse, until school is regarded as little more than a silly bureaucratic requirement. The continuing education folks have a reason to go to the bother, whereas the younger folk often don’t see it. I’m honestly not sure many students these days regard “school” as being even remotely connected to “learning” at all. Finally, so far as I can tell, no one would be blameworthy for perceiving that schmoozing, politicking, nepotism, and so on have far more to do with success (or at least getting a job that pays the bills) than being “smart.” The only exception being “credentials,” which is probably why many students bother with an “education” in the first place. But, I’m opinionated.
    (Also, keep in mind that children who ask “why?” very much often end up getting the urge smacked out of them, possibly literally. Intellectual curiosity is stamped out from a very early age. Sadly, I don’t think most traditionally “college age” kids are really ready for college any more. Instead, they probably need a few years of something far more nurturing and gentle to rectify the years of intellectual abuse they’ve received by the school system by then. Golly, I need to shut up. Er… Anyway, I agree with you, but I think it’s more complicated.)

  2. Hey,
    I was doing a report on the students in my school and how they act….. And I came across this page witch by the way I think it�s really true and it really helped me out with the way students think. I think you, not being a student and knowing so much about us is really understanding of you.

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