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We’ll come to you.

It may shock you how little my students study. Last Spring, out of 90 students, not one admitted to spending more than 10 hours a week on school work — and, a sizable chunk worked less than 5. In any given week, less than 2% did the assigned readings (a number which is most likely inflated by students who don’t want to tell me how little they study)…We have found the source of Generation Y laziness.

My students were speechless when I informed them that the university actually expected at least 20 hours. And, that this tiny commitment would seem like a vacation to the 60+ hours of their Eastern Hemisphere counter-parts. Indeed, the American social life would leave little time for work. My students regale me with weekday tales of video games, sorority mixers, and beach bonfires.  

The consequences on this mentality have rippled across the business world, as employers scramble to find shiny new ways to keep their younger workers’ attention. The crisis has given birth to entire sectors of Human Resources with expertise in placating the neediness of a workforce ready to jump ship at the first sign of boredom.

Least I be unclear: I blame the school. Why? Modern schooling punishes ambition and hard work. How? A few ways:

1). Easier classes = high grades. Students who wish to apply to graduate school with a competitive Grade Point Average benefit from switching to easier majors (like sociology). The chair of one of our science departments calls this “the pre-med game” — deliberately avoiding difficult science classes to boost a medical school application GPA.

2). Much of what is taught in school is not applicable in the real world: My students know that future employers will not care if they can recite Karl Marx’s stages of economic evolution, nor do biology students need to memorize the Kreb Cycle to be effective nurses. Many students are blatantly honest with me about their intentions to spend the minimal amount of effort necessary to get their paper degree and move on with life.

3). Diminishing expectations lead to standards that can’t evaluate students who go “above and beyond.” For instance, in a typical quarter, I reward students with an “A” if they can write a cogent argument — not necessarily a good argument, but an argument. At best, ambitious papers will receive the same grade as those with half the effort, at worst, it’ll get a “B” for not addressing the assignment precisely in the way it was asked. Many overworked teaching assistants won’t even bother reading a paper that isn’t easily scorable. Students learn this fact quickly and adjust their video-game-to-studying ratio accordingly.

Every year, without fail, I see excited, dewy-eyed Freshmen crushed by the insanity of the University maze. Indeed, I look back on my own college career with similar results. In my first semester, I created a detailed table of contents for my class notes. By Senior year, I was spending book money on beer.

In truth, I think hardworking individuals are unphased by their schooling experience. And, a handful of others will encounter inspiring teachers that push them to towards excellence. But, too many unsure students who have been spoonfed directions since the cradle will graduate without the motivational drive our flailing economy so desperately needs. I’ll reserve my suggestions for improving workplace readiness education for another post. For now, let me just say, we have a problem,

Gregory Ferenstein

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