Letter From New York 05 09 2016 Thoughts on the last day of teaching…

For the first time in a week, the sun is out and the day feels spring like.  Sunlight glitters off the Hudson River as the train I’m riding heads south to the city.  I have a couple of meetings this afternoon and tomorrow and then will head back north after the last one is completed. 

Hudson River from Train

Today, I gave the final to my class.  Once they’re graded and handed in, I am finished unless I am asked back in the fall.

It was genuinely hard for me to see my students go.  I will honestly miss them, even the reluctant ones among them.

They are all interesting characters and I worry about them because most of them are graduating and their academic skills are less, for the most part, of what I would expect of students finishing their second year of college.

They range in age from twenty to forty.  One is a mother who missed a couple of classes because she went to her own daughter’s graduation.  Another is a vet, who is back after years of service, a man of thirty something who carries weight in his soul.

They follow Facebook and spurn Twitter.  Instagram and Snapchat are their social media of choice.

No one remembers anything.  They turn to their phones for the answers for anything and everything.  As has been posited, if you can Google, why remember it?

Today was the first time they were not nose to nose with their phones.  Their phones rarely leave their hands and if they have left it behind someplace, they are a shot out the door to retrieve it.

One of my tasks was to teach them to be better, smarter consumers of media.  I challenged them to go a day without media.  The one who came closest, went out to a farm and stayed there and even he couldn’t make it the full twenty-four hours.

The rest of them barely made it more than a few minutes.  All have a better understanding of how pervasive contemporary media is.

Anxiety is apparent when they are separated from their phones, even for relatively short periods of time.  When I threatened to remove a phone from one my students as she wouldn’t stop playing with it, I was greeted by genuine terror in her face.

Most of them suffer a higher degree of nomophobia [anxiety of being separated from your smartphone] than I had expected.  The older they were, the less it was, the younger they were, the higher the degree.  It was both fascinating and a little unsettling to observe.

Many of them write as if they were texting and some, to my great concern, have almost no skill in writing at all.  I mean zip.  And while they have more than moderate intelligence, they lack the skills to communicate their intelligence in writing.  One of the smartest people in my class in native intelligence is incapable of getting his thoughts on paper.  How can I not worry about him?

Most of them have an appalling lack of historical knowledge in general.  They live in an ever constant present, skimming the waves of history, passing over it rather than through it.  And what happened centuries ago is something which seems irrelevant to them.  As I’ve mentioned, if they need to know about an event, they can Google it.  [A disturbing tendency I have found in myself.]

Major device for connecting to the internet?  The phone, of course.  Most video viewing done?  On the phone.  Music consumption?  On the phone.  Everything is on the phone.

I am convinced they came away with a better understanding of how to approach and interpret media as they experience it and I am glad I have helped make them, please dear God, better consumers of media, less open to manipulation, more discerning, more interpretive because they really weren’t when they came into class.

I am afraid that is the case of many students today, at every level.

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