Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Reader Mail Re: Those Lazy Students


My post on the “total lack of student effort” as an explanation for low graduation rates seems to have struck a nerve. I came to work this morning to see that I had the most reader mail since I deactivated Facebook. A sampling:

An excellent article, “Low Graduation Rates and the Total Lack of Student Effort,”
especially in regards to Combat Arms.

Some years ago, Parade Magazine had an article that referenced the difference
between a 22 year college graduate and a 22 year old Marine.

I paraphrase below,

One person working in an office asked a fellow worker…   

Why do we trust a 22 year old Marine to carry out our foreign policy half-way
around the world, but we don’t trust our 22 college graduate to operate the
copying machine?

And another:

I teach juniors and seniors in a suburban Phoenix high school and I can attest to the truth of your statements regarding laziness. The typical student puts forth very little effort actually learning. The average “good” student completes the “work” and that’s it. It is a very frustrating situation, because most of them are not stupid; they are just culturally lazy.

One bright light, ironically enough, is reading (trying to read!) Heart of Darkness with my seniors.  Even though they do not “get it” and the majority do not actually read it (Sparknotes!), when we get to the section about “the flabby weak-eyed devil” of laziness, they sit up and take notice. That passage usually generates an interesting discussion about how lazy they actually are.

I will not say that I work miracles, but the vast majority finally admit that they do not work hard at almost anything. And, they are not proud of that fact. Relating their utter lack of effort to the “rapacious folly” of the ivory traders is salutary. And, thankfully, some actually do take the lesson to heart.

From a veteran:

After I was medically retired from the army, the VA sent me back to school to “rehabilitate” me — I got my teacher’s credential. I currently teach 7th grade.

The truth is worse than you can imagine. The law students who don’t want to work — they’re the success stories! The lazy suburban Chicago kids — they didn’t drop out! If their district can keep them from taking the SAT, but get them to enroll in community college, their numbers will look great!

The public schools are the one part of government small enough where people get what they want. If parents want their kids rewarded for doing nothing, that will happen, and often does. The good news is that kids and parents who want it can get a first-rate education anywhere in this country.

And here’s one that gives me an opportunity to clean up my comment about Wal-Mart:

Re: David French saved a new entryLoved David French’s post titled “Low Graduation Rates and the Total Lack of Student Effort.” American college students have a great scam going. Many have large disposable income, scads of time in which to spend it, and little expectation that they actually do any work or studying — yet they get away with sheltering under the mantle of the traditional “poor college student” who deserves sympathy. 

The anecdote at the very end of the post struck a sour note, though. My first job in the “real world” felt like a break after three years of law school. No studying hanging over my head in the evening? What to do with all the extra time! But I’m apparently a Wal-Mart type because I do think that family is a critical consideration in the work calculus. I don’t mind; Wal-Mart has made life better for a whole lot of people.

People who pride themselves on working all time, family be hanged, are fooling themselves if they pat themselves on the back as superior to those that actually strive for a little balance in their lives. David probably just chose his words poorly, but working too much is about as pathological as working too little. Aristotle’s positioning of the virtues between opposite vices seems relevant here.

As a former employee (my first job was selling guns at the Wal-Mart in Georgetown, Ky.) and as a frequent shopper at what is the best store in my town, I love the company. Anyone who doesn’t understand that the plentiful supply of inexpensive — yet high-quality — consumer goods (and groceries) provides an enormous benefit for American families doesn’t have much of a grasp on household economics. I merely mentioned Wal-Mart as an example of a place where you can clock in, work your time, and clock out — typically without taking your work home and leaving plenty of time for family. This is not a bad thing at all, but it is also not a lucrative path either. My comment was intended to strike at the mentality that says “I want a very high-paying legal job, plus a huge amount of time with my family.” High pay? Large amounts of family time?  Who doesn’t want that. But no one should feel entitled to both. The battle for work/life balance that the reader rightly alludes to begins when you give up the idea that you can have it all.  

And then here’s one from a really angry reader:

For the past eight years, I have taught physics to budding architects, medical doctors, engineers, and so forth, and it has been an overwhelmingly good experience. I know from my own experience, from other faculty, and from countless students, that David French’s statement that no one flunks anymore is flat-out untrue. Moreover, far more students would receive failing grades if they were not allowed to withdraw from courses; obviously, these students are not benefiting from grade inflation. Students who receive As in my lecture courses have earned that grade through their intellect and hard work. Also, most of my students have jobs in the real world, and some work night shifts. Is that laziness?

His comment that “it’s a laziness reinforced by the extraordinarily low academic demands of even elite universities” betrays a pernicious mindset afflicting America’s self-styled elites, a mindset that holds that students at elite universities are the best and brightest. You’ll find geniuses and the highly intelligent at every state university and, please don’t choke on your peanuts, at every community college. I’d reckon that the average student IQ at a typical state university is higher than at your so-called elite universities. The only thing elite about those schools is the exorbitant tuition, and most students are merely the mediocre children of the wealthy and/or well-connected.

As offensive as this blog was, it was not without risibility. David French apparently believes that his law-school experience represents the standard of academic rigor by which all other experiences should be judged. I give him credit for serving in the military, but it’s a good thing the poor man never pursued a worthwhile career here at home, such as in science or engineering, because he probably would have flunked out the first semester.

The reader has taught budding doctors, engineers, and architects, and they’re not lazy. That’s a huge relief (given the importance of their professions . . . I’d hate to have my appendix taken out by a doctor who grade-inflated his way through school), but not all that surprising. As she notes, these are fields that still require real work. But they’re also quite small compared to the overall population of students. My post was dealing with the reality that for every 100 high-school students we get 20 college graduates. How many of that 100 are future doctors or engineers? One? Two? Less than one? Yes, they work hard. I’ll grant you that. And thank goodness they do. But my argument was not that no one works hard but that laziness presents a good explanation for why such a high proportion don’t succeed.  

Her comments about elitism give me an idea for a different post at a different time.

Thanks for the mail. It’s always good to know that someone is reading.


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