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Article: “What’s the Point of a Professor?” by Matt Bauerlein

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/10/opinion/sunday/whats-the-point-of-a-professor.html

Well, he’s not wrong. These facts are not false. I even agree with the final paragraph, although it seems to come out of nowhere with terrifying speed (the thing almost took my head off!).  My quarrel with this, rather, is (as one might expect from the man who wrote a book about us called “The Dumbest Generation) he’s not looking at the big picture. Here’s where I’d make a joke about English majors, but the thing is, writers are supposed to be well read. You have to know the world to write it well. And I haven’t read this guy’s writing, but he seems to be leaving something out.

Well, several somethings.

Actually, a near-infinite array of somethings, subtly interconnected and inter-relationally constitutive.

A lot of things. What I’m saying is THIS GUY IS MISSING A LOT OF THINGS.

AMONG THEM, how we were raised. Maybe, Professor Bauerlein, you went to college purely because you wanted to learn. Perhaps for you, developing relationships with professors was an entirely intellectual act, devoid of all ulterior motives. (I doubt either of these are the case; but it’s possible).  If so, I envy you, because I never had that luxury. I grew up in a population-dense, competition-heavy world, where to get any job worth having, you needed at least a college degree. To get a job that I wanted—talking about animals, ecosystems, human interaction, psychology, writing, etc.—I knew I’d need another degree after that, or else an extreme measure of luck or intelligence.

I grew up in late capitalism. I grew up knowing that, wherever I was going to want to go, there would be thirty other people there before me, most of them smarter and better qualified, and to keep up with them I would have to be perfect, a glittering diamond of 3.5s and recommendation letters.  I grew up knowing that, no matter how hard I looked myself, I was more likely to get a job from someone I knew personally, because today’s job market is insane, and I have been taught from an early age that if I don’t get mine quick, someone else is going to get it.

That’s hard to pass by. And while I have learned a great deal in college, and I have pushed myself to learn more, and I’ve built great and rewarding relationships with my professors—many students don’t or cant do that. Professor Baurlein points out with a trembling voice that As now constitute 43 percent of all grades. I applaud my peers, if that is true, because they deserve applause. I have seen the world they inhabit—a continual battle with anxiety and scheduling, trying to fit in five courses, all A’s, and work a job (because otherwise they can’t afford the tuition, even with the massive loans, because the price of education has skyrocketed; the cost of college increased by at least 20 percent for private schools, 40 percent for public, from 2011-2012), and maybe an internship, and oh, maybe they can find something to do for the summer, and maybe, if they’re lucky, spend time with friends.

I’ve seen that kill people.

Professor Bauerlein, what your piece seems to be missing, in my humble opinion, is an acknowledgement of the social conditions that have brought us to this place. The lack of relationship-building you describe is only part of the problem—and, frankly, something that is very low on the list of “Things that are Messed Up in the American Economy and Educational System.”  In other words (and again—not surprising from someone who wrote a book on how dumb we are), you don’t know what it’s like.

Further, while I don’t see a word of blame explicitly spoken, I don’t like your tone. “When College is more about career than ideas,” you delicately state. Your word choices throughout the article are a subtle, breathy indictment—oh, these children, they haven’t quite got the point, have they? Don’t they know what they’re doing wrong? Of course I understand, after all, ha ha, I was young once, but still—couldn’t someone show them the right way? “When paycheck matters more than wisdom”—do you know why we count a paycheck higher than wisdom? Do you know why Millenials are overwhelmingly concerned with their financial security? Why 63% of us don’t have a credit card? Why we’re so obsessed with our paycheck?

We saw the world burn, Professor.  For those of us who were old enough to see 9/11, that is almost a literal statement. We saw the recession hit hard, for our parents, for our friends, for our family.  We cut off the big, grand, expensive Christmases. We might not have lost our food, or our water, or our power—but we lost other things. The things you remember. Most of us have always known we were going into a world that is ready to financially dismember us. For most of us, it’s a rush to find a job that will pay you enough to stay afloat (good luck with that on the U.S. minimum wage!), until you can find a job more fulfilling, to make yourself secure, to do well, to be able to retire someday, maybe.

Many of us traded our childhood for the fantasy of financial freedom. Is it so surprising we want the world to deliver? And those 43% A grades I mentioned—I’m glad for that. Because the world expects us to be A students. There are so many of us, and we are coming fast, seeking the slim jobs that exist. We’re smart, and driven, and we travel in packs, wrapped up in 3.5s and 4.0s and flawless test scores, because that’s the minimum requirement. That’s what you need to even be considered—or at least, that’s what we were taught. We stress, slave, and cry over our GPAs. We need those As, the grades that professors naively claim are still pure representations of our skill. False. In our age of information and high educational requirements for employment, we come to colleges–pay colleges–for a commodity. That commodity is a good GPA and a Bachelor’s, and in many cases, our whole future is tied to that degree. Professors are no longer “just” teachers (if they ever were)–you are the gateway to our career. Our life.

So, Professor Bauerlein, I think you should read some history books. And some economics books. Since you’ve apparently written a book looking at generational change, might I suggest you try to explore the factors that play into it? The increasing globalization of our economies. The deep cuts to education and assaults on social support, a time-honored tradition dating back to Reagan.  The rising cost of college (average costs around $30,000 per year for public schools, $40,000 per year for private schools). The depressed (recessed?) economy, increasing pollution, international controversy, social issues–We millenials didn’t just wake up some morning 2002-2011 and say “I’m about to be a freshman—I think I’ll perniciously alter the face of college education!”

I agree with your last point—professors should be mentors. The system should be different. Certainly things will change once we millenials hit the top of the ladder. Professors should take it upon themselves to build relationships with their students. Perhaps, while you’re at it, you should talk to us about something other than our classes. (after all, “There’s so much more.”) Ask us if we’re worried about finding a job (hint: they are, you work in an English department, in an aesthetically bankrupt nation that places writing and the arts somewhere below “pizza delivery person” on the salary ladder). Ask us if we’re worried about our grades. Ask us if we’re losing sleep over the future.

And maybe, just maybe, ask us how you can help?

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