On Campus

Lament for the lament for the iGeneration

Are today's students so tapped into Twitter and Facebook that they're unteachable?

Ryerson professor, journalist and author Gregory Levey has written a “Lament for the iGeneration” for Toronto Life.

I found the article alarming, not because I share Levey’s dismal view of the ability of young people to communicate, but because I can’t believe that this crotchety old man is actually a year younger than I am (it’s Ben here).

He’s 31, and already he’s camped out on his rocking chair on the front porch, shaking his cane at passing skateboarders and complaining about how the younger generation is shiftless and the whole country is going to hell.

Naturally, I’m overstating my case, but I do find it disturbing that a professor now believes that “the fissure that currently exists between schools and students is unbridgeable.”

Unbridgeable? Completely impossible to bridge? So it’s time to give up?

Levey is so dismayed by students’ inability to write without including emoticons and text message acronyms such as “LOL”, and without citing Wikipedia as a source for academic papers, that he believes he is witnessing “the end of education”.

According to Levey, time spent online has rewired the brains of young people, who are now so used to instantaneously accessing information that they are no longer capable of remembering things, or of evaluating sources of information.

I don’t know about Levey, but I don’t remember all students being geniuses when I was an undergrad, way back in the olde days of the 1990s.

Levey admits to being addicted to his BlackBerry and to being a heavy Twitter and Facebook user, so perhaps his neural pathways have been rewired and it’s becoming difficult for him to remember his undergraduate years, or maybe he had substantially brighter and more earnest classmates than I did. Or maybe my own heavy internet use has polluted my brain with false memories.

I don’t remember anyone using internet acronyms in papers, but I do remember a classmate beginning an anthropology essay about Eric the Red with the Dick-and-Jane style lines, “Eric was a Viking. Eric was good.” I remember a couple of students who used to go to the pub to split a jug of beer immediately before writing final exams, to help themselves relax. And I remember a lot of academic papers written on the basis of some very un-academic sources.

Every generation complains about the generation that follows. It’s usually a case of nostalgia and of idealized memories of how things were in the olde days, back when the grass was greener and my knees didn’t ache so damn much.

Normally the nostalgia doesn’t kick in at 31, though.

I don’t doubt that there are unique challenges in teaching this generation, particularly for older professors who are unused to the deluge of insipidities our modern technological environment brings us. The job of educators is to teach students as they are, not to wait for students to become the perfect pupils that they were back in the 90s. If students are bad writers or if they lack the skills for critical analysis, educators must bridge the gap and teach the skills, rather than declare the students unteachable.

Levey has only been a university professor for three years and has only ever taught the iGeneration. It’s not his fault that he doesn’t remember how much worse students’ spelling was before we had computers. I’m sure in another ten years he’ll be nostalgic for this iGeneration he’s lamenting, and he’ll write a brand new lament about students with computer implants in their brains, or about how common it is for students to bring pocket-sized atomic weapons to class.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

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