Friday, November 21, 2008

Day 42 (Round II) "In the trenches" (winding-down edition)

Starting to feel like things are winding up, round here. Friday of the last full week in the semester; last listening quiz for the freshman class; tomorrow brings another in the Uni's so-far-unbeaten football team's run of victories, with vast numbers of kids splitting campus to drive up to Norman OK and cheer them on.

In the contemporary-USA educational world, a large percentage of students select the college they do based on all criteria and appurtenances other than academics. Most undergraduate students don't think of college as a job, much less as an investment--at least in part because (a) their parents have not raised them to take responsibility, financial or otherwise, for themselves, and (b) because the gulf of experience on this campus between the (relatively large) percentage who've never had a Real Job, versus the (much smaller) percentage who had and have to work their asses off just to stay in school. Rather, most undergraduates think of college as more a "time-served" obligation, as in "I hafta stay here in this boring-ass town and listen to these boring-ass professors (when I'm not cutting class) and read these boring-ass books (except when I can get together with 15 of my fraternity brothers and short-term-memory-cram the stolen exam answers), for four years, while Mom 'n' Dad pay for it, and then, after four years, you have to give me a degree." There is little or no awareness that it's not presence but excellence that, in the post-high-school world, is going to determine reward. Most of the undergrads don't get this, and in fact become terribly resentful, and self-righteous--to the point of claiming they're going to "take legal action," if they don't get a grade, or the grade they want. "But I was there every day!" or "But I only missed 3 quizzes!" or (my favorite) "But can't I do extra-credit to make up for it?!?" are whines we hear, at this time of the year, on a daily basis. But these whines are ultimately the fault, not of the poor infantile overgrown-adolescents we hear them from, but from the parents who actually treated Junior as if merely showing up was equivalent to achieving excellence.

This unjustified sense of entitlement extends beyond the classroom and its outside obligations (or resentment thereof) to all other aspects of the college experience. They've seen or heard the bullshit fantasy world that's promulgated by dumb teen-targeted "college" films, or the dumber-than-dumb MTV University or MTV Spring Break, or the moral obscenity and childish randiness of Girls Gone Wild, and they presume that all college campuses not only are, but are supposed to be, consistent with that fantasy. And if the reality of the campus they wind up attending doesn't match up to the fantasy, they manifest a resentful sense of disappointed entitlement to that too.

I still remember when Indiana fired their "legendary" basketball coach's ass around 1999--an event that was long overdue and the provocation for which had been preceded by years of verbal and physical abuse, ethical malfeasance, and a general manner of unaccountable bullying. They were, as I say, long overdue for kicking his ass out the door, but had put this off again and again--mostly because the University's upper administration didn't have the nads to take the inevitable political heat that would ensue. So they delayed, and waffled, and prevaricated--in short, they enabled a continuation of that same behavior--and so in the end the break was of course more contentious and politically explosive than it need have been

It was explosive not only with the boosters (who care only about the prestige and bragging rights that a winning college football or basketball team provides them with their network of Old Rich folks), or with the alumni (who care only about somehow maintaining the unrealistic nostalgic fantasy of what they think their decades-departed college career was like), or with the current students (who basically never give a shit about ethics or conduct on their own parts, or that of the faculty or staff--except when it goes against the students' own wants), but also--at least as potently--with the incoming students: the freshmen and sophomores. Who, on the night the firing was announced, gathered on the lawn of the university president's on-campus home, a beautiful old Georgian-style mansion, and hung him in effigy. There were four thousand kids out there that night, screaming bloody murder and childish abuse, simply because the prez had finally found the belated nads to fire a dysfunctional, violent, unethical man who would, had he not been a winning coach, have lost his gig years before.

But it wasn't because of any high policy or ethical or adminstrative considerations that these kids were screaming for the president's blood. It had nothing to do even with their "pride" in the university's (mostly shake-and-baked) "traditions". It had fuck-all to do with those things, and everything to do with these spoiled children's sense that they were entitled to a college experience that included a legendary coach. I actually heard kids that night, with the sublime, self-righteous, lack of self-awareness of the young, screeching "It's not fair! It's not fair, 'cause I came here because he was here, and now he's not gonna be here, and he's why I came here! It's not fair!" (There is no end to such kids' hyper-sensitivity to "unfair" treatment, even if they are oblivious to, and refuse to be bound by, any concept of parallel responsibility in their conduct toward others.)

And even that isn't the fault of those "rioting" kids (I would have loved to grab the noisiest of those little bastards and haul his candy ass into one of the real riot situations I've experienced--that would definitely put paid to their claim, like Clarence Thomas's infamous "lynching" comment).

No, it was the fault of a parenting culture that likewise believes "if I give your college my kid's tuition money, you are obligated to ram an education into his/her head, even if no part of my parenting ever even considered how to inculcate into him/her any sense of personal responsibility." No parent loses credibility with me quicker than by saying "I paid for this education and I expect my kid to get it!" because typically those are the same noisy, mistakenly-entitled jackasses who modeled similar "gimme what's mine that somebody else paid for!" behavior for their own offspring. When the balance of my classes are made up of kids who've worked summer and after-school jobs since they were children, or whose parents are working 2 and 3 jobs to pay for tuition, or who had to transfer from their S and E Texas schools because hurricanes took their cities away, or who are the first generation in their families to ever even see the inside of a college classroom, some noisy little bastard who thinks it's "unfair" that s/he has to come to class on the Friday before a Saturday football game is gonna get very short shrift.

My typical response is one I learned from observing smart and tough high-school band directors (and it works with the rare music student who tries this shit with me, because those music students almost all had smart and tough high-school band directors):

"You wanna walk? Be my guest--there are four other people in line behind you who want the seat more than you do."

That's how we start growing them up.

On the other (more positive) note: guest-shot by a few members of the Celtic Ensemble in an adjunct's music appreciation (e.g., learning to think and talk about music for non-majors) class. Now, in the third academic year of the CE's existence, it is hugely satisfying to have trained-up a crop of youngsters who, regardless of their prior experience (or lack thereof), can think and react and play like traditional musicians: e.g., pay attention, listen to what's happening, know in advance the sonic result of what you're about to do, play what you hear, etc. They're bright kids and have been touchingly willing to suspend disbelief and learn new procedures, instruments, repertoires, ways of hearing, ensemble concepts, and it's really starting to bear fruit in this third year. Now, I can put out the call for volunteers to participate in this in-class demonstration, and neither have to stress about particular numbers nor worry too much about specific repertoire: they all have enough confidence, competence, and sensitivity to play when they know stuff, hang in with stuff they only sort of know, and lay out without prejudice. It's sort of the equivalent of the dictum my martial arts teacher gave me years ago:

"Keep your head up, keep your eyes open, don't forget to breathe."

Below the jump: foliage finally turning on the South Plains:

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