“Blech, the kids of today just don’t get it”

Like the curious procrastinator I am, I was perusing Reddit this Friday evening when this article met my gaze. It was an open question posed to the Reddit community: What do teachers think has gotten worse in their students as time progressed?

The answers were surprising, and I think worth sharing. I’ve selected three to honor brevity, but I recommend reading the entire thread. It also discusses how standardized testing has made life hell for teachers and the economic burdens parents face in the post-Recession American economy.

But without further adieu, here’s how today’s kids disappoint the ones born before us.

Number 1: We are worse at using technology than our predecessors.

This is not surprising if I think about it. Since the late 1990s, technology’s main concern has been user ease. Think about how powerful the average iPhone 6 is, yet how simple its user interface. The barrage of apps enable you to explore all kinds of information with ease that four year olds can manage. Note: I’ll intersperse this piece with quotes from the Reddit thread so you can follow my notes with the brilliantly worded sources.

It’s as if they’ve lived through technology being on “easy mode” for their whole lives.

There is no discipline required to tap into this wealth, so we have none. We don’t read long posts (hell, I cringe when I see 12 minute reads on Medium), and we have a hard time gathering sound research from the web. When everything’s available at the click of a button, we run to the easiest source of information. This is rarely complete, and almost never the best.

Long story short (oh, the irony), having been babied by technology at a young age, we lack the discipline and skill to use it to its full potential. Our knowledge of the internet is shallow and weak.

This reddit user phrased the problem superbly:

Take any new technology shift and you’ll find that the people involved early, who were involved prior to all the issues being resolved or ironed out are going to have a much “deeper” understanding than somebody involved after the fact.

Number 2: The changing economic pyramid of America makes the stakes of education higher for the average student, and this leads to unpleasant side effects.

I’m not an economics expert, but the general trend my classes and the news has shown me is that America’s economy in the past two decades has become increasingly pyramidal. Where there was once a bulge in the middle class, most of the wealth is moving upwards in the ladder. Average jobs are leading to worse lives (please correct me in the comments if this is just fear mongering by the media or if this is an actual trend).

We’re all working longer hours for less.

In short, the standard of living for the ‘average’ American citizen is shrinking. So the stakes in education are higher. Because education is the road to the upper class, right?

Standardized testing only adds salt to the wound. You’re regularly bombared with statistics that measure your odds of making it big. Well, statistics that claim to measure those odds. Grit and perseverance are better indicators of success than GPAs and test scores.

While I feel like this quote exaggerates a tad, it’s a good summarization:

If they aren’t straight A students who do awesome at extracurricular activities they’re looking at being on the wrong side of the gap. Hell, it’s not a gap it’s a chasm. You either go big or you’ll live paycheck to paycheck.

Numero Tres: We suck at expressing our thoughts clearly.

Again, it’s not surprising to me, but it’s very well explained by the Reddit community.

Essay writing should be taught in terms of “What’s your opinion on the given topic? How would you back that up with evidence? What do you think a counter-argument might be?”. Instead it’s taught as “This is an introduction paragraph. This is a conclusion paragraph. This is a body paragraph”.

I think my own education in writing was exceptional, but I come from a neighborhood renown for its education. In my college, I’ve seen countless professors lament the ability of their students to compose their thoughts in an organized, concise manner.

Having peer edited many other students’ work throughout the years, I’ve seen a massive dip in writing quality when the basic scaffolding is gone. When writing a paper abandons the ‘fill in the blanks’ in introduction, body, conclusion style and the writer needs to actually think and plan out a paper, it turns into an impassable jungle of words.

Reddit seems to think standardized testing is to blame, but that seems too simple of an answer for me…

Either ways, I have definitely seen first hand the horrors of college students having a very difficult time expressing their thoughts into words. We’re smart enough to understand and think of brilliant things, but if we cannot share our knowledge, what use is all this learning?

Obviously not all hope is lost. The world around us is evolving in exceptional ways, and the driven, conscious students of today can reach further than the driven and conscious students of yesteryear. That trend is hard to reverse.

But we as a community are slowly learning through mistakes after mistakes that average students are lacking in fundamental skills. Fundamental not to get rich, but to simply interact with the knowledge around us.

And that’s quite a shame.

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