All This Thinkiness About Student Shaming Is Missing the Point

by Gordon Haber

Here’s the backstory:

  1. Vitae started a column, “Dear Student,” in which professors kvetch about the irritating things that students do every single semester, like not bothering to buy the textbook or not showing up to class.
  2. Some guy says that he will no longer write for Vitae because said column is “student-shaming.”
  3. Someone else says that the real problem is the culture of academia which encourages an adversarial relationship between teachers and students.
  4. More people weigh in with their brilliant chin-strokey thoughts until: (a) In the usual intellectual conflation of opinionating with problem-solving, they feel that by tweeting or commenting or blogging about the issue everybody can move on OR (b) Everybody gets pissed off about something else and moves on.
  5. Yours truly weighs in to ask: Since when has a little shame ever killed anybody?

But I have a larger point, one that nobody seems to be talking about. It’s that college students have not been prepared for college. They can’t write or read on a college level, they don’t know how to do research, they don’t know how to take responsibility for themselves. Because nobody has shown them how. The culture of testing and “teacher accountability” has created a generation of young Americans who haven’t learned how to learn.

College teachers furrow their brows and cogitate. How, they wonder, is this about us? What have my colleagues been doing wrong so I can tell them all about and thus present myself as a smartypants?

My own (hypocritically supercilious) opinion is that we’re pointing fingers the wrong way. The question is not how professors should comport themselves (even though many are indeed raging assholes). The issue is the dire need for a larger conversation about American education from pre-K to graduate school. The entire system is corrupt and broken and until we dig deeper we will continue to produce college graduates who can barely tie their shoes, let alone think independently or compose a coherent sentence.

Folks, let’s get over ourselves. It’s not about us. Or if it is, it’s about our collective responsibility to the young. I would love to hear from people who have ideas about that—about how maybe teachers from primary school to college can start exchanging information on how best to help their students. (We’ll keep the administrators out of it, because most of them are just looking to make a buck.)