The horrible twenties

A fair number of the students I teach may then not know why they are in college (having given really no thought to it).  They are just there, as that student put it, in a kind of robotoid state on automatic pilot not wanting or seeking any larger or greater purpose to their situation than to get boschthrough it with as little strain and as quickly as possible so they can get onto whatever the next step is supposed to be.  

Once upon a time I used to give the students a you-really-don’t-know-what-you-have-got-speech.  College, I would say, that’s nothing.  College is a snap.  For all the talk of being stressed out, you are walking on the sunny side of the street.  College—you will look back upon its horrors and terrors—once you get out there into your 20s—quite fondly.  You have not been to hell—I pour it on—until you are in your 20s.

Have you even thought about it?  About getting a job?  And finding out it sucks?  Or getting a job and then losing it and having to move back in with your parents?  26 years old and living with your parents?  Can you imagine that?  It’s enough to make you get married to the wrong person, no less?

So as you round the curve towards 30, you will have probably gone through a couple of jobs, a couple of relationships, and maybe a marriage.  Possibly along the way you will have become addicted to something and had to go through detox.  You will have contracted herpes or venereal warts.  If you are a woman your butt will have started to sag and if you are a man your gut will. If you are lucky, you will have a job you can at least stand, no children, and not buried up to your necks in debt.  Because this is America.  It’s dog eat dog and devil take the hindmost.

You haven’t seen shit yet.  I pray for your sake that your parents have the money to help you buy a house because you won’t get one otherwise, and oh, you should call your parents tonight and make sure they have taken care of their old age because the last thing you want is to feel that you have to take care of them at about the point you are trying to send your two irresponsible ungrateful brats off to college.

I stopped giving that speech though because all it seemed to do was bleak them out.  They would sort of sit there with their mouths agape.  Sometimes I wonder if anybody has ever bothered to talk to them straight.  Tell me I am wrong, I said, tell me I am wrong.  But they couldn’t.  And from stuff I started to read I realized I wasn’t making it up.  I was too close to the truth. 

Articles were appearing, informed by the ruminations of concerned sociologists, about how many young people had to go home after college.  Getting that first and last months rent together, plus a cleaning deposit, plus trying to keep the car going and having suitable clothes for work or the job search—well, students had to reply on my ma and pa for continued support.  And the idiot sociologists were concerned that this move back to ma and pa would interrupt or somehow distort the life process of young people.

I call the sociologists idiots because it was clear to me in 1985 that adolescence had been prolonged into the late 20s and early 30s.  We have come a long way from Rousseau who pegged adolescence as lasting six weeks.


I don’t want to…

After I have practically pinched, poked and prodded myself into a stupor, finally one still small voice off in the corner of the room (in response to my question what does being lazy feel like) says, “It’s like you just don’t want to.” That’s all it takes.  An honest voice can cut through a ton of bullshit.  I cosbynot only know what that means, I can feel it.  I just don’t want to because it bores me and makes me feel stupid and I can see no purpose for doing it in the first place and it’s not that I have better things to do or places to go or people to meet.  I just don’t want to do it.  And when I do it I feel like I am walking knee deep in molasses straight into a swamp which potentially has no end.

I just don’t want to do it.

That’s what concerns me.  That many students just don’t want to do it.  Don’t want, I mean, to be in college or to go to stupid lectures or write dumb papers on stuff they know little or nothing about and would prefer to go on nothing little or nothing about.

I tumbled to this some time in the late 80s.  I volunteered to spend an hour with groups of incoming freshmen as they cycle through campus during orientation.  I would meet with 20 of them in some overheated dorm area, and they would be completely worn out from having spent the day trying to figure out how to enroll in classes.

I tried to be entertaining and made up one of my surveys asking them such things as why they had decided to come to college a) to get a job b) to get a career c) to meet your mate and so on and so forth with a list of about everything I could think of.  Then we would walk through the list and make jokes about things like trying to find a mate or maybe get a little discussion going about the difference between a career and a job and what that might be.

But one time no sooner had I handed out the survey, than one guy in the back raised his hand and said he didn’t understand these questions at all.  I wondered if he could be more specific.  Well, he said, these questions seemed to imply—all of them–that they had made decisions about going to college for this or that specific reason.  And he continued, that wasn’t the case.  They were there because they were supposed to be there; not because they had decided to be there.  They had been raised to be there and were there because everybody they knew was there.

So I said, you think most of the people in this room have been set up to go to college from such an early age that they have never even thought about why they are going or about not going.  Something like that, he said.  Well, if that’s true, I blame the Cosby Show.  Do you remember that show?  Every time the head idiot would wear a new sweat shirt with the name of another college on it.  He was like a public service announcements for colleges everywhere.  So I blamed Cosby.  Everything and everybody on that show was so damned cute that Cosby ought to be ashamed of himself; putting that freaking ass delusion forward as something to aspire to.  Talk about your crappy role model.

I bumped into the kid outside and asked him what he planned to do.  He didn’t know.  His father was a lawyer and his mother was a teacher, and they both hated their work.  That’s a bitch, I said.  You bet, he said.


At some point in every quarter, I touch on the plagiarism issue.  I try to make this less a warning and more a discussion.  I don’t receive much plagiarized material.  But I do want them to know thatdentures the plagiarism police are more active than ever.  If my memory serves, faculty were ordered to report any instance of academic dishonesty.  But, hey, try ordering a faculty to do anything.  Still I wanted them to know more pressure was being applied from the top and that out there on the web are guys making money tracking down plagerized work.  I expect most of them know this stuff but maybe a few lost souls don’t.

On one survay—intended to open the plagiarism discussion, I asked, what reasons do people give for plagiarizing.  Students reported all sorts of reasons: want to get a better grade; don’t understand a damn thing so have to get something from somebody who does; procrastination; but the reason that popped up by far the most was “laziness.”  I have heard this laziness explanation for diverse student behaviors increasingly over the last 15 years.  In fact, there seems to be a laziness epidemic.

Honestly, I don’t understand what they are talking about.  How could laziness lead to an activity that might bring down academic—not to mention parental–wrath upon their heads?  Laziness does not want to be not lazy.  In the long run, given all the possible troubles that might arise from cheating, I argue that it would be lazier just to toss off a piece of crap and turn that in and get a C or something.

But no matter how I dig—this way and that—I can’t put my finger on what they mean by laziness.  Somebody will mention; it’s all those labor saving devices.  They have made us lazy.  And I will go, what the hell is wrong with a labor saving device.  And beside I argue laziness is a great american virtue.  Look at Rip Van Winkle; didn’t he sleep for 20 years or something.  Or Huck and Jim going down the river, idling away their time.  And while I may be wrong, but I believe we still have the longest summer vacations for school in the industrialized world.  Or take our so-called national past time:  baseball.  Practically a training ground for laziness.  Except for the pitcher who always seems excessively busy, the rest just stand around and spit.  Mostly nothing happens in a baseball game for a long time followed by sporatic outbursts of activity.  That don’t last very long.

But my students aren’t buying.  They are lazy.  And no doubt poor people engage in criminal activity because they are lazy.  But I don’t push that point.  I have pushed it before, and it so infuriates me to hear that people are poor because they are lazy that I am put off my feed for days and don’t want to talk to the students.

Instead I take another angle: you guys all must have really negative self-esteem or something if you are going around thinking you are lazy all the time.  Clearly you don’t feel good about being lazy (and what’s the point of being lazy if you don’t enjoy it) and in fact you seem to think it’s a kind of moral defect.  And I don’t get it partly because you students are among the apparently busiest students I have ever taaught.  If you were lazy, I would think you would look rested up, but instead, hell, many of you seem stressed out.

 All I want to do is get a conversation going.  But they don’t want to talk.

Politeness 101

And along with the fatigue factor I have the problem with those back to back classes of repeating myself.  I can’t remember what I said to one class so that I don’t repeat myself in the second. But for some unknown reason I am saying quite different things to these backs to backs.  Perhaps the first is sort of warm up for the second, where I get low down and dirty.  I don’t know.

But I do know I have asked students, no, I have told them, if I am repeating something I said before please let me know that’s what I am doing.  And not once, over 26 years, has one damn student said, hey, Tingle, you are repeating yourself; when I know for a fact that I have repeated myself because half way through whatever it is I am saying I will remember that I am repeating myself.  Lord knows, since they won’t say anything, how many times I have repeated myself without knowing it.

Not recently, but I would at one time give students a lecture in the first week about how it was their duty to tell a teacher when his fly was down.    Remedial politeness required it.  One day I was walking away from my class and looked down and my fly was open, and I was pretty sure I hadn’t stopped at the bathroom, so clearly my fly had to have been down during the class.

I got back to the office and zapped off a email to the entire class. Boy, did I let them have it about their failure to do their duty and about their apparent willingness to see me humiliated for an entire class without my knowing it.  What kind of people were they?  By the time of the next class, I had pretty much forgotten the fly thing though I ask if they had received my fly email, and one of them seemed sort of upset and said that she had not seen my fly down and as far as she was concerned it had not been down at all.  And a couple of others chimed in and said my fly hadn’t been down.

I said, you’re lying.  You guys are fucking with my mind.  Don’t fuck with my mind I said.  And then I laughed and said, you know, one quarter I had these two guys in my class.  They didn’t look alike really except maybe they both looked like skateboarders; and the first day of week of class, I screwed up somehow and I called, one guy Bob, when in fact the other guy was called Bob, and I called the other guy Dan when in fact the other guy was called Dan.

And the next class when I called out Bob’s name Dan said present and when I called out Dan’s name Bob said present.  And the next class they switched back to their real names and since neither of them said anything but their names the whole quarter that might make me remember one or the other, I just couldn’t figure out which was which.  I would call roll and say, you are really Dan, right, and not Bob.  But they wouldnot  say and down to the end of the quarter I didn’t know which was which.

And of course about half way through this story I realized that I was repeating myself.  I stopped and said, for God’s sake you were going to let me repeat that whole thing.  Didn’t I tell you to tell me when I repeat myself?  They said, no.