Tuesday, February 21, 2006

There IS Such a Thing as a Stupid Question!

Apparently college students have no idea how to approach their professors. Blame it on email? The NYT does. In an article in today's issue, Jonathan D. Glater writes:

"Jennifer Schultens, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of California, Davis, received this e-mail message last September from a student in her calculus course: "Should I buy a binder or a subject notebook? Since I'm a freshman, I'm not sure how to shop for school supplies. Would you let me know your recommendations? Thank you!""

Um, hello? Has this child spent way to long with her parents telling her exactly what to do, all the time? And how did she get into UC-Davis without knowing how to buy school supplies?

Glater suggests that the consumer culture might be to blame. "While once professors may have expected deference, their expertise seems to have become just another service that students, as consumers, are buying. So students may have no fear of giving offense, imposing on the professor's time or even of asking a question that may reflect badly on their own judgment."

Take this guy for example: ""If the only way I could communicate with my professors was by going to their office or calling them, there would be some sort of ranking or prioritization taking place," said Cory Merrill, 19, a sophomore at Amherst. "Is this question worth going over to the office?"

So thinking before you speak is a bad thing? Maybe it's just me, but if the question is not worth going over to the professor's office, it's not worth bothering him with an email, either.

Granted, 18- and 19-year-olds, on the whole, are idiots. I know I was when I was that age. But at least I knew better than to ask a professor what kind of notebook to buy. Are we really raising a generation of kids so clueless, so self-involved, that they don't realize they have any negative effect on the lives of others? That they're making themselves look like idiots when they email the professor to say they skipped class because they were hung over? (Really!) I skipped plenty of college classes because I couldn't get out of bed, but I never emailed the professor to explain. And if an explanation were required, I'd make up something good! Don't want to lie? Fine, tell the whole truth: "I didn't come to class because what you were teaching was not as important to me as sleep/lunch/Wheel of Fortune reruns/whatever."

While I'm raising my boys to have a healthy lack of respect for the status quo, they'd damn well better keep in mind that everyone they come in contact with deserves as much respect as they'd like for themselves. The Golden Rule still stands, boys and girls. Teachers, fast-food workers, waitresses, the homeless, yes, even professors deserve to be treated with respect, simply because they're human beings. So ask someone who cares. Or better yet, keep your stupid questions to yourself.

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