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a monk in disguise

I am a bit dismayed. I cannot shake the feeling that the academy is a calling, not a job. I had a job before - it was a bit soul crushing. Granted, I do not work in the USA anymore, so things are probably easier for me.


One way to manage these feelings of dismay is to acknowledge that the way that students obtain and process information has fundamentally changed. This might mean that we need to change the expectations we have of students and try to adapt to the way they learn. In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates argued that the new technology of writing things down would ruin our capacity to remember, as we would come to rely on the written word. Now, we lament that students don't rely on the written word, but on various sources of media.


I suspect some portion of this is that students, in general, are not doing okay. The number of students facing what I consider traumatic situations skyrocketed during and following the pandemic. And these are just the ones who disclosed it to me. To expect students to be unchanged in the present world environment not reasonable. Many of them are just trying to do the best that they can with what little opportunity there is. They are facing the prospect of global climate collapse and migration, resurgence of fascism at home and abroad, not to mention ordinary stresses that come with being a human being (like grief, illness, etc.) All while inflation rages, wages stagnate, and money flies out the door for war. I would say we need to ask how we can best support students given their new educational needs, and how faculty can begin to work against admission policies that are detrimental to students and faculty alike.

Greg Stoutenburg

This was one of the reasons I left higher education, at least as a full-time faculty member.

Bill Vanderburgh

I seem to recall my parents' and grandparents' generation making the "kids these days" complaint, too. Some of it is probably an illusion of perspective (we were the ones at the top of the academic success pyramid, so our experiences as students were not reflective of the average, even in our day). Some of it probably just tracks ordinary cultural changes (i.e., maybe it isn't functional illiteracy, maybe it is a cultural shift, as Anon describes).

It would be pretty surprising, too, if students who completed a large portion of high school during the pandemic were NOT affected by that. (And for what its worth, most people I know are "not okay" after living through that period either--that could be part of what OP is feeling, as well.)

If you want to restore your sense of calling, maybe reconceive your work as doing what you can to help save this generation from the effects of those lost years and the attendant social, psychological, and educational deficits.

I'd add, there might be no time since WWII when philosophy was more important to individual lives (for the reasons MileageMayVary cites). For me, recognizing this sort of thing has made me much less interested in the highly technical philosophy I did at the beginning of my career and far more interested in the ways philosophy can help improve lives. I'm finding that much more fulfilling.

They say, don't they, that a good teacher is one who meets students where they are, and helps them grow. To the OP, if you want students to have the skills you list, those skills need to be taught and nurtured.

Asst Prof

Students in general are entering my R2, regional state school in the US with fewer reading, writing, and studying skills over the past four to five years. I expect that a significant part of the explanation for this relates to poor education they received in their formative high school years during the pandemic.

Thus, I am trying to change my assignments to help them develop these skills in my classes: note-taking assignments, reading comprehension assignments, short writing assignments rather than long essays, no electronics allowed, etc. Chat-GPT has limited the kinds of assignments I feel comfortable assigning as take-home, so I'm doing more in-class work.

I take myself to be doing remedial education when I teach in this way, and I hate it. But it has to be done: my job is to educate, and you can't teach students to do things that they don't have the baseline skills to do.

The problem is that my good students are not challenged by these assignments. I'm still figuring that piece out.

I suppose that as the pandemic school closures become more distant, classes of students who received better high school educations will start to populate more and more of the university classes. We can hope.

Prof L

I'm not of the opinion that this is just general "kids these days" hand-wringing, or that students have had it particularly hard ... I think the ways in which they've had it hard are precisely that they've become accustomed to low expectations and leniency, so much so that they cannot motivate themselves to do what is required. Some (a minority) are fantastic (at my R2) but a significant number (10-15%?) are really messed up in the sense that I doubt they can finish a class or hold down a job. We are doing them no favors by continuing to "cut them some slack" ...

Some strategies ... Tie their grades to the things you really want them to do. I do fewer assessments (papers, exams) and more graded assignments like reading responses or reading quizzes. I grade lots of short, in-person writing assignments. I require attendance and deduct points for every class they miss. The result is that showing up and doing the work is rewarded generously, and that not showing up and not doing the work is reflected in the grade. That in-person time is precious and I see myself as trying to help them build the skills that they need to succeed in the "real world" ... most basically, showing up and taking responsibility.

I also ban screens/devices, and that helps a bit, with exceptions allowed only with a documented accommodation.

Early Career TA

I am a TA in my third year of a philosophy graduate program at an R1 state university. I'm not that far in age from many of these undergraduates (23), and yet I also find myself shocked and discouraged by the very things OP describes.

I find that in almost all classes I have TAed for (mostly Intro), >50% of students using laptops are doing something not related to the class (gaming, social media, shopping, even work for other courses). That number is not an exaggeration; I have counted. Why do they even come to class? The only reasons I can think of are: 1. They somehow think they will passively absorb the information, or 2. There is some form of penalizing for not showing up (pop quizzes, in-class assignments, etc.). I used to think banning technology in the classroom was overly paternalistic, but I now think it is necessary for the benefit of the students.

I don't have a ton of evidence for this, but I also suspect that there is real grade inflation going on in high schools. At least at my large state R1 university, the admitted class size is growing every year even as the average GPA and SAT are increasing. Since we all seem to be noticing a decline in basic academic skills, I am skeptical that the increase in GPA and test scores is really due to a genuine increase in ability. Rather, I suspect that higher grades are rewarded for much less effort. (I do not know how to explain the higher SAT and ACT scores, though). I think many undergraduates in my university are simply not ready for university in any capacity, but their high schools gave them so many A's in AP and Honors classes that their GPA reflects otherwise.

But this post was about coping with this reality and not an explanation for it. I can testify that TAs feel this dismay as well. It is especially frustrating grading 100 papers where the effort is so little that you don't want to leave comments since you know they will be effectively ignored. I think most of us are encouraged by the few students who are genuinely interested and try, hoping that we will meet many more students like them in our future careers. For the rest, we try to brush it off as an unfortunate but unchangeable reality.


Not a panacea, but banning laptops and other devices (except with a documented disability) helps a bit. Some will hate you for it; I try to make the case by citing some literature that shows the distracting effect of laptops not just on the person immediately in front of them but also on their neighbors.

Of course, when I do this, I face a new problem: students just getting up and going to "the bathroom" for a very long time in the company of their phones. I don't want to officially monitor the bathroom habits of adults, so I'm not sure how to respond to this version of the problem...


Here is a review I received recently on Ratemyprofessor which says everything you need to know about students. Note that, based on this review, the student gave me a "2" for Quality and "3" for Difficulty (out of a max of 5). (Note how low my Quality score is in relation to what's written about my actual teaching ability. So what counts as quality has little to do with the teaching and how good I am at that!)

**This professor is ok. He is very interesting and really makes you think philosophically about things. The only thing I would really grade him negatively on is that he does not let you use laptops in class and does not let you take your tests home. I feel like he is kind of a Luddite**


For those who resort to using class time to have students do the reading and/or write essays, how much material do you cover in a typical semester? I ask this honestly. If I did this with my students, I imagine we'd cover something like 5 to 8 readings over the course of an entire term.

Just Reporting Experience

I'm at an R1-equivalent university in the UK. I also have taught on our large first year classes for years and I wanted to add a sense of my experience just to provide more evidence on this issue.

I have not experienced any significant change in the abilities, motivation, focus, or any other attribute of students over the last few years.

If anything, I've found the students are getting BETTER. More engaged, more willing to work, more motivated. Sure the pandemic has had its effect on some, and the cases of lack of confidence/less than good skills might now be the fault of the pandemic. But those students were always there. They only stand out more now as the reason for them being weaker is the same for all/many of them.

There is the issue of student mental health. That is worse than it was, and so likely is the mental health of most of the population post-covid. Again, though, I think some of this is more reporting as students have less stigma attached to asking for help/admitting there is a mental health issue.

Overall impression I have: far less negative than many in this thread. Things have shifted, but not significantly and not always for the worse. I suspect we are as teachers more aware of these issues, and we forget that there were always weak students, and forget the huge undiagnosed mental health problems that have existed for ever (or at least for a very long time). Anyway, that's my impression from my teaching courses with over 1500 students over the last 5/6 years.

academic migrant

On grade inflation, in my last job we had a policy that we need to hand out grades at least as high as the department next door, so that students may pursue philosophy rather than something else as their major. This is because student numbers directly reflect funding. We also have an interesting policy at the university level: lecture attendances cannot be marked, tutorials can only have an absent/present mark. This translates to: insofar as you come to tutorials even empty handed, we cannot fail you.

We thus get students who come to tutorials.

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