Our entire culture feels entitled, but men and women have different ways of expressing it.
In my experience here at the community college, men and women shift blame in equal measure. I have not found that men feel more entitled than women, at least not when it comes to what the college should be offering them or what an instructor’s role should be. However, there tends to be a difference in style and approach.
Some students look at us as a product they’re “buying” much the same way someone buys a service. It’s the professional’s job to “take care” of the problem, and the client is entitled to “quality customer service”. This makes for difficult conversations: “You don’t read enough. You need to improve your reading skills, and the only way to do that is to develop a regular reading habit.” Unlike doctors, we have no pills to prescribe.
Others look at us as adversaries. We’re “in the way” of the credential (note, this perspective does not equate the credential with the skill) they need. We offer hoops to jump through, including essays and tests. I have students every semester who are shocked to learn there’s no reward for “coming to class”, “handing everything in” or “trying your best”. Of course, they come from a system that rewarded exactly this. What’s shocking is that students stay this way one year into the game. They argue that the environment needs to adapt to them, and some of them think all they need to do is wait it out.
A third group, the smallest one, looks at us as people who have done the thing they aspire to doing. They feel we have information that’s useful, and they admit from the beginning that they have something to learn. You can tell who these people are very quickly, especially if you have them in a writing class. The writing of a person open to learning is immediately different from someone who thinks you’re his adversary or personal assistant.
The interesting part of observing contemporary students’ entitlement, for me, is in the concept and the style I perceive between the genders.
When a woman asks for concessions, the most usual reasons concern a family obligation or conflict with work.
She can’t make it on time because of her work schedule; of course, she signed up for a class whose schedule was no mystery. There’s also the challenge of childcare. I consistently have students who sign up for classes—often a full load—to start either right before or just after their delivery date. In ten years, I’ve probably had several dozen students ask if they can bring their children to class. Some of them just show up with the kids and pout when I explain it’s against college policy.
Virtually every semester, I’ll have a student tell me there’s too much homework for a mom of multiple children. She’s preparing for our nursing program, of course, and she can’t accept anything lower than an A. I’ll have data that show she’s reading at around ninth grade level. But my suggestion that she take a semester to work on reading skills is just unacceptable. “No one has ever told me I have a reading deficiency.”
To offer the flip side of these situations, I also consistently have students who sign up for a class to try it out. “Okay, so I’m working 45 hours each week and I have two kids. How many classes do you think I can handle at once? Which classes have the most homework? Math is easier for me than English. Should I take it first?”
Now, when men ask for special treatment, their style tends to be altogether different. Yes, I have had students who suffered serious traumas. But such students don’t feel entitled to anything. Often times, the ones who ask for concessions offer no reason at all. “I wasn’t able to get it done, so I’m wondering if you have extra credit opportunities.” Why should I offer you special treatment? “I’m not asking for special treatment!”
When they do have a reason, it’s often in the form of a riddle.
I’m really having lots of problems with my car right now.
I’m not able to use this website. It’s not cooperating with me.
I’m going to be applying for a job later on this semester.
I’m a lot better at writing when I don’t have to use paragraphs.
I started doing my research paper but I couldn’t find any information about India.
My family is going on vacation and I can’t get out of it.
The thing is, I’m not really into reading.
In fairness, women have also used the excuse of a long-planned vacation, and the occasional woman will wonder which college degrees are best for someone who hates studying. But this kind of stuff, and by a large margin, most often comes from men.
There’s one thing, however, that when it does come, always comes from a guy. I’m actually shocked by the amount of young men who maintain the philosophy that the world is being run by the Masons, the Illuminati or Big Brother. No amount of effort on this man’s part is going to change much of anything. Every single essay the guy writes is identical. Marilyn Monroe was killed by the conspiracy. The conspiracy is putting lies in the media. Books brainwash you because only certain people are acceptable to the conspiracy. He can prove it. Look at the publication date. If you add it together, it always equals some arbitrary number.
I asked one such student if he could tell me who Big Brother was. “Oh yeah,” he said, “It’s the union between the government and the corporations to make sure nobody finds out what’s actually going on.”
Would he be interested in learning who came up with the term?
“Yeah! That’s something I’m real interested in.”
He was failing the course, so I told him that he could dig himself out of the hole if he read 1984. He could then write me an essay that answered this question: “What was George Orwell afraid of in 1948? Why?”
He never did the assignment. His excuse? “Nobody has that book right now.”
True Community runs each Wednesday. Gint Aras explores his experiences as an instructor in a community college that serves a lower-middle to lower class district in Chicagoland.
Photo by Dr. Savage
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