This month, I started my second semester teaching part-time at the University of Missouri St. Louis. While it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a number of years, I confess to doubts when I walked into that first classroom. Would these students want to learn? Would they be capable of learning? Would they show up because they valued higher education or only because someone compelled them to be there?
It’s common for older generations to fret about the youth to whom we’ll eventually entrust our world. I heard my parents, aunts and uncles ask the same questions about my generation.
The good news? These concerns appear to be misplaced. Repeatedly, the young women and men in my classes have impressed me with their ability to absorb information and entertain new ideas. Yes, they have challenges. Many of them need to improve their writing and time management skills. But despite those challenges, I’m convinced this generation is just as hungry for knowledge – just as capable of learning – as my generation and those before us.
And that’s why I’d suggest my peers and I stop focusing on what we think the younger generation lacks and, instead, start focusing on ourselves. I suggest this change in focus because, seeing how well and how quickly today’s students learn, I worry that we, their elders, may be teaching them, by example, the wrong lessons.
There’s a phrase, “dine and dash.” It refers to the practice of eating at a restaurant and leaving before you pay the bill. That phrase was used in a recent Bloomberg editorial to describe the behavior of lawmakers who threaten to block our nation’s ability to borrow money to pay for our obligations. Those threats have been rendered harmless, for now, but I suspect they will return soon enough, brandished by legislators who have no problem dining and dashing; who are quick to approve expenditures for which they later refuse to pay.
Of course, we don’t have to go all the way to Washington for examples of individuals who play games with other people’s money. Recall the recent case of the former president of the Missouri History Museum. After a questionable real estate deal, payments of $567,000 for unused vacation time, and then resigning under pressure, he was awarded a $270,000 consulting contract. Is that fair or reasonable? Of course it’s not. And yet, some people have had the audacity to defend these decisions.
Even more recently, a St. Louis County audit of the Children’s Service Fund identified a number of issues, including the use of government purchasing cards for expenses that were labeled “excessive and not core to the operation” of the fund.
Sadly, there are many other such cases of questionable behavior, but I trust my point is clear: Before we start scolding the younger generation for not being as studious as we like to pretend we once were, we should first turn a bright light on our peers and ourselves and redouble our efforts to make sure we’re teaching the right lessons. The younger generation is watching us. Are we comfortable with what they see?