Reading blog posts like this one on "The unbearable privilege of cynicism", I often feel like I have something to say, but no real suitable venue for doing so. So I think it's time to dust off this blog and re-purpose it with various meta-reflections on my life as an academic, researcher, teacher, etc., in a context other than my personal blog which I don't necessarily need the world reading.
I think the author of the post linked above has basically gotten it right: People always like to hear "kids these days" lines delivered by people who fit an appropriate stereotype. So people like Srigley (whom I'll note I'd never heard of before this post, fwiw) have it easy:
"So Srigley becomes famous, basically, for complaining. And he's a hero. For complaining. For calling his students and his colleagues stupid and shallow. For this he's called brave."
It's hard to combat stereotypes. But one way to do so is to present alternative pictures.
I teach at a top UK university, one which attracts bright and motivated students who, in general, really want to be there doing what they are doing. I also have the benefit of getting to teach upper level courses (both electives and required courses), ensuring that my students already have some experience of being at university and some idea of what is required of them. So I know my experience cannot compare to someone who is, e.g., teaching in a US community college, or teaching semester after semester of intro/freshman courses. Nevertheless, here's what I've found: The vast majority of my students are eager, engaged, curious, and interested. When faced with utterly foreign material unlike anything they've done before, most of them respond by doing extra reading, putting in extra time, talking with their tutors and lecturers to try to understand what's going on. My 3rd year elective courses tend to be both specialized in nature and difficult in subject matter, and yet this seems to attract students rather than repel them. This year I introduced a new 3rd year formal logic seminar, a course the likes of which has not ever been taught at this university, as far as I know, and I ended up with nearly twice as many students as my initial "best-case scenario" number. Many of them were graduate students who audited the course simply for their own edification; but one of them is himself a 3rd year who is auditing the course because he was already taking a full course load and math and had no more available credits left. Over the course of the year, each student is expected to prepare to present the two-hour seminar on his/her own, twice, with the following weeks' presenter determined the previous week. Almost every single week, someone volunteered to be the next seminar leader; three people have done three seminars rather than the required two, and one of those three is one of the people who is only auditing!
Put in the right context -- an interesting, challenging course, with an interested and challenging lecturer -- students will not only meet your expectations but far exceed them.