Saturday, February 7, 2009

Time Periods

We've been outlining the literary time periods in class, looking at historical events and the philosophic discussions of the time that emerge in literature and art.  A hopeful way of focusing on the big ideas rather than the details (which seem hard for my aging brain to hold on to anymore!).
Made me consider the eras I've lived through.
After a couple of  years it seemed clear that school children tend to distill the national conversation to broad axioms as they parrot what they hear at home - using pithy arguments to bolster their own when they are trying to make a point.  Looking back on 30 years, I see definite trends.
When I first taught in the late 70's, many kids would, at some point or another, declare "I've got my rights!"  I heard this many times from students, usually when they were in trouble over one infraction or another.  It was their version of the civil rights discussion.
Gone from the classroom through most of the 80's I have no idea what emerged as the comment-du-jour ("I want big hair!" ?)  but for the last dozen years I've heard the same refrain: "I want to be rich!"  If I had a dollar for every time a student stated this as their goal....  
Along with that statement was the unstated: "I'll be rich at any cost."  With the current meltdown, and the tide going out as Warren Buffet mentioned, it seems that many fortunes were made just that way: any way - cheating, inflating worth, passing the buck, etc. etc.  In the classroom cheating has soared as getting into a good college in order to get a good job and there fore get rich became the over arching goal.  Its been kinda hard to make the learning-for-learning's-sake argument when worth has been measured in dollars for so long.
I think this "I want to be rich" refrain has just come to a screeching halt.


  1. I want big hair!!! LOL

    Interesting post--as a long-timer, like you, I noticed a shift in purpose, or perhaps a sense of entitlement over three decades.

    Scholar David Labaree says that there have been three purposes of schooling in America: first, democratic equality (the common school) serving everyone; second, social advancement (job training, schooling for business interests); third, credentialing (which is masked as a meritocracy, where the most deserving get the best schooling).

    I think his thinking aligns with yours, in this post.

  2. Ha! Thanks for the point toward Labaree. I need to check him out. I'm hoping the next remark from students is "Where can I serve my community best?"
    That will be a real revolution in thought.

  3. So much for rugged individualism, Ayn Rand run amok among the junior capitalists, eh?

    Lately, I've been seeing lots of pushback against Obama's campaign remarks on community organizing and community service themes. "Forced labor" talk, you know? That's not to say that a lot of service learning projects haven't beeen poorly thought out.