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Marissa Lingen

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If you can deal with the snow and the dog, get on my lawn. [Apr. 17th, 2014|09:11 am]
Marissa Lingen
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Kids these days: they are pretty great and you should buy them an ice cream (sorbet if they don’t do dairy).

Nobody ever sells articles that say this, despite it being true–or at least as much true as a percentage as it ever was–and look, here’s another article, this one from Slate, about how horribly broken the youth of today are, especially compared to my day, which was filled with whimsy and wonder, which, as we all know, is way better than fun and excitement. Sorry, kids, that was a quote from when the Simpsons was a TV show instead of a shambling corpse. Sorry, kids, that was an attempt to slam the Simpsons from before zombies were cool. I’m all better now. Point is: back in my day, we had whimsy and wonder and fun and excitement, although of course not as much as in the Baby Boomers’ day, because they invented all those things. Unless you ask the Lost Generation, in which case, hoo! look out Emperor Nero! And so on until you get back to Hesiod, and let’s face it, nobody had a Back In My Day like that dude.

I’m wandering, aren’t I? It happens with age. Especially Hesiod’s age. Aaaanyway.

Point being: this Slate author Rebecca Schuman teaches college students sometimes, and they do not invite her to join in their reindeer games, which proves that no college students have any reindeer games, due to them sucking, but even that is not because of them because young people have no agency ever (LIKE DUH, keep up), it’s because of us because we ruined them (POSSIBLY PERMANENTLY) with our helicoptering. Also, a survey of what people think are the “weirdest schools” is a totally accurate way to find out what weirdness people are having in their own personal schools and free time and stuff. Because, like, college students in Arizona, if surveyed, will know about my college-age friend’s shenanigans in Massachusetts. They are that epic. Oh, the shenanigans she has. They shenan, and then they go back and….

Sorry, right, the point is: I am friends with actual college students. Not, like, tons of them. But some. Enough to know that sensawunda, as we call it with solemn respect in the science fiction and fantasy writing genres, is alive in their lives. Even if they do not display it on command to random people who teach their classes. You can picture it: “Do you, like, have parties where the admission is a can of moss?” she demands eagerly. “Uh, nooooo,” say her students, thinking, oh God, let me get away from this crazy professor, I have to finish my paper so that I can figure out how to get the layers in my hair dye the way I want them before we yarn-bomb the quad.

“Someone’s got to help these damn kids today goof off more creatively,” she says, and I say: sit the hell down, Rebecca Schuman. The last thing “these damn kids today” need is another intervention from you. They are fine. They are doing their own thing. It is not your thing. Has help with whimsy ever actually helped? Ever? Back. Off.

Oh, and also? I once snapped at a Boomer age friend, “Just because college cost $5 when you went doesn’t mean it does now,” and guess what? The incredibly expensive college costs from when I was in college? That swamped people my age in student loans? Are starting to look like $5 compared to what these damn kids today are paying. So if you’re feeling like these damn kids today are just not doing enough goofing off, maybe hovering over them with narrow notions of whimsy is completely unhelpful, and maybe you should kick in for a scholarship for one of them or buy one dinner so that they have five minutes in which to goof off. Or pay them to do some chores for you or something. Because a lot of the stress you’re seeing is because they are trying to WORK while doing ALL THE CLASSES so that they are not still in debt to the student loan folks when they have to start paying for nursing home care. But yelling at them that they are not doing a good enough job at fitting in their REQUIRED WONDERMENT with their work and classes is not what we in realityland call helpful.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


[User Picture]From: hobbitbabe
2014-04-17 02:59 pm (UTC)
We had a prof give us that rant when we were in third year. "You're too serious! You don't know how to have fun! When I was a student we spent all fall going to football games and in the winter we didn't start studying for exams until the ice was gone from the harbour! If you do something amazing I will buy you champagne!"

So we did something amazing. And slid our declaration under his office door. And it slid all the way to under his desk where he didn't find it for two days. But then, to be fair, he applauded us in class and bought champagne for the ringleaders.

I agree with you about kidsthesedays, by the way.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-04-17 03:09 pm (UTC)
"We didn't start studying for exams until the ice was gone from the harbour!...now, your paper will be due on Thursday, and next week we'll have a quiz on the following chapters...."

That's unfair to your specific prof, I know.
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[User Picture]From: hobbitbabe
2014-04-17 03:11 pm (UTC)
Not very ...
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-04-17 03:13 pm (UTC)
Ah. The self-awareness fairy does not make nearly as many visits as she ought.
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2014-04-17 03:27 pm (UTC)
The "kids these days" genre is a well-worn one, yah. (Good use of Hesiod, btw. Plato has... Very similar tendencies. "Oh! If the world was only unspoiled, as it was in times of yore!" Blech.)

Edited at 2014-04-17 03:48 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2014-04-17 04:36 pm (UTC)
I take great comfort in knowing we have a cuneiform text wherein some guy complains about kids these days having no work ethic or respect for their elders -- not like back in his day.
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[User Picture]From: leahbobet
2014-04-17 08:07 pm (UTC)
I love it.
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[User Picture]From: fidelioscabinet
2014-04-17 10:54 pm (UTC)
It shows up in papyri as well. What you might call a tried and true traditional genre.
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[User Picture]From: daharyn
2014-04-17 03:46 pm (UTC)
I think that Rebecca Schuman, whose work I generally appreciate, is maybe trying to get at something more specific here. I hear you, I really do, on the urge to make negative statements about millennials. I see people doing it all the time, and I have caught myself doing it, and I think it's just another variation on a long-running theme.

What I feel like Schuman is getting at, though, is that students at elite schools (remember, she's basing this on a trip home to alma mater Vassar, which is kind of a specific demographic, defined not in the least by the idea that "college age" kids are all 18-22 years old, which is not at all true in the United States) are less risk-averse than she herself remembers being at their age.

She's in her late thirties. So okay, she graduated college at a time when jobs were far more plentiful (especially for fancy Vassar graduates) than they were when I graduated college, or than they are today. There was more economic (and therefore cultural) room for risk at that point, and there was a greater belief in the power of the American meritocracy--that a shiny degree that said Vassar on it in big letters would help you get your foot in the door somewhere. Today there is less room for risk on all fronts, and students at schools like this are hanging on to the idea of a meritocracy despite realizing that it won't come through for most of them.

So she sees students attending her alma mater--home, apparently, to many late-Nineties hijinks--and says they are "less creative." That's not at all true. But I DO think it is fair to say that current students of this particular demographic are more risk-averse. Mine certainly are. In a classroom setting it can be very easy to misread that as lack of creativity, and I will tell you, it took me a couple of weeks this semester to see that I was misinterpreting one particular student's behavior. (I have a very small class of three students right now.) The thing is, I think it makes sense, when college can cost so much and is no longer a guaranteed return. There's no incentive to take risk in such an environment.
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[User Picture]From: daharyn
2014-04-17 03:48 pm (UTC)
TL; DR: it's not about a lack of creativity, it's the economy, stupid.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-04-17 03:49 pm (UTC)
That certainly seems like a fair assessment for a fair number of the students she's seeing. I wish that she'd done the thoughtful analysis you've done on it, rather than jumping to millennial-bashing.
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[User Picture]From: daharyn
2014-04-17 04:01 pm (UTC)
Yeah, me too, but I do understand the gut impulse--it can be hard to check.

My students are similar to those at Vassar in some ways--same age group, same predisposition to academic/intellectual achievement. But they are ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, and they are studying in an urban environment, and they will all graduate with zero college debt. So you'd think they'd actually be less risk-averse in some ways, compared to Schuman's anecdata. But they all know it's going to be harder for them to find a sound footing in the work world, and that's with the leg up of a free honors B.A. So my students aren't doing crazy stuff, because they're all too busy interning in the fields they want to find jobs in. That's another part of this--that the path to economic security has gotten a lot longer in the past fifteen years.

But Schuman writes better vitriol than I do. "Kids these days are cautious because you, the reader, ruined their economic futures via neoliberal global capitalism" doesn't get click$.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-04-17 05:14 pm (UTC)
The other thing is: I have very distinct memories of a conversation with one of my profs, after an older friend from the same department graduated, in which it became clear that my concept of Older Friend as having "crazy schemes" attached to his name as an obvious concept, was not at all the prof's concept. Despite the prof being a young, cool prof with sympathy for the said crazy schemes. Despite the friend not being what I would call subtle about his crazy schemes. And what I learned from that at the time is that sometimes we compartmentalize even when we're not conscious of doing it. I honestly don't think my friend spent his four years in that department thinking, "I'll make sure I keep my crazy scheme tendencies a secret from Paul!" But it happened that way anyway.

And add to that the risk aversion tendencies discussed, and I think you've got a very strong case that Schuman will be the last one to know.
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[User Picture]From: sprrwhwk
2014-04-18 05:22 am (UTC)
Yeah, this. Even a decade ago, we felt more secure -- I had the great misfortune to escape school in 2008, ie. right as the economy came crashing down, again. The undergrads I interact with these days know they have a bad hand but are playing it for everything it's worth because what the fuck else are they going to do?

All I can do is donate to student aid at my alma mater, pay my taxes, and take on interns as my job allows. (I have my first intern, this summer, and I am looking forward to the experience -- I expect it to be a learning experience for us both. :-)
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[User Picture]From: daharyn
2014-04-18 02:49 pm (UTC)
In addition to donating specifically to financial aid, which is what everyone who gives to their alma mater should be doing right now, it's also good to find ways to donate to particular student services. If you can give to your school's careers office, that WILL help students. (It is best to call the careers office and find out how you could do it, rather than call your school's development office...)

At my alma mater at least, we can also give to the careers office through mentoring and internships, so yeah, people should do that. At 32 I find I don't have enough of a career to be a mentor to anyone (stayed in grad school too long), but I think getting your first intern is super impressive.</p>

When I win the lottery, a bunch of it will be set aside as a gift to my alma mater's disability services office. No office did a better job of both helping me through school and giving me skills for after graduation.

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[User Picture]From: wshaffer
2014-04-17 04:06 pm (UTC)
I received more than one lecture from a college prof about how my generation weren't anarchic and rebellious enough, and I'm basically Schuman's age. Perhaps Schuman was out gathering moss when her profs were delivering those.

Also, very little of the best goofing off I did in college (browsing the library stacks for classic SF novels, playing guitar in jam sessions in the squash courts in the dorm basements, and cooking dinner with friends in my tiny apartment kitchen) would have been perceptible to any random outsider visiting the quad on a Saturday afternoon.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-04-17 05:15 pm (UTC)
Or perhaps they were lecturing her about gathering moss when she should have been rolling stones. Who knows, even.
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[User Picture]From: ckd
2014-04-17 05:19 pm (UTC)
Back in my day, staring at a screen *was* being a goofing-off weirdo. I just lucked out when this "Internet" thing started to be worth real money....
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2014-04-17 05:51 pm (UTC)
Goodness. The layers of Mris-snark in here are tiramisesque. I can see you building them. Even though this was a rant, it was fun to read.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-04-17 05:53 pm (UTC)
Tiramisesque! That's a lovely word. And I didn't even have to soak in all the kinds of booze to write it, I promise.
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[User Picture]From: genarti
2014-04-17 08:27 pm (UTC)
I am standing up and applauding this whole thing. (I haven't clicked through to read the article yet, but as a generalized rant directed at similar sentiments I occasionally see -- yeah.)
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From: sheff_dogs
2014-04-17 09:53 pm (UTC)
Yeah indeed!
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From: thoughtdancer
2014-04-17 10:14 pm (UTC)
Lost Generation Represent!

Also, excellent rant. I've seen that midst, and I hate ageism, in all its forms. I note that my husband is 18 years my junior, and we first became friends when he was finishing up college.

Not all of us college Profs failed to actually learn about our students. But I not that I was run out of my profession, in part because I defended the students's culture (even as I raged about their writing).
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[User Picture]From: thistleingrey
2014-04-18 01:31 am (UTC)
One merely pops corn when Schuman sets out to write about school, students, instructors, etc. She wrote one fairly recently about how disappointing the digital humanities are as an interdisciplinary non-event, more or less (I'm not refinding the page to paraphrase her more nearly). Meh.
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[User Picture]From: rubel
2014-04-23 06:33 am (UTC)
Ugh. It sounds like boomeritis on parade. Seems to just keep sliding down the generations.

Why is it so hard for everyone to remember being kids?
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2014-04-27 07:30 pm (UTC)
Or to admit that they don't, for that matter.

I don't remember much about being an actual child (which I know is a different age group), and one of the things this means is that I am cautious about making statements about childhood or how to relate to children. How the hell would I know?
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