Thursday, October 26, 2006

What is wrong with these people?

By third year of university, I had assumed (very wrongly) that students had acquired some capacity to think intelligently and analyze documents in a somewhat sophisticated way. Oh my. How stupid of me. Forgetting for a moment about cases of sheer laziness and uncaring, the essays I have marked so far---more than 50 of them---have nearly universally displayed a real lack of critical faculties on the part of their authors. These students have almost no sense of what history is all about, and, more problematically, they have almost no ability to present a reasoned argument based on provided evidence and rational thinking. For example, so many students have argued that Stalin was to blame for the Cold War in 1946 because his communist ideology was anti-capitalist. End of argument. I realize that these students may not have studied that much history before, but they surely know at some level that Stalin hadn't just picked up on this in February 1946! Don't they realize that they need to ask themselves, What changed in 1946 as opposed to 1917 or 1928 or . . . .? So many students focus on Soviet actions without seeming to think that perhaps they should also think about US actions . . . and yet they accuse the historians they read of being "one-sided" in their interpretations. Do they not realize that they are the ones being one-sided? Is is just haste in completing the assignment? If I pointed this out to them, would they see it?

I could go on, but I guess one point I want to make here is this: these students could really benefit from having tutorials. No, I didn't have tutorials after first year during my undergrad, but then I also had smaller classes and 3 hours of lecture a week. These students only get 2 hours. They can't be irretrievably stupid, can they? I'd like to think they just need some good educatin'. And one way of getting that is to confront them with their own assumptions in small settings. This is not going to happen, at least not in this class. How frustrating.

Part of me also thinks that a lot of students are simply incapable or unwilling to think critically in the way that scholars should. And so what the hell are they doing in university in the first place. But that's very unegalitarian of me.

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