Friday, December 11, 2015

Not a Day Care?

Recently, the president of a college in Oklahoma penned a note on the school's web site in response to a student who apparently complained about feeling victimized by a sermon there. Dr. Piper pointed out rather adamantly that higher education is for learning which often involves, by definition, sometimes feeling uncomfortable. He expressed the same frustrations felt by many in the field who daily struggle with the unreasonable expectations of students and others. As higher education has adopted business models along with that came a customer service orientation, not that this is always a bad thing. It can be a very good thing to improve one's services and meet the needs of customers. Sometimes, however, this progresses into an orientation of entitlement such that the customer may demand the product (a degree) with as little discomfort (dissonance or struggling) as possible, much as one might do when one purchases, say, shoes. This obviously flies the face of time-worn traditions in education since the time of Socrates. Further, those of us in the mental health professions know that any growth worth achieving is difficult, while the rewards of the struggle are enormous and life-altering.

In another part of the blogosphere, a student countered with her own message that the notion of the coddled college student is a myth. Ms. Sampath rightly points out that a great many students have real struggles having to do with overcoming trauma, discrimination, and harassment. She notes that today's student may be more vocal in their search for recognition and equality in education. There is truth in this, though I believe more so for the individual; group activism on many campuses is at an all-time low.

The two authors are both right though they capture trends in education from different vantage points. This should not be surprising since one is an administrator and one is a student, populations that often do not see eye-to-eye. We should listen carefully to both. Incorporating and adjusting to the student experience is paramount if we hope to remain relevant and just in our work. At the same time we need to uphold reasonable boundaries with respect to expectations or else we diminish our product, an educated and balanced citizen, substantially. Should we understand who our students are and how they best succeed? Absolutely. Should we allow their parents to schedule appointments for them, or lobby for a better grade? Positively not.

As with most things in life, the devil of this debate is in the details, and the truth is somewhere in between. Let's find it.