Originally Posted by patrickBOOTH
You often speak of students being somewhat incompetent. What, in your opinion, is the reason? Are they lazy, or are students getting stupider?
In the etymology case, I honestly don't know why they went wrong. It's possible that they don't know dictionaries have etymologies along with the definitions.
I don't want to make this a bitching session about students, because I don't have a strongly negative attitude toward them generally. Sometimes I just post about cases that drive me nuts, but those don't always represent the norm.
But if I were to isolate a couple deficiencies that I'm seeing more and more, they'd be these:
1. They don't know how to read well. They can't follow a chain of reasoning over the course of a number of paragraphs. Indeed, they don't seem to recognize that the text is an extended chain of reasoning. Instead, they look for isolated bits of information scattered throughout the text, sort of like an Easter egg hunt. I'm sure they've learned to do that at earlier levels of education, but it absolutely doesn't work for reading most university level texts. Also, what they pick up from texts is a very general emotional tone. So for example, if they read a paper where X disagrees with the thesis of Y for reasons a, b, and c, they will experience that text as "X was bashing Y." I try very hard to get them out of that habit, but I have not met with a lot of success, to be honest.
2. Short attention spans. Of course young people are always going to have some difficulty focusing their attention for long stretches of time, but I've really noticed a decline in the time I've been teaching.
3. A tendency to view thinking as a kind of aesthetic self-expression. In other words, preferring this or that theory is sort of like enjoying this or that indie rock band. Related to this, they tend to think of their opinions as something they have a "right" to. Well of course they do, but no one is denying that! What's at issue is whether their opinions are true, or whether they can provide compelling arguments in defense of them. But when you ask them to defend their points of view, they sometimes seem confused at what you're asking of them. They're just expressing themselves. Again, I'm sure they're learning this mode of discourse somewhere else in their educational histories, but I don't know where. It's a real obstacle to good thinking, though.