So, the reason I decided I wanted to start blogging again was that I was goofing off on Youtube and came across this (a couple years old) piece apparently from Fox and Friends about a study (from LSU of all places) demonstrating that Mr. Rogers is responsible for the Sense of Entitlement so prevalent in Kids Today:
This infuriated me for a number of reasons, and I had no idea where/how to go about expressing this. And I thought to myself, "Gee, if only I had a forum for expressing this kind of anger in an articulate fashion! I ought to start a blog! Oh, wait, I have a blog. Only, I haven't done anything with it in more than a year, and when I last wrote, all I did was put my foot in it and post PSAs from YouTube." So, I deleted all the old posts, changed the theme, and put up an introductory blog entry. All preparatory to expounding exactly why it is that I got so angry about something Faux News said about Mr. Rogers three or so years ago (that is, half a decade after he died and PBS stopped airing his show).
First of all, there is the fact that I love Mr. Rogers and everything he stands for.
Second, there is the fact that my mom was probably the biggest fan Mr. Rogers ever had. I grew up on Mr. Rogers. I got my share of Bs and even the occasional C. I did not got to my professors at the end of the semester and explain that I really need an A, so could they just look my essays over and see if they can find a few extra points. This is not a value that Mr. Rogers espouses. He tells every child that s/he is special just by her/his being her/himself, but he also encourages intelligence, curiosity, and hard work. He just argues that a child is special even when s/he fails at a pursuit.
Third, there is the fact that it has always baffled me that Mr. Rogers was never the face of American Christianity. Christians in America are constantly laboring against this unflattering and often offensive vision of what they are supposed to be, espoused by non-Christians in America. This view is unfortunately not made out of whole cloth; it is based on the idiosyncrasies -- and often outright bigotry -- of very public Christian figures such as Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps, and Pat Robertson. So here is Mr. Rogers, a Presbyterian minister who advocates that "feelings are mentionable and manageable," that we should get to know and love our neighbors for their individual personalities and strengths, that there is joy in the simple action of stamping a foot and wonder in the process of manufacturing chairs, and instead of saying, "Here's a positive role model!", that voice of the Right, Fox News, accuses him of being singlehandedly responsible for ruining two generations of young people and actually calls him "evil." Sure, he's a square; but my generation actually values nerdiness, so that could be celebrated as a virtue. He was a successful and compassionate public figure for four decades, with an unwaveringly, though not overwhelmingly, Christian focus, and the same people who stick up for Pat Robertson roll over on him. Why not celebrate him?
Fourthly, there's the fact that there is a much more sensible explanation for why college students over the last five years or so have suddenly become so disengaged for the length of as semester and then ready to beg for "extra points" during finals week. It doesn't make sense that it's Mr. Rogers' fault since he's been on the air since the sixties. Hell, I've only been teaching college since 2003 and I can attest that this is a problem that, on the grand scale at which it currently exists, has developed since then. Certainly, there have always been students who goof off all semester and then freak out around finals time, but this systematic withdrawal for the duration of the semester followed by a request for "extra credit projects" after final grades have been calculated is new, strange, and widespread. I'd estimate that my husband and I each get this kind of response from 5%-10% of our students EACH SEMESTER. Those of you drawing bell curves at home are saying, well sure, those are your Fs and maybe some Ds. Not so. Most of them are Bs hoping to be "given" As. And let me clarify now, I've never "given" a grade in my life; grades are earned, As to Fs.
However, something has been happening more recently that corresponds to this change in college students' behavior: a certain flavor of education reform (you can read about it in the New York Times here). There is this idea that teachers must be held "accountable," which is a fine idea; unfortunately, it has been decided by a whole bunch of people who have privileged, private educations themselves and for the most part, no formal pedagogy training deciding that the only way to measure a teacher's success is by measuring the standardized test scores of his/her students. The result of this kind of policy (and it's bipartisan -- No Child Left Behind and The Race to the Top both fall into this category) is that students are taught that the only important thing about school is the scores they get on those one set of tests at the end of the year. There is no love of a process of learning, and thus low engagement throughout the school year. And then there is a mad scramble at the end of the year to get high marks on one set of tests. Of COURSE those students flounder in college, where so much is self-directed and where all the scores and all the class meetings count. Hopefully, after a semester or two, they figure it out, but it's unrealistic to expect that after twelve years of marking time until the Big Tests, students will suddenly be able to redefine the way they learn in a single semester. But I hope that most of them do, and that they find reasons to actually enjoy their classes after that. And when they do, if they're my students, I will personally sing them this.