Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Downside of Working in Higher Education

I’m not giving away any secrets when I say that many college students are in their late teens or early twenties. What you forget, as you get older, is just what the world looks like at that age.

I did (yet another) class observation today. The professor referred to the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996; from the student reactions, she could just have well have been talking about Cromwellian England. I was a little surprised until I did the math – 8 years ago, they were 10 or 11 years old. One male student, towards the back (I was almost directly behind him), spent most of the period text messaging on his cell phone. Having the dean behind him didn’t slow him in the slightest.

I don’t think of myself as old, but the students certainly do. (Remember how old 30 seemed at 18? Me neither.) Simply having conscious memory of major world events before the year 2000 makes me old to them.

On the way to my office this afternoon, I passed a male student in a blue oxford shirt, khakis, and bright red sneakers. There was an age at which I would have worn the same thing. You forget.

I envy them their forgiving metabolisms and their thick heads of hair, but not much else. In Plato’s Republic, Cephalus, a successful older man, tells his young charges that aging is actually liberating: the animal instincts subside somewhat, leaving you free to think before you act. I’m beginning to see the wisdom of that. As a professor, I could be leading a discussion on something I consider insanely interesting, and I’d wager that half of the male students of traditional age are spending the bulk of the period thinking about girls. You just forget. (This also explains the quality of some of their papers.)


Working around so many young people can be great, of course. But sometimes it just makes you feel old.