Freddie has a good post today about the nature of students and education. The main point is that students resist education, and that’s just generally the case. We talk about students as if they are eager to learn or something and that only obstruction or other kinds of impediments stand in their way. It’s a romanticized notion, but really looks to be very untrue. I don’t know what, if anything, the relevant literature says on this point. But I remember being in high school and even college, and I certainly don’t recall more than a handful of people who were actually interested in learning in itself. Those that were driven at all were driven for instrumental reasons: they thought good academic performance would translate into money.
I have one nitpick however with Freddie. Near the end he writes “to be useful in the education debate, you have to imagine your average student, in any level of education, as you do the average person.” Strictly speaking that’s not true. A college student is not an average person. They are much richer than an average person, among other things.
That caveat aside, I think the advice about imagining an average person is good advice. Freddie suggests we imagine them as an average person for the purposes of thinking about the best way to teach them. I think this advice can be expanded for the purposes of thinking about who students are and whether the left’s hysterical obsession with students makes any sense. I don’t think it does. I suspect one of the reasons people think it does is because they have this totally romanticized idea about what actually-existing students are like. I have been around students for all my life at this point, and there is nothing particularly redeeming about most of them. There are some radical leftists (the only kind of students that exist in the left’s imagination). There are plenty of Obama liberals. There are a bunch of obnoxious libertarians. And there are droves and droves of Greek system students who are just horrible.
That’s fine of course: there are plenty of any group of people who are horrible people, but that doesn’t affect what they are owed as a matter of justice. However, I think we’d have a more balanced discussion about student stuff if we imagined an average student as a richer-than-average frat bro. How much cash should we be putting in his bank? And why does he deserve big cash grants when the poorer-than-average kid who is not at college doesn’t? I can’t quite figure that out, but that is the standard left position at this moment, oddly enough.