Are Your Students Doing The Reading?

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Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/02/2024 - 1:04am in

And if they’re not, what can be done to get them to do it? Or is that the wrong way to think about it?

[Note: This was originally posted on February 16, 2024, 9:04am, but was lost when a problem on February 17th, 2024 required the site to be reset. I’m reposting it on February 18th with its original publication date, but I’m sorry to report that the comments, many of which contained helpful suggestions, may have been lost; I’m looking into the matter.]

These questions come up in response to a recent piece by Adam Kotsko (North Central College) at Slate. He writes about the “diffuse confluence of forces that are depriving students of the skills needed to meaningfully engage” with books:

As a college educator, I am confronted daily with the results of that conspiracy-without-conspirators. I have been teaching in small liberal arts colleges for over 15 years now, and in the past five years, it’s as though someone flipped a switch. For most of my career, I assigned around 30 pages of reading per class meeting as a baseline expectation—sometimes scaling up for purely expository readings or pulling back for more difficult texts. (No human being can read 30 pages of Hegel in one sitting, for example.) Now students are intimidated by anything over 10 pages and seem to walk away from readings of as little as 20 pages with no real understanding. Even smart and motivated students struggle to do more with written texts than extract decontextualized take-aways. Considerable class time is taken up simply establishing what happened in a story or the basic steps of an argument—skills I used to be able to take for granted.

Kotsko anticipates one kind of reaction to this complaint:

Hasn’t every generation felt that the younger cohort is going to hell in a handbasket? Haven’t professors always complained that educators at earlier levels are not adequately equipping their students? And haven’t students from time immemorial skipped the readings?

He reassures himself with the thought that other academics agree with him and that he is “not simply indulging in intergenerational grousing.” That’s not a good response, because the intergenerational divide is not as relevant as the divide between academics and non-academics (i.e., nearly all of their students): professors were not, and are not, normal.

Still, I’m a professor, too, and despite my anti-declinist sentiments and worries about my own cognitive biases, I can’t help but agree that students do not seem as able or willing to actually do the reading, and as able or willing to put in the work to try to understand it, as they have in the past (though I probably don’t think the decline is as steep as Kotsko thinks it is).

Kotsko identifies smartphones and pandemic lockdowns as among the culprits responsible for poor student reading, but acknowledges we “can’t go back in time” and undo their effects. Nor does he offer any solutions in this article.

Are there any solutions? What can we do? What should we do? What do you do?

How Do You Teach Your Students to Read
The Point and Selection of Readings in Introductory Philosophy Courses
Why Students Aren’t Reading


The post Are Your Students Doing The Reading? first appeared on Daily Nous.