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Educating Millennials – Part II

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Posted on / by Alex Berger

Listen to this post:

Blog Audio: Educating Millennials P2

This post is a follow up to my original post: Educating Millennials – Why We’re Doing It Wrong

Since it was posted Part I has received nearly 22,000 views and 80+ responses. At this point in time I think it’s safe to say I hit on a major issue…one we have only just begun to dive into. I’m thrilled by the reception the post received and the opportunity I’ve had to begin dialogue on the subject. The purpose of this post is to serve as an update and to work to clarify several points. Please take it as such.

On the subject of data – I’ve reached out to several government officials and other contacts within academic circles in an effort to locate source educational data to check my hypothesis. However, before I share an update on the progress/issues I’ve had with the data I want to address some background questions.

Background Information

My original post was made as a hypothesis based on observation. I am not an academic researcher, nor is it appropriate that I include all of my research & thoughts in these blog posts.  This is not a research site or news outlet. It is a blog and as such my posts must be limited in length and cannot be as in-depth as many of us might otherwise like. Nor am I a full time academic researcher affiliated with a research institution.  Rather, I’m a curious, passionate millennial observing the world around me, the way my fellows and I interact, and looking at alternative explanations.  It is a place for sharing observations, thoughts, and interesting information. It is my sincere hope that these thoughts and ideas will be picked up by my readership and pursued further.   As mentioned in my previous post, I am more than happy to discuss any concept expressed on this site further/privately.

The Sexes

I received a number of comments accusing me of sexism or being grossly mistaken about the distribution of the sexes in online environments, particularly the realm of video games. While, in most instances, it was obvious from the reader’s comments that several of my main points were missed, or they failed to read the post to its conclusion. I want to take a moment to address this concern. First, I am very well aware of the female presence in online gaming and on the web. I founded and lead one of the oldest/longest running online gaming guilds for 8 years. I am familiar with most of the statistics cited in the comments about web demographics. In fact, I used some of the very same data in my Honors Thesis which I completed a year and a half ago. That said, the male/female demographics of the online gaming community have changed exponentially in the last 3-5 years. That’s not to say that there have not been female gamers for as long as there have been games.  Rather, that the audience who grew up utilizing these games (from an early age) has – until recently – been mostly male and that as a result these individuals will be the most heavily effected.

In addition to the issue of demographics, research has shown that males and females relate differently in social situations.  That same research shows that conventional one-way, top-down, information exchanges like that in most classroom environments is more compatible with the learning styles of women.

The combination of these two factors – as previously explained – is part of why the topic focuses on males. The other part stems from the nature of the post as a response and alternative hypothesis to the commonly accepted arguments for why young males are under represented in higher education. The conventional arguments have revolved around a difference in capability between the sexes and are largely based on notable gender bias. The proposition in Part I of this post, if anything, is far from sexist.  Further, as I’ll discuss later in this topic, one of the greatest issues I’ve had with exploring the data is the lack of unbiased, relevant source data. Many of the official tables provide female percentages and numbers while neglecting their male counterparts.

The Author

Attacking the author is a fundamental part of Internet culture, a fact I completely understand.  While I did not want to spend much time on myself in the original post as I feel it distracts from the actual subject, my credibility and background seems to be a major, relevant, component for a number of readers. Some were concerned I was someone who hadn’t made the cut and wanted to justify my failure. Others assumed it was a complaint written by a frustrated millennial unable to find a job.  Several readers even suggested that my passion and focus for virtual technologies and their impact implied a lack of reading or cultural enrichment on my part. Others suggested that I must inherently suffer from a lack of social skills and connections.  While I’ve responded to each of these concerns independently in the comment section of the previous post I will briefly respond to each of the more frequent comments.

I actually preformed quite well in University. I graduated with a 3.38 GPA from Arizona State University with degrees from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication and the Barrett Honors College.  My honors thesis is available for review on the blog roll to the right. It focused on MMOGs and their social impact. In High School I was engaged in the We The People constitutional debate program as well as a Key Club Officer. In addition to my academics, I come from, and grew up in a family heavily involved in academics.

Professionally, I have enjoyed significant success. In the spring of 2005 (summer of my sophomore year of college) I began an internship with the #3 commercial real estate company in the world. By the end of the summer the position grew into a part time position during the school year/full time job in the summer. I was with the company in various capacities (Research, Mapping, GIS, IT) until I graduated in 2007 when I was offered a full time position which I declined.  After a 3 month trip through Europe I returned to the states and immediately accepted a position as an Analyst with one of Arizona’s premiere mid-market mergers and acquisitions groups. In addition to my current position in the M&A industry, I founded the company FusionVirtual.

Socially I have regularly been referred to as a social node.  I’m lucky to enjoy an extensive social network all developed outside of the Greek system.  To use Facebook as a social benchmark, my friends list currently has over 600 contacts virtually all of whom I’m in semi-regular contact with. In fact, I periodically prune the list to keep it up to date and relevant.  To those with doubts, I can assure you I am both socially competent and active.

Culturally I have always enjoyed reading and have tested as post college since 6th grade. I enjoy regular reading, though my recent schedule has made me cut back significantly.  In addition to classic texts I enjoy poetry and the arts. I’ve seen theater on Broadway and in London, opera in Vienna and ballet in Prague. In addition to these experiences I’ve been an avid ballroom dancer for the last 4 years and salsa dance on a weekly basis. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to travel extensively. I’ve been to Europe three times (once for a year, once for 3 months, and once for 6.5 weeks). I’ve also spent a year traveling across the U.S. and been to Alaska, Mexico and Hawaii.

It is important to point out that despite my background and life experiences, the observations raised about the educational system in Part I of this post are every bit as relevant for me as they are for other male millennials. I drilled down and forced myself to complete the higher ed process, but make no mistake, I found myself consciously making the decision to work within the system for the social validation and professional benefit that the degree “check mark” on job applications offered. The system did not serve my needs. It could have done more to challenge on multiple levels. In fact, it also did very little to prepare me for the real world.

So, to those of you who asked, I say;  No, this is not an apology. It’s not a justification.  It’s not an excuse. This is an observation of a failure by the education system. This failure has affected me personally and has affected a large number of my acquaintances and friends.  Read through the comments, look at what the young males of the millennial generation are telling us.

The tragedy is that we are squandering the potential of hundreds of thousands of America’s best and brightest, all because of bureaucracy and outdated tradition. All in a time when we need them the most.

Data

It’s taken over a week for me to make this post in large part because I’ve been having difficulty tracking down relevant data. At this point in time, I’d love to be able to post a few graphs and several tables of data showing clear snapshots of what’s going on in our education system.  The unfortunate reality is, it doesn’t seem possible with the data available.  This would be a great graduate research project. As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve contacted the US Census Department, the US Department of Education, and IPEDS (The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System). I’ve also worked with several other contacts in trying to find/analyze the data in a way that gives real, relevant data.

It appears that the data collected by the U.S. Education System is in such a confused state and so poorly documented that it’s nearly impossible to find standard enrollment and completion numbers broken up by sex and institution type and relative to U.S. population statistics by year.  The data has been gathered and stored in such a way that anything beyond micro analysis is nearly impossible for the casual researcher. If you have information relevant to the discussion please post it in a comment or forward it to me and I’ll add it to the post. Additionally, if you do any statistical analysis please share your results and methodology with us.

Noteworthy Data:

  1. Degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by level of degree and sex of student: Selected years, 1869-70 through 2016-17
  2. Total fall enrollment in degree-granting institutions, by attendance status, sex of student, and control of institution: Selected years, 1947 through 2005
  3. Historical Educational Attainment Reports from 1940 through 1998
  4. US 1990 Census: Population Figures
  5. US 2000 Census: Population Figures
  6. US 2007 Census: Population Figures

Things to note:

  • There is a major data shift in 1995.
  • Enrollment figures provide a % female, but no mention of a % male.
  • Enrollment figures fail to distinguish between the gender breakdown in full/part time categories.
  • Enrollment figures fail to distinguish between higher education programs.
  • Degrees conferred can not be accurate compared to enrollment data.
  • Degrees conferred are not broken down by type of institution, only level of education*.
  • Population figures: I was unable to locate credible year-by-year projections. Only US Census data by year was publicly available. The 2007 figures were generated through a private information vendor and forwarded to me.
  • Population figures: Should be adjusted based on generational differences in population.

*This is relevant because of the widespread success of web-based Universities like University of Phoenix. If included in the above material (which I believe they are) these web-based Universities have been extremely popular over the last 8+ years. The type of education these programs offer (web-based) is drastically different from the class method and environment utilized in major colleges and universities. As a result, I’m concerned that these may offset significant shifts in the brick and mortar institutions this article focuses on.

*EDIT* – Just saw this and feel it’s very relevant given my mention of University of Phoenix above. UofP was ranked as the #1 recipient of federal assistance/aid for FY 2008. According to the list, Arizona based University of Phoenix has received $2,810,085,079 in aid so far in this fiscal year.

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately the data is important, but may be more of a distraction. The theory discussed herein is nothing new. We’ve known since the days of Aristotle and Socrates that instructor-student interactions are the best way to learn. As humans we learn best when we can interact, exchange thoughts, and question. After all, what is a question but the search for information and clarity? When the written word was invented we transformed the way knowledge was shared from the telling of stories to a system of written words. Modern technology allows us to increase the level of interaction between student and professor.  It offers the potential to make the material more engaging, informative, and to increase students’ investment in their education. Sadly, that scares a lot of people. Luckily, the demand for multi-level delivery systems will continue to grow until educators respond.  While we can disagree on some of the details and the execution, ultimately ask yourself if a more interactive, ‘immersive’, and vibrant educational experience will be good for the students.  If your answer is yes, I urge you to stop making excuses for a system that no longer works as-is. I ask that you help work toward a modern, 21st century educational system.

Each day we wait another brilliant mind falls through the cracks.

As always, I value your feedback and will respond to all user comments. Please share your thoughts, reflections, and any additional information you might have in a comment on this post.

*If you’ve enjoyed this post and want to share, please vote for the post on reddit/digg/delicious using the links below and help me spread the word.

*EDIT* I was just linked this amazing video by Mike Wesch which really does an amazing job hitting on/discussing some of the same issues.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

20 Comments

    Educating Millennials - Why We’re Doing it Wrong | VirtualWayfarer.com | A Place For Intellectual Musings
  • obbop
    August 30, 2008

    Wimmen’ are weird.

    Based upon real-life experience and while garnering 2 four-year and one two-year degree with an accumulated GPA of 3.9 our of 4.0.

    Reply
  • Obbop
    August 29, 2008

    Wimmen’ are weird.

    Based upon real-life experience and while garnering 2 four-year and one two-year degree with an accumulated GPA of 3.9 our of 4.0.

    Reply
  • MaxBro
    August 29, 2008

    Young men are not doing well in college for one major reason: they are not emotionally mature. This is due not to video games or technology as much as it is to the breakdown of the traditional family that often leaves sons without fathers but daughters with mothers.

    This distinction is paramount to understanding why so many young men are socially retarded entering higher institutions of learning. While most females already have a biological advantage via puberty at that age–that is, girls tend to mature faster than boys in their teenage years–many girls entering college have a stronger family connection than their male counterparts. This often leads to an overall improvement in emotional maturity, which can lend itself to greater intellectual maturity as a result.

    In almost all custody cases, the mother winds up with the children. When you factor that nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce, that leaves a gross disproportion between the number of boys growing up without fathers vs. the number of daughters growing up without mothers.

    As a young man, how do you learn how to be a man without a strong, male role model? How can you measure up when there is no one to measure up to?

    So, what happens as a result? Why, escapism, of course, which can be in the form of video games or other types of activities. Gangs, sports, bands, etc. In their desperate search for a role model, oftentimes young men will latch onto anyone, no matter how trivial the personality, in the hope of gaining some kind of identity, some sense of belonging.

    Mothers are great, of course, but it’s not quite the same in the long run. The truth is the young men of the Millenial Generation are growing up stunted, malnourished, mistreated, abandoned, and alone, by the legions.

    Pop culture likes to portray men as simplistic, idiotic sexbots. But men are actually quite complex, and require a greater delicacy in their upbringing. Get the programming wrong, and you have a psychopath. Get the programming right, really right, and you’ve got your self a world class citizen.

    With their programming screwed up, is it any wonder so many young men look at college and wonder “Why bother?”

    Reply
  • MaxBro
    August 30, 2008

    Young men are not doing well in college for one major reason: they are not emotionally mature. This is due not to video games or technology as much as it is to the breakdown of the traditional family that often leaves sons without fathers but daughters with mothers.

    This distinction is paramount to understanding why so many young men are socially retarded entering higher institutions of learning. While most females already have a biological advantage via puberty at that age–that is, girls tend to mature faster than boys in their teenage years–many girls entering college have a stronger family connection than their male counterparts. This often leads to an overall improvement in emotional maturity, which can lend itself to greater intellectual maturity as a result.

    In almost all custody cases, the mother winds up with the children. When you factor that nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce, that leaves a gross disproportion between the number of boys growing up without fathers vs. the number of daughters growing up without mothers.

    As a young man, how do you learn how to be a man without a strong, male role model? How can you measure up when there is no one to measure up to?

    So, what happens as a result? Why, escapism, of course, which can be in the form of video games or other types of activities. Gangs, sports, bands, etc. In their desperate search for a role model, oftentimes young men will latch onto anyone, no matter how trivial the personality, in the hope of gaining some kind of identity, some sense of belonging.

    Mothers are great, of course, but it’s not quite the same in the long run. The truth is the young men of the Millenial Generation are growing up stunted, malnourished, mistreated, abandoned, and alone, by the legions.

    Pop culture likes to portray men as simplistic, idiotic sexbots. But men are actually quite complex, and require a greater delicacy in their upbringing. Get the programming wrong, and you have a psychopath. Get the programming right, really right, and you’ve got your self a world class citizen.

    With their programming screwed up, is it any wonder so many young men look at college and wonder “Why bother?”

    Reply
  • Whitney
    August 30, 2008

    I’m still perplexed by your assumption that the traditional classroom is one where students are not allowed to ask questions. What classes have you attended where this is the case? If there’s a problem here, it’s in the approach and/or philosophy of the teacher (or possibly in class size). I don’t see how making the classroom more “immersive” or more like a video game or social networking site is going to be anything but a distraction.

    I guess I’m still unclear on what exactly you’d like to see done. In both this post and the last, you’ve only made vague suggestions to use “21st century technology” in the classroom, but how? What is a “multi-level delivery system,” in the context of education?

    Reply
  • Whitney
    August 30, 2008

    I’m still perplexed by your assumption that the traditional classroom is one where students are not allowed to ask questions. What classes have you attended where this is the case? If there’s a problem here, it’s in the approach and/or philosophy of the teacher (or possibly in class size). I don’t see how making the classroom more “immersive” or more like a video game or social networking site is going to be anything but a distraction.

    I guess I’m still unclear on what exactly you’d like to see done. In both this post and the last, you’ve only made vague suggestions to use “21st century technology” in the classroom, but how? What is a “multi-level delivery system,” in the context of education?

    Reply
  • Alex Berger
    September 3, 2008

    #2 – Obb, lol thanks for the laugh.

    #3 – Max, you raise some very valid and powerful points. I think they’re definitely an issue that is having an impact, but that it’s one of several major factors, all pushing young males in the same direction.

    #4 – Whitney, if you look at your average class length which I’d put at about 115 minutes for a T/TH class usually less than 10 minutes is open/dedicated to Q&A. That’s less than 9% of the total class period. For obvious reasons, the smaller the class the higher the degree of student teacher interaction. Unfortunately, brick and mortar universities typically rely on 200-500 person classes for a lot of their fundamental coursework and 60-150 person classes for intermediate coursework. The size, organizational structure, and social pressure not to look stupid in these larger classes result in minimal class participation, and greatly reduced Q&A/interactive elements.

    You’re right about smaller class size, but even those can be improved upon. I know I got my best grades in what should have been my more difficult classes while getting significantly poorer grades in large, auditorium styled classrooms.

    Something like 70% of University students have laptops. More and more of those are bringing them to class. You can ban the machines, you can yell at the students, or you can utilize what would otherwise be a distraction and use it to engage the students. Allow them to post real time chat questions, allow them to post and research other relevant side data. What if students were able to do real time research while listening/watching the lecture and use that to answer their own questions – enrich the material the professor was teaching?

    I’ll never forget my 9:15 freshman economics class. We were in a basement auditorium with an elderly professor who had written the book and was no doubt a brilliant business mind. Despite it all, 5 minutes into the 400 person class the lights dimmed, the powerpoint went up and he started reading. By 10 minutes into the class 1/4 of the class had dozed off. By 15 minutes 2/4 were gone and by 30 minutes into the class a good 3/4 of the class was out. It wasn’t because people didn’t care. They did, hell they came to class. It was because the experience was so miserable, so off base, staying awake was nearly impossible.

    As far as how do we fix it? I’m not 100% sure right now. Some of the technology exists, but most does not, in large part because we have to re-frame our view of the system and acknowledge it’s deficiencies before we can truly work to correct them.

    I am aware of a few projects looking at similar problems. Unfortunately, all of the information I have about those projects is strictly confidential.

    For my part, I’m currently working through my company – FusionVirtual – on a virtual world/remote conferencing solution which I believe will revolutionize the way online classes, collaboration, homework and lectures are carried out. That said, the project won’t do much for actual B&M education and is currently in the conceptual stage (currently working on locating a gaming studio or remote conferencing company to develop it).

    Simply put though, there’s an opportunity here for observation and innovation. The difficulty won’t be creating the technology – the market will take care of that, the trick is realizing and acknowledging the potential and that there’s a need.

    Reply
  • Alex Berger
    September 3, 2008

    #2 – Obb, lol thanks for the laugh.

    #3 – Max, you raise some very valid and powerful points. I think they’re definitely an issue that is having an impact, but that it’s one of several major factors, all pushing young males in the same direction.

    #4 – Whitney, if you look at your average class length which I’d put at about 115 minutes for a T/TH class usually less than 10 minutes is open/dedicated to Q&A. That’s less than 9% of the total class period. For obvious reasons, the smaller the class the higher the degree of student teacher interaction. Unfortunately, brick and mortar universities typically rely on 200-500 person classes for a lot of their fundamental coursework and 60-150 person classes for intermediate coursework. The size, organizational structure, and social pressure not to look stupid in these larger classes result in minimal class participation, and greatly reduced Q&A/interactive elements.

    You’re right about smaller class size, but even those can be improved upon. I know I got my best grades in what should have been my more difficult classes while getting significantly poorer grades in large, auditorium styled classrooms.

    Something like 70% of University students have laptops. More and more of those are bringing them to class. You can ban the machines, you can yell at the students, or you can utilize what would otherwise be a distraction and use it to engage the students. Allow them to post real time chat questions, allow them to post and research other relevant side data. What if students were able to do real time research while listening/watching the lecture and use that to answer their own questions – enrich the material the professor was teaching?

    I’ll never forget my 9:15 freshman economics class. We were in a basement auditorium with an elderly professor who had written the book and was no doubt a brilliant business mind. Despite it all, 5 minutes into the 400 person class the lights dimmed, the powerpoint went up and he started reading. By 10 minutes into the class 1/4 of the class had dozed off. By 15 minutes 2/4 were gone and by 30 minutes into the class a good 3/4 of the class was out. It wasn’t because people didn’t care. They did, hell they came to class. It was because the experience was so miserable, so off base, staying awake was nearly impossible.

    As far as how do we fix it? I’m not 100% sure right now. Some of the technology exists, but most does not, in large part because we have to re-frame our view of the system and acknowledge it’s deficiencies before we can truly work to correct them.

    I am aware of a few projects looking at similar problems. Unfortunately, all of the information I have about those projects is strictly confidential.

    For my part, I’m currently working through my company – FusionVirtual – on a virtual world/remote conferencing solution which I believe will revolutionize the way online classes, collaboration, homework and lectures are carried out. That said, the project won’t do much for actual B&M education and is currently in the conceptual stage (currently working on locating a gaming studio or remote conferencing company to develop it).

    Simply put though, there’s an opportunity here for observation and innovation. The difficulty won’t be creating the technology – the market will take care of that, the trick is realizing and acknowledging the potential and that there’s a need.

    Reply
  • kridnix
    October 6, 2008

    Alex-

    Obviously you are not the only person thinking about these important issues. You might enjoy a white paper I wrote this summer that explores some of these issues. References to other studies are included. I just got the PDF copy up on my site today:

    http://es21c.okstate.edu/resources/SecondMillenium.pdf

    Reply
  • kridnix
    October 6, 2008

    Alex-

    Obviously you are not the only person thinking about these important issues. You might enjoy a white paper I wrote this summer that explores some of these issues. References to other studies are included. I just got the PDF copy up on my site today:

    http://es21c.okstate.edu/resources/SecondMillenium.pdf

    Reply
  • Jenny
    November 5, 2008

    #4″I’m still perplexed by your assumption that the traditional classroom is one where students are not allowed to ask questions. What classes have you attended where this is the case?”

    I graduated from a University 11 yrs ago and it was the case then. Not all classes, but a VERY large portion. My degree program was cut to make room for a lecture hall with over 300 seats.

    This was pre-internet, and universities are still paying for those kind of outdated classrooms. It will be years before they catch up, if they ever do. It isn’t just the Universities doing this, it’s in middle schools and high schools too, just on a smaller scale.

    I have one teenager who spends most of her time on the internet. Her skills, at age 14, already far surpass mine. This IS the future and the now.

    Sitting in a classroom is not a child’s job, as parents like to say. It’s a holding place, to keep them from being in the workforce. This thinking is way outdated, and a waste of unused and untapped, creative, young energy!

    Reply
  • Jenny
    November 5, 2008

    #4″I’m still perplexed by your assumption that the traditional classroom is one where students are not allowed to ask questions. What classes have you attended where this is the case?”

    I graduated from a University 11 yrs ago and it was the case then. Not all classes, but a VERY large portion. My degree program was cut to make room for a lecture hall with over 300 seats.

    This was pre-internet, and universities are still paying for those kind of outdated classrooms. It will be years before they catch up, if they ever do. It isn’t just the Universities doing this, it’s in middle schools and high schools too, just on a smaller scale.

    I have one teenager who spends most of her time on the internet. Her skills, at age 14, already far surpass mine. This IS the future and the now.

    Sitting in a classroom is not a child’s job, as parents like to say. It’s a holding place, to keep them from being in the workforce. This thinking is way outdated, and a waste of unused and untapped, creative, young energy!

    Reply
  • Alex Berger
    November 5, 2008

    Jenny, it might interest you to know that ASU is currently considering moving back towards class sizes in access of 500.

    Reply
  • Alex Berger
    November 5, 2008

    Jenny, it might interest you to know that ASU is currently considering moving back towards class sizes in access of 500.

    Reply
  • Lindsay
    December 11, 2008

    Hi Alex,

    I’m going to attempt to square some of your (very interesting) claims with some work I’m currently doing. I hope it’s fruitful for the both of us. Unlike plenty of other contemporary feminists, Luce Irigaray works to maintain sexual difference. (This is in stark opposition to, for example, Judith Butler who calls into question biological difference. Social (and socially-constructed) gender is her focus. And this is in keeping with lots of contemporary work in feminism.) Irigaray asks us to consider the following in order to work out how sex (indeed, biology!) might determine the structuring of our subjectivity: (I’m taking this from her excellent essay “A Two-Subject Culture” in a collection called democracy begins between two.) “-being born of the same gender or of a different gender from one’s own: being the daughter of a mother or the son of a mother;
    -whether or not one can conceive a living being in one’s own body;
    -whether one procreates within oneself or outside oneself;
    -whether one can nourish another living being from one’s own body or only through one’s own labour.
    Events of this kind, which are differently organized in the life of a woman or of a man, create two identities, two ways of looking at the world, which cannot be reduced to one.”
    Although Irigaray is responding to contemporary feminism, her work has serious repercussion for the sort of thing you’re working on. If young girls and women can literally and figuratively conceive other living beings in their own bodies, they’re radically capable of being-for-an-other in ways that young men are not. (This, I suspect, is part of what we mean when we say that young men are not emotionally mature. Though there’s certainly more to it.) As such, young women privilege intersubjective relations and succeed in environments (read: school) where young men struggle. To put it crudely, young women are able, then, to “read” others, to be whatever an other (teachers, fellow students) may need them to be, to nourish wholly other things (ideas, equations, relationships with authorities) within their own bodies. Young men can’t (yet) do this. I think plenty of men learn what it means to be-for-an-other (when they have children, when they enter into a true relationship, when they’re called on to exist, quite literally, for something other than themselves), but until they do, they cannot succeed in an environment that requires this of them. Attention span has something to do with this. To pay close attention to something (anything) else is to be-for-it. You give yourself over to it. You allow yourself to be held captive by it. If you are uncomfortable doing this, or have little practice with it unless it’s an object of your attention that you’ve chosen, you’ll likely do poorly in school. I’ve just begun thinking this out here, and I recognize that this does not yet address why it is that young men succeeded in school in the past (in fact, it was created for them, as we all know).

    I think you’re on to something with “milennials” (I mean the word and the concept)–we are nothing but products of our world, and what we call modern technology has of course radically shaped us. But I also think there’s something important happening in Irigaray’s assessment of what shapes our subjectivity. The bizarre irony here is that a system that was created FOR men and young men, BY men, has somehow failed to succeed for them.

    Thoughts?

    Cheers.

    Reply
  • Lindsay
    December 11, 2008

    Hi Alex,

    I’m going to attempt to square some of your (very interesting) claims with some work I’m currently doing. I hope it’s fruitful for the both of us. Unlike plenty of other contemporary feminists, Luce Irigaray works to maintain sexual difference. (This is in stark opposition to, for example, Judith Butler who calls into question biological difference. Social (and socially-constructed) gender is her focus. And this is in keeping with lots of contemporary work in feminism.) Irigaray asks us to consider the following in order to work out how sex (indeed, biology!) might determine the structuring of our subjectivity: (I’m taking this from her excellent essay “A Two-Subject Culture” in a collection called democracy begins between two.) “-being born of the same gender or of a different gender from one’s own: being the daughter of a mother or the son of a mother;
    -whether or not one can conceive a living being in one’s own body;
    -whether one procreates within oneself or outside oneself;
    -whether one can nourish another living being from one’s own body or only through one’s own labour.
    Events of this kind, which are differently organized in the life of a woman or of a man, create two identities, two ways of looking at the world, which cannot be reduced to one.”
    Although Irigaray is responding to contemporary feminism, her work has serious repercussion for the sort of thing you’re working on. If young girls and women can literally and figuratively conceive other living beings in their own bodies, they’re radically capable of being-for-an-other in ways that young men are not. (This, I suspect, is part of what we mean when we say that young men are not emotionally mature. Though there’s certainly more to it.) As such, young women privilege intersubjective relations and succeed in environments (read: school) where young men struggle. To put it crudely, young women are able, then, to “read” others, to be whatever an other (teachers, fellow students) may need them to be, to nourish wholly other things (ideas, equations, relationships with authorities) within their own bodies. Young men can’t (yet) do this. I think plenty of men learn what it means to be-for-an-other (when they have children, when they enter into a true relationship, when they’re called on to exist, quite literally, for something other than themselves), but until they do, they cannot succeed in an environment that requires this of them. Attention span has something to do with this. To pay close attention to something (anything) else is to be-for-it. You give yourself over to it. You allow yourself to be held captive by it. If you are uncomfortable doing this, or have little practice with it unless it’s an object of your attention that you’ve chosen, you’ll likely do poorly in school. I’ve just begun thinking this out here, and I recognize that this does not yet address why it is that young men succeeded in school in the past (in fact, it was created for them, as we all know).

    I think you’re on to something with “milennials” (I mean the word and the concept)–we are nothing but products of our world, and what we call modern technology has of course radically shaped us. But I also think there’s something important happening in Irigaray’s assessment of what shapes our subjectivity. The bizarre irony here is that a system that was created FOR men and young men, BY men, has somehow failed to succeed for them.

    Thoughts?

    Cheers.

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