The professor has learned something from his students.
The context: I contribute four sessions to a general education course at Southwestern College called “Critical Issues in Health.” It’s an ambitious class that attempts to help students think about the integrated nature of well-being: physical, relational, and spiritual. We take a team-oriented, approach, covering everything from exercise to nutrition to personal strengths to spirituality, which is where I come in.
The last of my sessions focuses on “margin,” using Richard Swenson’s book by that title. Unfortunately, they don’t have to read the book (heh, heh, not enough time), but I ask them to read a synopsis that I’ve given them. For yesterday’s assignment, I asked them to bring a question for discussion from their reading. The teacher is about to learn.
As the discussion proceeded, I became increasingly puzzled. Many of their questions contained a “We can do it all” assumption. The students didn’t really buy Swenson’s major claim, that we all need margin in all dimensions of our lives.
I was surprised to say the least, so I pressed them: “I listen to students all the time complain about stress. Sometimes I see you in panic mode because you’re so overloaded.” One of them responded with something like, “Maybe we’ve lived with so much stress all our lives that it just seems normal.”
I’ve read Jean Twenge’s book, Generation Me, and though I’ve also read criticisms of her method, I think there’s much truth to her observations. They match my own. College students do appear to be naively confident in their abilities and their dreams for the future are often shockingly unrealistic.
I was attributing this present conversation to the same naivete. But the student’s comment drew me up short. These students have been programmed, lessoned, ball-gamed, recitaled, since they were three and four years old. It’s not naivete that they think they can do it all. It’s that they have been doing it all. Doing it all is sort of expected.
The problem is thus far worse than youthful naivete. What a tragic irony! We are killing our children with love. Good motivation (to give our children experiences that enrich their lives) has been perverted into something monstrous. Our young people are multi-talented multi-taskers who are shockingly, shamefully underdeveloped spiritually. We want our children to grow into amazing adults. We parents have contributed to their doing the exact opposite.
Christian parents seem as clueless as anyone. And the surveys are showing it. The easy target is lack of Bible knowledge. I can attest and it worries me. But more signficant, even if less dramatic, is the spiritual hunger that young people try to feed by free-lancing. And because many (most?) consider the array of available sources (especially Internet) as neutral “information,” they feel free to patch beliefs and practices together willy-nilly, according to their own, individualized preferences.
Our students are simply living the way we have taught them. Parents and pastors: we are responsible for this situation. We should take responsibility for improving it.
If you’re intersted in Swenson’s book on margin, you can find it and other matters at www.richardswenson.org.