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Lazy American students? Uninformed professor!

Posted by Leslie Anderson  December 31, 2009 11:37 AM

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As an American student at Babson College, Kara Miller’s article “My Lazy American Students,” published on December 21st in the Boston Globe, left me flabbergasted.

Initially I responded with anger as I viewed the article as a personal insult, an undoubted detriment to Babson’s reputation. With time, I recognized this article to be an opportunity to share my experience as an American student at Babson and ultimately, to research the assertions made regarding the differences between international and American students in an academic setting.

I respectfully disagree with Miller’s viewpoint of the way in which American students approach learning. Miller writes, “Teaching in college, especially one with a large international student population, has given me a stark — and unwelcome — illustration of how Americans’ work ethic often pales in comparison with their peers from overseas.”

Miller utilizes her individual class results as a means of validity for her assertions; however, these classes represent far too small of a sampling to be either appropriate or indicative of student bodies at US colleges as a whole.

In fact, Miller’s spring teaching schedule comprises of three introductory liberal arts courses at a business-specific college. Therefore, although I do not dispute her individual class results, I believe that a larger, better-rounded perspective needs to be analyzed in order to prove the validity of the assertions made regarding American students.

Miller incorrectly believes “too many American students simply lack the basics.” She supports this belief with findings from a 2002 National Geographic-Roper survey that “found that most 18- to 24-year-olds could not find Afghanistan, Iraq, or Japan on a map, ranking them behind counterparts in Sweden, Great Britain, Canada, Italy, Japan, France, and Germany.” Not only is the survey dated, but there is also no proof that the 510 individuals surveyed were college students or graduates. Therefore, this survey is not indicative of the mental capability and level of intelligence of American students at US colleges.

As an American and a sophomore at Babson College, I hold my academic performance to be of the utmost importance. I attend Babson, a prestigious private college, because I know the school fosters and encourages an ever-expanding community that values academics, diversity, and intellectual stimulation.

Miller’s assertion that students from China, India, Thailand, Brazil, and Venezuela “respect for their professors — and for knowledge itself — is palpable” because they “listen intently to everything I say, whether in class or during office hours, and try to engage in the conversation” directly implies that Americans do not engage in the active work of learning to the same degree. In fact, she continues on to say “Americans, meanwhile, text one another under their desks (certain they are sly enough to go unnoticed), check e-mail, decline to take notes, and appear tired and disengaged.” This vast generalization portrays Babson in an entirely wrong light.

Babson boasts a motivated student body that focuses on the future and in doing so, views their professors and chosen curriculum as assets, as ways to gain valuable knowledge for future endeavors. My experience in the classroom has proven to me that not only the students energetically and effectively engage in the active work of learning, but also the teachers.

One important lesson Babson has taught me is the importance of identifying a problem and a solution before presentation, something that Professor Miller failed to do. In fact, in Babson’s well-renown freshman course FME, Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship, students are taught to approach a business idea by moving through the following stages: Rocket Pitch (identifying an opportunity, a target market, and a business model), Proof of Concept (qualitative and quantitative research and preliminary conclusions), Feasibility (pro-forma financial statements, marketing strategy, and defined target markets, and business goals).

Professor Miller has entered into the first stage of this process by identifying a perceived problem; however, she has not delved far enough into the idea. As a result, people not only do not believe her assertions, but are also offended by them. If Professor Miller truly feels that American students neither respect their professors nor the acquisition of knowledge, then what does she believe should be done to remedy this problem?

In an attempt to assuage the impact of the allegations, Miller writes “At their best, American students marry knowledge and innovation, resulting in some astoundingly creative work. But creativity without knowledge — a common phenomenon — is just not enough.” With all due respect, I believe that this aptly categorizes the article at hand.

Miller wrote a creative op-ed piece without the necessary knowledge, research, and factual evidence to support her generalizations and assertions, and as she states, this is just not enough. As evident from the subsequent commentary and follow ups, this topic clearly interests a plethora of individuals and college campuses. In response to the public reaction, I believe Professor Miller should be held personally responsible for the completion of a thorough, well-researched analysis of the academic differences existing between American and international students. By completing this work, Miller will, at her best, be able to marry creativity and knowledge by using tangible data instead of overgeneralizations.

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