The Fundamentals of College (and Life)

 Hello from my office,

We are back to the last week of classes and the finals the week following. This semester has gone much more rapidly (at least it seems to be the case) than any other semester since I first taught the fall of 1992. It has hard to believe that I have been doing this for this long a period of time. Today is the last day of the semester, so yet again it is a couple days since I began this post. Today I met with a student, who like many first year students, the shock of the elevation of expectations and the lack of preparedness from high school is much greater than ever imagined. It is not just that lack of preparedness that concerns me, it is the fundamental lack of critical thinking and the lack of study skills that shocks me. I asked the student about their studying and if they believed everything they had done should have prepared them. They said, yes, but barely passed an exam, twice. When I asked where the problem might be, they could not come up with an answer. In addition, they were somewhat content with where they stood. I understand to some extent the response, “it is what it is.” What I am not sure of is if they were trying to merely move forward, or they had somewhat given up, or they just did not even care. I am hoping it is the middle choice, but I am honestly not sure.

I must also say I do not put the entire weight of this on the student’s shoulders. They certainly have some responsibility, but our system, both public K12 and now the university must bear some of the fault. I see so many freshman under prepared. In this particular group of summer students, we structure them to the maximum in the summer and naively believe they have learned to manage their time and academic demands in six weeks. So in the fall they are left to their own to try to figure it out. Many of them fail miserably. The consequence is academic probation, a grade point they might never recover from, and a sense of disillusionment, where once they believed in a dream of moving beyond where they come from. Of my 22 summer students, it will be interesting to see how they have done. The seven or eight I am continuing to mentor show an overwhelming sense of struggle. Only one is where I think they should be. I wish there was an easy answer to this issue, but there isn’t. It would take a number of systemic changes. Yet, I guess if a couple figure it out there is some sense of achievement or success. It is my idealism wanting everyone to figure it out.

Since starting this post, another shooting, another connection to ISIS/ISIL, another reason to wonder what had happened. Again there is no easy answer and whoever becomes the next president (and I hope it is almost anyone but Trump-well not quite) will have a significant problem on their hands. When I first heard reports of the shooting and got names, the Arabic nature of the names automatically had me wondering. That reaction demonstrates the consequence of 911 and the incidences since then. How is this different from what happened to the Jews in Germany or the Japanese in the United States post-Pearl Harbor? It isn’t and I am mortified that I am in this position. I have Muslim students, one in particular who is like my own child, who are normal,  hard working, and would never want such terror to befall their neighbors and friends. How did one faith that was basically built on prayer and giving become so violent for a particular element of the followers of Muhammad? I do not see a call for violence in their five pillars of faith.  Of course, the same can be said for many who proclaim the Christian faith for whom the golden rule is a fundamental tenet, but certainly do not demonstrate such behavior and treat those who are either different or believe differently with such disdain or hatred.

While I did not experience either of those extremes anytime lately, it is always interesting for me to see how so many are so kind or close when they need something, but otherwise they act quite differently. Students are so predictable. It amuses me on one hand and saddens me on the other. The end of the semester panic (or acceptance) that their poor choices for 14 weeks cannot be fixed by extra credit, tears, or avoidance. The belief that it is just something to do over when they have simply thrown away 1000s of dollars. Part of it is immaturity. Part of it is learned selfishness. Part of it is our willingness in our public schools to give something for nothing. Merely show up, stay out of trouble, and turn in something and you can have an A or B. I am witnessing the consequence every semester. That is not to say there are not strong or smart hard working students, but the overwhelming belief that I should go to college merely because I should is misguided. Not everyone should go straight out of high school. Perhaps most shouldn’t. All I know is the fundamentals of discipline and priorities, which are necessary to succeed in college are not fundamental to many of my students. The consequences are consequential: difficulty in finding a job and significant debt for a piece of paper that guarantees nothing.

Just my thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin


Hello from my office

It is about 2:25 a.m and I am in my office working away. While I need to do this for the next day or so, it is my intention to keep from pulling the hours I did last spring during the coming semester and beyond because it is not the healthiest way to manage my job or my life. That being said, it is a bit difficult to realize that 36 hours ago I was in 100+ temperatures and it is supposed to be in the 40s here in Bloomsburg tonight. It was also a wild day of managing the present issues and trying to prepare for what is to come, both in the week immediately ahead as well as in the next month. While I received significant admonishment about living in the day and not worrying about tomorrow, and I have some appreciation for that idea, the reality of my job requires planning and preparation. I also realize that thing pop up last minute, but that is exactly why you have to plan ahead. Otherwise it is impossible to keep up. It was like today. Time was needed to help Grace. Melissa had what she planned to do tonight changed. But you manage those things. I found out the flooring order was out of stock or back-ordered.

I came home expecting that UGI would have a gas line run to the house. No such luck. It could have messed up my whole week, but I decided that I would proceed with the other parts rather than reschedule. I think life is always dualist inc in that we need to manage the present, and simultaneously prepare for the future. Failure to do so only sets is up for more stressful circumstances. I should note that the title of this post is the Spanish word for “prepare”. It is sort of a joke word for me. As those who know Spanish or speak Spanish accurately, it is in the Latino DNA to be able to roll your “r”s. This is not the case for most white people. I can roll a singular “r” pretty easily from my vocal training, but three in a single work is a much. So when I first got this word, I sounded like I was speaking with a mouth full of marshmallows. The consequence of possible lethal kicking or stabbing by my tutor. I must say I have improved. In fact, on my trip back yesterday, I worked to speak Spanish both in the airport and the plane. When the flight attendant was handing out documents to get through customs, he began to give me foreigner-documents to fill out. When I told him I was American. He was both stunned and apologetic. I took it as a compliment on how much I have progressed. The fear of being kicked or stabbed has paid off. Actually I must admit learning Spanish pronunciation is much kinder than what English must be for ESL persons to face.

It is Saturday and time is flying; I am still heading to Hazleton and then there will be more organizing tomorrow. I am finding it hard to comprehend that the semester begins a week from Monday. I have a lot on my plate and I will be doing some work during our trip. I am hoping that there is internet at the little cabin. I am excited for Jordan and Melissa to see this place, the place where I have found the most relaxation over the past few years. I am also exited to see how much Ginetta and Carlito have changed since I last say them. We are actually in the airport now and they are engrossed in their technology, but if I am typing here, I imagine I have no room to speak. Over the weekend, and certainly out of the blue, Ann, a person I met the Sumer I spent in Placerviille, contacted me. While my life has changed significantly, it seems hers has not. Yet, she still has the ability to tug at my emotions in the way one seldom has. She sent two pictures yesterday, and as she noted “sans make-up”, she was and is still beautiful. The sad part is I am hearing the same stories I heard seven years ago. The difference for me is I no longer want to rescue. That is a significant issue and area of growth for me. I am not sure of I will find an opportunity to see her, but I am fine with that.

Yesterday I worked on getting organized. There will still be some of that this week. However, I want Jordan and Melissa to have a good time. That is my goal for the week. I will relax and share this amazing place I love with the people I love.

Thanks for reading,