Airplane Conversations

I mentioned in my last post that I was traveling.  Today I was flying back from Chicago — about an hour flight that actually arrived early.  Of course the weather was perfect — if they can’t get it right then, will they ever?

Seatmates on the flight are one of the things that still makes travel interesting to me. Today my seatmate was an English prof at one of our universities in the region. She is a professor of children’s and young adult literature — the one area of publishing she said is actually making money.  That was the first interesting observation.

I suppose that it is an occupational hazard of faculty to be dismayed with their students. But she seemed especially saddened as she observed the poor reading and writing ability of students who often come to college with high GPAs from secondary schools. From her observation of her own suburban district, grades often are inflated and teachers yield to pressures from parents to not hurt their children’s college chances with low grades.  This certainly tracks with concerns about low SAT scores.

We talked about the shift of so much media to tablet computers and smartphones and how this affects reading (and writing in 140 character bits). Meanwhile she spoke of a reading assignment of a short novel and students who went ballistic because they had to read in four days what many of us might have read in a sitting.  I wonder more and more if there is a connection that has something to do with how our brains are wired.  She spoke of the “siren” call of this technology — it’s addictive character.

We returned to the topic of Young Adult literature which she emphasized was “real” literature. (Time didn’t permit, but I might have asked, will it be enduring literature?)  She spoke of how much of it was dystopian and of the resonance of these ideas with the students in her courses.

What strikes me is that blaming the young for the state of education is like blaming followers for the failures of their leaders. I wonder if the emerging generation’s fascination with dystopias reflects an awareness, however inchoate, that there are some things deeply wrong with the world they entering, chock-full as it is with clever electronica. I wonder…