He never learned to use the MLA citation method, but today he’s a successful engineer who supports the local arts council. | What counts as intelligence depends almost entirely on context. I find that my students are as smart, diligent, and idealistic as they have always been — as I was. But what they know, as a generation, is inevitably different from what my profession defines as knowledge. —Thomas H. Benton
—When Our Students Don’t Respect Us (Chronicle)
Benton offers a good analysis of the professorial ritual of lamenting the inadequacies of our students. I confess I’ve done my share of this, just as when I was a student I lamented the self-centeredness and unavailability of my professors. But I’ve also done my share of defending the strengths of my students; I have yet to encounter a student who absolutely *cannot* switch into a more formal mode when required. (The student who inappropriately uses smileys or IM acronyms has usually mistaken the assignment for something much less formal.)
When I used to teach technical writing to engineering students, I quickly realized that by teaching basic writing skills (or, in the case of the many international students, basic English skills), I had the opportunity to contribute something to people who would one day design the highways and bridges and airplanes that I and my family would use. It was precisely because of their need that I had a job; and in my present position, too, my special skills mean that I can make a difference.