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In Your Face: Post Millennial College Students and the New Confidence

by Tiina Lombard - September 13, 2003

Humorous account of teaching the new generation at the community college level.

Recently, while sitting at a café with a friend, the server made a derisive remark on what he was ordering.  “Usually people don’t tease you when they’re waiting for a tip,” my friend, mildly peevish, declared.  The vivacious server had just teased him a bit about ordering what she thought was his third beer.  She looked about the age and had the mannerisms, the poised confidence, of many of my students.  I told my friend I didn’t think she meant to be impertinent, but just in a matter of fact manner had accepted that the situation was casual enough to tease a customer occasionally.  But would this have been true decades ago?

Our society is loosening up.  This idea causes older people to worry:  “The proliferation of pornography and violence in rap music,” “stuff they show on HBO”… oldsters bemoan a deteriorating society ad nauseam.  Faculty members at the institution where I teach, myself included on a bad day, are primary offenders:  “They have no respect.”  “My students don’t turn in their work on time and they don’t care.”  “What’s happening to our students?”  Something exciting is happening, that’s what.  Boomers are getting older and don’t want to let go of the reins.  The wild horses are running fast enough that they’re pulling free anyway.  The generation that was born when punk rock was in full bloom, the generation that takes for granted the wealth and power of Oprah Winfrey, and gets bored when you talk about the sixties, that generation is developing its own moral code, its own signature, its own confidence.  It doesn’t care about anybody else’s opinion and doesn’t care about following your rules.  It respects you less when you stick to the straight and narrow.  It’s a quiet anarchy—not an oxymoron, because this anarchy is insidiously working its way through the reaches of academe, the business world and little cafés everywhere.

This is not a “Black thing,” although Civil Rights have partially made this new moral code all possible.  The new inclusionary society embraces everyone.  The Vietnamese owner of a small salon where I have my nails done proudly wears a Movado watch and drives a BMW.  Hurray for capitalism!  The elimination of social class via ethnic groups is finally bleeding into economic fruition, and it’s a joyful sight to see.  “Our [African American] students are better dressed than we are.”  What a scandal!  How dare they!!!  Ebonics are also sitting front and center.  No one is ashamed of speaking in any manner.  This can be a problem occasionally as an English professor.

Working in education can be less than glamorous.  Face it--students don’t want to see themselves doing what we do when they’re our age.  Recently I had the fascinating experience of taking over as the adviser of the student newspaper on our campus.  It was a learning experience for everyone.  I thought I was going to help them so much; I was going to show them how a liberal college newspaper could look/feel.  We changed the design, toyed with even changing the name of the venerable publication.  At first, the students trusted me.  It was like a big party.  But then things got ugly. 

The staff didn’t have a proofreader, so I volunteered.  Mistake!  The line between student and teacher can never be crossed.  Now, in boomer times, proofreading would not be considered breach of freedom of speech.  Welcome to the in-your-face generation.  The in-your-face generation is proud of its grammatical errors, proud of any errors, in fact, because they’re their own.  Ownership is what it’s all about.  Materialism?  No.  Ownership.  This is in part due to the aftereffects of the Civil Rights Movement, and it is partly understandable.

To make an unpleasant story short, my tenure as adviser endured for one sad semester.  The tension was too much.  The kids were glad to see me go back to teaching and get the hell out of that newsroom.  Two semesters later, an issue appeared with so many grammatical errors that the English department chairperson decided to take them off the stands and have the staff fix the errors before it could be redistributed.  Outcries of censorship led to a “situation.”  Now, under the masthead, in small print, each issue states, “Removal of this paper, without consent or prior authorization from the staff, is a violation of the law.”  Welcome to the new anarchy.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 13, 2003
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11200, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 6:46:27 PM

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About the Author
  • Tiina Lombard
    Miami-Dade Community College
    E-mail Author
    TIINA LOMBARD is an associate professor, senior at Miami-Dade College. She teaches basic composition and various literature classes to first and second year college students. She has been working on a research project regarding the works of John Ogbu and Claude Steele for Florida International University in the doctoral program there.
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