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(JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

GARY MASON

Compassion at university wouldn’t hurt Add to ...

Ah, to be a university student today. There’s never been a group that’s had it so good, been more pampered and felt more entitled. They breeze through school because professors have lowered criteria to such a level that even the dim find it easy. No one fails.

Sadly, all this indulging has had unintended consequences: We’ve raised a generation of wusses who seek counselling at the first sign of stress. And that will never do. This kind of help will only make them more fragile than they already are.

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There’s one problem, however, with this sweeping characterization of our students: It’s a sweeping mischaracterization.

This week, the sorry condition of today’s student body was being lamented once again. This time, it’s over reports that stress has reached epidemic levels on our campuses – which has prompted some schools to respond in varying ways, from the spacing of exams to pet therapy.

Concern has been expressed that, in an effort to help students cope, we’re infantilizing them instead. Because we ask less of our students today than we once did, we’re developing a generation unable to stand on its own, one that expects everything done for it. Or that’s what at least some would like you to believe.

Most of the criticism of today’s students, funnily enough, comes from baby boomers, the very generation that raised the kids for which they now weep. The generation that bemoans the fact kids aren’t ready for university because many, apparently, have barely been able to get through high school. Really? And which universities would these students be attending?

I thought I read not that long ago that high-school students were getting all stressed out because of the grinding pressure they’re under to get the grades necessary to get into postsecondary institutions. That even low 80s weren’t good enough for many schools and programs.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, you could get into just about any postsecondary institution you wanted to with a C average. And the boomers are now lecturing about low standards.

Once today’s students get into university, they’re racking up massive debt. University cost a relative pittance for boomers. Tuition, generally, wasn’t that high and governments were handing out grants like candy. But those days are long gone. Now the average student graduates with a debt load of $27,000 – and into a market where a BA increasingly stands for Barely Acceptable.

So, yeah, that might add some stress that previous generations didn’t have to deal with.

With undergraduate degrees being viewed as the new high-school diploma, students are being lured into applying to graduate school. That means more debt. Not to mention the intense academic contest to get in. After you’re finished, there’s another ridiculous competition waiting for the measly few opportunities that exist in this rotten jobs climate.

Come to think of it, that might stress me out, too.

Sorry, but I don’t see the spoiled, mollycoddled generation of students that I read and hear about. Maybe because I’ve got two kids who make up today’s student body, and have been exposed to countless numbers of their friends, my outlook is a little different.

I see a generation that has never faced greater challenges and yet, somehow, remain remarkably optimistic. The kids I talk to don’t line up in any way with the passive, whining, misguided group often depicted in the popular media.

On the contrary, I see individuals who are far more intellectually and emotionally engaged than most of us who made up the stoner generation were at the same age. They’re more educated and more enthusiastic about getting out into the world and making a difference, as corny as that sounds.

If students are more stressed today, I’m not surprised. I understand it. I see the stress points all over the place. And I don’t think it’s wrong in the slightest to want to help them manage it.

If spacing exams or setting up dog-petting rooms alleviate a little bit of that pressure, so what? Does anyone really believe that’s going to make students less able to cope in the real world? Honestly?

I agree university wasn’t meant to be easy. But it wasn’t meant to be devoid of a little compassion and human understanding, either.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

 

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