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Karen Francisco | The Journal Gazette
Diane Dean and Arthur Levine presented their findings on “digital natives” to an Indiana Tech audience on Thursday.

Furthermore …

Indiana Tech hears education’s new realities

When Arthur Levine set out to write his third book examining American college students, he assumed the generation born in the first half of the 1990s would be mostly shaped by 9/11. But thousands of surveys and interviews revealed something else: Today’s college students are products of the digital generation.

The discovery prompted the president emeritus of the Teachers College at Columbia University and his co-author, Illinois State professor Diane R. Dean, to dub today’s students “digital natives.” An upbringing that coincides with the explosion of the World Wide Web shaped students demanding much of college faculty and staff, including the Indiana Tech audience who heard Levine and Dean present their findings during two campus sessions Thursday.

Douglas P. Clark, Indiana Tech’s vice president for academic affairs, invited the researchers to Fort Wayne after faculty and staff collectively read “Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student” last summer.

Some of the book’s findings:

•89 percent are optimistic about their personal future, but just 35 percent are optimistic about the nation’s future.

•19 percent of students text, email, call or visit their parents three times a day or more.

•27 percent have asked a parent to intervene on their behalf with a professor or employer.

•67 percent say the chief benefit of college is increased wages, compared to 44 percent in 1976.

•9 percent have grades of “C” or lower, but 45 percent have taken remedial courses.

•47 percent say they have “hooked up” or had casual sex.

The findings serve more than college personnel, Levine said in an interview.

“Every piece of this has implications for K-12,” he said. “We said they are weak in basic skills; those are things that really should be taught earlier. We said they are global in orientation but they really don’t know anything about the globe; that ought to be taught earlier. The teaching of creativity, continuous learning, critical thinking need to be part of that. Teaching kids to fail is part of that.”

Dean observed that the result of schools “teaching to the test” is a generation of college students “learning to the test,” evidenced by their demands on college faculty for only the class content they will be tested on, with little interest in learning for the sake of greater knowledge.

For employers, the book can explain why new graduates “expect keys to the kingdom on the day they arrive” and believe that their ideas are better than those of coworkers – the result of parenting and schooling a “sticker generation” in which ordinary behavior is honored as exceptional achievement. Their dependence on parents manifests itself there, as well.

“One of my favorite examples: Parents Day at Goldman Sachs – parents coming in to ask about benefits, ask about retirement, about continuing education and the like,” Dean said.

Overall, the co-authors’ message is optimistic: Understanding who their students are, colleges can build on strengths and address shortcomings.

“This is an education institution,” said Levine, who is now president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. “We have an opportunity to educate them and open them to the issues. That’s true of schools and colleges and communities. Government has the capability to increase interest and involvement and we have an opportunity to teach students what is possible.”

For safety’s sake, remain patient with delays

School cancellations inevitably draw complaints from observers who believe they are unwarranted. An incident this week in a St. Joseph County school district, however, is a good reminder of why school officials should err on the side of caution.

A middle school student in New Carlisle was injured Friday after she was struck by a car at a school bus stop. The 13-year-old was taken to the hospital, but her injuries weren’t believed to be serious.

New Carlisle town marshal Jeff Roseboom told the South Bend Tribune that the girl and several other children were crossing the street to catch the bus when a motorist tried to stop but slid on snow-covered pavement and struck her.

With weeks of winter weather ahead, expect more school delays and cancellations. If you’re wondering why some are necessary, think of the school officials who have to make calls that could mean the difference between life and death.