Act your age Smith, not your shoe size!

I like this one…Brookfield’s 4th assumption “College Students of Any Age Should Be Treated as Adults”. Having started my career teaching in English secondary education (at that time, ages 11 or 12 through 16) to more recently teaching in Canadian post secondary, I can categorically agree with Brookfield, that “students, whatever their age, wish to be treated as adults”. But if truth be known, I think only a few can really handle it.

I chuckled to myself thinking of my last class who ranged from 18 – 23, one particular student sprung to mind. At first they appeared to be mature beyond their years…but oh no, how wrong I was. The classic ‘over participator’ which of course there is nothing wrong with, but as I discussed in an earlier blog post, this requires managing carefully as the ego is a very fragile thing. During the first few weeks of the first semester, they would continually ask “what do you think to this John?” or “is this good enough?”… I know they just wanted to get the best results and make a great impression but it was endless; the class would joke that they were more needy than my two-year-old son. It took quite some time for that student to evaluate their own efforts, to steadily become more critical of their work. Initially I would answer them directly but over time my answers changed to “do you think it is good enough?” During a practical assignment, I observed this student acting in quite an unsafe manner; not because they were reckless or careless, but because they were frustrated. I was forced to stop them immediately and then explain the ‘why’ of the the situation. They sulked, and I mean sulked! Like a 5 year old. I should point out that I didn’t showcase them or single them out but acted appropriately for the situation. My point to this story is that I agree that we should treat college students as adults because we are trying to prepare them for whatever the next step is for them, we need the environment to be authentic and valid. But what I think what we should read into this quote is ‘students of any age should be respected‘ which runs deeper than being treated like adults by default.

We should be respectful but also weary of their age. They have much to give the learning environment; experience which can benefit all but they will likely still lack the sophistication and depth of the ‘adult’ learner. As I researched a little further, I came across a few articles that really gave me some perspective. This short article with multiple links by Caitlin Grimes, discusses Professor Eric Posners view that “universities were well within their rights to limit the free speech and behavior of their students as college students need to be treated like children instead of adults”.That american students are attending university ill-equipped, for adulthood and require “universities to resume their traditional role in loco parentis.” The end of the article really hit home “tell the 40% of our military that is 24 or below that it has to come home, the infantilization of college students must stop”…That was me aged 17.5, trying to be an ‘adult’ to the best of my ability in a very adult world. My father was 14.5 when he started work as a carpenter and joiner in Northern England.  my father and I were just two generations but we’ve been expecting ‘children’ to be adults since the dawn of time. Can we really expect our young adults to own all the attributes of the experienced adult? Research suggests that the mind is still developing well into our mid 20’s, I would argue that everyday I still develop a little more (although my wife may disagree, especially whilst skiing).

I’ll say it again, the key for me is respect. We need to respect the student for not only who they are and their experiences but also, what and who they aspire to be. I appreciate that the underlying meaning of this assumption is more than the literal sense. We need to remain professional, earn the respect of our students by modelling what we expect them to be, connect and understand them, because ultimately, we are responsible for preparing them to become the adults that they think they already are.


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