Photo by James Norton
I recently read this article, where psychologist Wendy Mogel describes new university students as ‘tea cups’ –students who are fragile and can’t handle adversity- and ‘crispies’ – students who are burnt out from studying too much and no longer enjoy learning. I’ve also heard university students described as ‘snowflakes’ – students who consider themselves unique, fragile and deserving of special treatment.
While I understand that students need support with the transition to university, I get annoyed with generalisations like this. Are new university students really less resilient and more burnt out than in the past? This categorisation of students reminds me of labels such as ‘generation Y’ and ‘digital natives’. Jim Bright calls such generational tags ‘simplistic and insulting’.
Sue Bennett and Karl Maton found that:
…generations of students have been regularly described as fundamentally dissimilar…and are ascribed different characteristics. Indeed, moral panics over ‘new’ students are a recurrent phenomenon in education (Hickox & Moore 1995). During the late 19th century, for example, the expansion of formal state education was accompanied by concerns over the entry of middle-class and female students (Lowe 1987). (Bennett and Marton, 2010, p322).
Bennett and Maton’s review of research into ‘digital natives’ shows that while some technology-based activities are common among young people, others are not, and such familiarity cannot be assumed.
Perhaps these tags help university teachers talk about their students, but I don’t think they are helpful in treating students respectfully, as individuals.