College Completion vs. Critics' 'Condescension'

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To the Editor:

The premise of your front-page article "'Soft Skills' Seen as Key Element for Higher Ed." (Nov. 14, 2012) is that today's teenagers lack the life skills and resiliency that their counterparts in earlier generations possessed and therefore must be trained to be resourceful and self-sufficient. This premise is framed by a college counselor whom you quote (in the second paragraph) as follows: "Millennials have had helicopter parents who have protected them," so they "haven't had the opportunity to struggle."

This sweeping assertion reflects a point of view that has already calcified into the conventional wisdom even though it's based mostly on anecdote and, insofar as struggle is assumed to be beneficial, ideology. Fortunately, the broader argument of your article contains one key proposition that can easily be tested: "Many teenagers lack [crucial life skills], and that's hurting college-completion rates."

Hmm. How might we substantiate the claim that fewer students these days are finishing college? Well, we might turn from Page 1 of this issue to Page 5, which features a short article with the headline: "K-12 and College Completion Rates Set Record." Here we read that 33 percent of the population now graduates from college, as compared with 12 percent in the 1970s, with "record levels of college completion among all groups: men and women; blacks, whites, and Hispanics; and foreign- and native-born Americans."

Perhaps the problem isn't too little competence on the part of students, but too much condescension and overgeneralization on the part of some adults.

Alfie Kohn
Belmont, Mass.

Vol. 32, Issue 14, Page 28

Published in Print: December 12, 2012, as College Completion vs. Critics' 'Condescension'
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