Having Fun, Not Working Hard

Kara Miller, who teaches rhetoric and history at Babson College, is the latest professor to decry the laziness of American college students. You can read her Boston Globe op-ed here.

Miller is careful to say that some native-born students work hard, but the gap she sees between American and international students is large. She says her foreign students, chiefly from China, India, Thailand and Latin America, work hard, excel on exams and contribute in class, while her American students are generally disengaged and account for almost all of her “C,” “D” and “F” students this semester. Among the leading activities of the American students are texting during class, declining to take notes, and staying up late logging hours of video games.

Many critics of the college scene have made the same general observation, , including two who write for this site, Mark Bauerlein (The Dumbest Generation) and Peter Sacks (Generation X Goes to College.) Why the lackadaisical approach to college? Many point to a sense of entitlement, the impact of the self-esteem movement and the generally inept curricula of the public schools, which increasingly stress diversity, equality and feelings rather than actual learning. Then too, many colleges are gearing courses to the declining level of student readiness and energy—not just all the courses that end in the words “studies,” but also impossible-to-fail courses about American entertainment that seem like rainy-day activities at summer camp. A common argument in defense of slackers is that they understand that college is a time for fun, drugs and sex, and the time to get going doesn’t arrive until graduation. A sophisticated version of this explanation–that softness and indulgence peel away as Americans leave their school years behind, is found in Michael Barone’s book, Hard America, Soft America.

Still, it’s hard to overcome lifelong habits of indifference and disengagement. In a globalizing economy, Miller writes, “Americans’ inability to stay focused and work hard could prove to be a serious problem.”


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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