Monday, April 25, 2016

The child-led kids go to grad school

For the past few decades, there have been movements afoot in parenting that seek to "flip" the traditional parent-child hierarchy - child-led weaning, child-led toilet training, child-led education, unschooling, etc.

Children from these movements are now pursuing higher ed degrees. I have noticed several  intriguing attempts by the students to flip the adviser-advisee relationship, and faculty trying to accommodate these changes.
First, some linguistic changes. Many faculty solely refer to their advisees as "collaborators". Students say, "I collaboate with so-and-so", or "this work was conducted in collaboration with so-and-so." Rarely, are the words adviser or advisee used in the discussion. This is not good or bad, but an interesting trend.

Second, I have noticed a rise in the number of students who routinely and vehemently push back against their advisors' suggestions. Sometimes this is a healthy debate, but sometimes it can sour the relationship. For example, when a student strongly believes they are ready for a black diamond, but have not yet demonstrated mastery of the bunny slope, tension can arise.

I think part of this second issue may tie into timelines that students have internalized about what should be happening when in the process. There's a belief that if you show up and do work, regardless of its quality, you will earn a degree after n years. Perhaps to some extent pressure from various administrative bodies have reinforced these beliefs by stating that degrees are expected to be completed within n years, or funding will be taken away.

To be fair, there are deep questions about what it means to have a degree, the process by which that assessment is made, and who is qualified to make that assessment. And perhaps one way forward to addressing these questions is to relax the hierarchy somewhat to better enable students (collaborators?) to be part of the conversation. But I do not think the answer is to view advisers and committees as merely rubber stamps toward obtaining a degree.