back in my day…….

My capstone (400 level undergrads) students wrote a final paper on their experience using Tumblr to document ‘what it means to research’ and/or ‘what research means.’ There was much confusion as the semester progressed, and much stress toward the end as students presented and realized they all had different answers (different answers in student speak means you did it wrong hence the stress), but ultimately, as we discussed their process, and discussed how to talk about their data they came to really interesting conclusions about the idea of research, the state of the research process in academia.

One of the main ideas students dealt with in this paper was the “it used to be better” or “back in my day we were smarter because we went to the library” ideas associated with research. Several students lamented the fact that they were asked to research through the internet for my class (hello it’s an internet class and books take years to be published, so we’re all about the articles), but were asked to “go to the Library” for 200 level courses and then relate ideas from those lit classes to current events. They asked, quite astutely, how current can the library books be?

As I completed grading their papers today I read a blog by Tattooed Professor here. Similar to my findings, this professor laments the idea that older, very senior tenured faculty continue to write op ed pieces (which become published here) essentially claiming “it used to be better back in my day.” The US Supreme Court (#scotus) in their discussions of marriage equality raise the same issue, marriage has always been between a man and a woman so that must be right.

Obviously the connection here is the idea that many lament modern culture, levying the “back in my day” as sufficient basis for critique on why younger generations always have it wrong. The internet is ruining everything. Kids today don’t know how to write. Kids today don’t play outside enough. Young faculty don’t care enough. I could go on. Instead I’m going to turn to Ruth Bader Ginsberg for support here. In her arguments she raises the idea that discussion how gay marriage effects children makes marriage mean an institution for procreation – raising the question can childless couples wed? Should average citizens be required to sign an agreement with the state to procreate before being issues a marriage license? most of us would answer NO.

Additionally, RBG points to the many many ways marriage has been redefined and reunderstood since the 1960’s and women’s rights. Women are no longer property. In maintaining the idea that the definition or idea of marriage cannot be changed, she points out that it already has, so why not further extend those rights to same sex couples.

In both these arguments, RBG points out why the “back in my day” argument is severely flawed as proof positive for a claim. Other justices, lawyers, and public participants don’t agree with her point, so there isn’t consensus on this idea. Professors writing about the work of teaching clearly don’t agree on the fallacies of the “back in my day” argument. Critics of the internet also disagree with the argument.

As I read through the papers submitted by my seniors I lamented the fact that this was the final paper, so comments I made would be little read and utilized in the future, because these students tried hard to address academic injustices, internet critics, internet critics within academia, and the function of freshmen composition all at once in 5-7 pages, through Tumblr. Their task in this paper was epic, I understood that when assigning the paper. Their responses demonstrated their understanding of “back in my day” as an argument fallacy. Do we need to rely on them to fix this long standing reliance on culture always being better the generation before? Is their experience here enough for them to continue with this level of critical thinking and analysis and awareness so they’ll be like RBG as they continue through their careers?

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