Thursday, October 5, 2006

Do we need a PTO in Law School?

I don’t know if this is a phenomenon that you are experiencing in your Academic Support Program, but every Professor in our program has received some communication from a student’s parent and/or other older relative this academic year. One of my colleagues heard from the uncle of a student asking if our office provided private tutoring or could recommend a tutor. Another colleague was asked to report the progress of a student on academic probation to a parent. I was sent an e-mail from an anxious parent yesterday morning asking if I could recommend any techniques for more efficient reading since this parent’s child was having a hard time.

I find this troubling. And not just because I consider myself the only maternal influence a law student should need, but because it seems to go hand in hand with a general sense that although our student body is getting chronologically older, they are getting academically younger.

In the hip new lingo (that I had to look up on the internet because I am neither hip nor new), these parents are called “helicopter parents.” (See, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helicopter_parent). Although these parents are most often found at the undergraduate level, it appears that their children have graduated and come to law school.

According to some of the literature on this "helicoptering" thing, the blame falls squarely on the cell phone which is evidently the wireless equivalent of an umbilical cord (now, wouldn’t childbirth be easier if we could all go wireless? But I digress).  I imagine E-mail and IM share the guilt here too. Does it all start with the daycares that now have fulltime webcams? Will we be forced to do that in law school too?

What worries me most about this trend is that students who do not take full responsibility for themselves are, I find, least capable of removing themselves from academic difficulty. Students who do not recognize that their grades are the result of their behavior will not seek to change their behavior. Instead, they will blame others: “my professor hates me,” or, ”the exam wasn’t fair.” I think this small, purely anecdotal, epidemic of parental involvement is a symptom of more of this to come.

In the end, no matter how much they wish to assist their children, parents who intervene on their behalf at the law school level will find that their efforts will instead hinder their child’s success. But, I suppose the Bar Examiners should start expecting the calls….. (ezs)

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