I’ve dealt with students this week whose primary excuse for bad behavior or poor performance seems to be that they are the first generation in their family to go to college. Their argument: they don’t know any better.
My brother and I were also the first generation in our family to go to college. While I got a few tips from my older brother, the age difference (seven years) was such that he was out beginning his career by the time I started college, so we really didn’t talk much about it. That really doesn’t matter.
My parents didn’t need a college degree to teach me that I’m expected to do my own work.
They didn’t need a college degree to teach me that my education was my responsibility.
The fact that they didn’t have college degrees never stopped me from going to the library in those pre-Internet days to seek additional sources of information on a topic with which I was struggling.
My parents never had the opportunity to ask a college professor a question when they were growing up, but that didn’t prevent me from determining that office hours are a good time to get clarification on issues that are confusing.
My parents never completed a term paper, but that didn’t keep them from teaching me that putting off work until the last minute is not a good idea.
My parents never had a college course where different components of the course were weighed differently, but I learned how to compute my grade so that I could always know where I stood in a course.
We certainly should recognize that being the first in a family to go to college may mean that a student has a unique experience. We may need to help that student get off to a good start by making our expectations clear and providing accessible resources. In the long run, however, we do not help the student who turns this opportunity into an excuse for bad behavior or poor performance.