Decline of academic motivation? This question was prompted by another discussion. I'd be interested to know, from the other posters, if they think academic lack of motivation was ever higher than...

Decline of academic motivation?

This question was prompted by another discussion.

I'd be interested to know, from the other posters, if they think academic lack of motivation was ever higher than it now is. My automatic assumption is that it was, but I'm not sure if I am just feeling nostalgic and sentimental or if there really has been a drop-off in academic motivation over the last 50 years.

Expert Answers
dwbettine eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wow! Over the last 50 years! I'm not that old yet! I graduated high school in 1980 and observed students highly motivated (yes, that would be me) and students with little or no motivation. I currently teach 8th grade mathematics and I still see students with high levels of motivation and students with little or none. Now, as in the 70's and early 80's, this appears to have little to do with academic ability. I went to school with students who struggled with academics who were highly motivated and, conversely, saw students with natural gifts of intellectual abilities show no desire at all. The same patten is exhibited in students I've taught over the past 8 years (that's how long I've been a teacher).

It does appear, that in general, more of my advanced math students are better at 'playing school' than those who find math more of a struggle. My advanced math students are 'pleasers' and have a high level of intrinsic motivation. They do well in school because it's important to them. They may not know exactly why it's important to them, but it is.

I will agree there are many more distractions competing for students' attention today and this may have a part to play in our views of their motivational levels. I strongly suspect they are motivated, just maybe not in what we consider important. Place a new X-box game and console or smart phone with unlimited texting in front of them and watch how motivated they become.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the greatest problems with higher education in America is that the U.S. began to model universities after the "gymnasiums" of Germany's educational system which were training centers. For, the higher educatonal facilities are another level.

In America, the fine arts are discredited.  Science and math professors and athletic personnel, especially, are elevated and paid more than any liberal arts professor.  No longer does the country revere the well-rounded education.  Instead, "edu-training" is the direction of higher education.  With the idea of procuring a profession that pays well, the sense of educating oneself in order to improve the mind and soul has taken serious flight.

Who needs to know about literature or music, anyway, when the internet can give answers? many youth believe.  In the materialistic society of America, parents have abandoned any aesthetic appreciation, as well, as they strive for the all-important acquisition of material possessions and wealth, the "real" criterion of success.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The previous post makes good points concerning the desire for many former G.I.s to take advantage of the free education offered. Although many students in past decades probably never took much interest in education, particularly those who recognized that they would never go to college, I do believe past students took a more serious interest in their studies. I believe many parents in the past truly took a more active interest in their children's studies, and they placed more importance on their children's future than many parents today. As far as today's apathetic outlook, I do believe that more of today's students think of high school as a waste of their time, and although many take their grades seriously, they don't take their studies seriously. Plagiarism is rampant, and most students don't seem to recognize that copying-and-pasting other people's original work is a form of cheating. 

Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to agree with an earlier comment that academic motivation seems alive and well, at least among the students I teach (college), but the idea of learning for its own sake has lost its currency.  Most students, although willing to tolerate courses outside their major, are completely focused on doing only what is necessary to get their degrees and move on.  Given the time and expense of a university education, however, I understand that they need to have their eyes on their primary goal, which is to graduate as soon as possible, but it seems to me that when I began teaching in the 1970's, I came across many more students who at least appeared to be interested in and appreciate subjects well outside their major studies.

The reality is that academic motivation and becoming educated do not necessarily coincide.

marbar57 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think students are more motivated than they've ever been to achieve high scores in lower education schools and graduate with a high school diploma, go on to college and graduate with a degree, finally moving successfully into the job market once they're finished. And, there seems to be a delightful trend for "baby boomers" to go back to school, and either pursue a first-time degree or finish up one they started years before.

Modern technological advances have given the student of today many wonderful resources to help them get their education. They now have all the latest gadgets to put the Internet at their fingertips. Online education is putting a whole new twist to getting an education; anyone can study anywhere, anytime!

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It seems to me that historically interest in academic accomplishment for its own sake was once much higher than now--among certain classes: the upper classes where their education was in part what established them in their class (e.g., as in England); lower classes who knew it was education that would open the doors of opportunity (e.g., post-Emancipation, post-civil rights); working classes who saw the road to social, economic, cultural power was through education (e.g., post-World War II GIs). One difference now is that University has come to be a more available opportunity and is more connected to job preparation--a function once filled by other non-academic training.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Students today are more competitive now than I remember. They are very conscious of class ranking, GPA, extracurricular activities, and portfolio-building, more so than at other points in my career. Much of this, I think, is due to the emphasis placed on these things by adults in their lives. Whether students are more interested in learning for the sake of learning is another question, and my general sense is that they are not. Students want quick, unambiguous answers even as the scholarship and best practices of teaching and learning are moving increasingly away from "spoon-feeding" approaches.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hmm.  Good question.  I tend to agree with pohnpei on this one.  Students in the information/technology age are different in many respects, but I think apathy has always been a pervasive problem, along with procrastination.  I remember taking my classes at high school less seriously than many of my students do now, even though I was a relatively good student.  What I don't remember among my peers was this strong a sense of entitlement, or this many parents who worked actively against the teacher and school.  It's perplexing, because this generation of parents are the ones I went to school with.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

#2 makes an interesting point that our answer to this question is going to be influenced by our own academic motivation and how this led us to socialise with others of a similarly motivated attitude. I personally do feel that the entitlement that #3 refers to is very pervasive among students at the moment, and this has led them to not care so much about academic work, though of course this is a generalisation and not the case for every student.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to say that I see the motivation as being different for different areas. In my children's school, students are highly motivated. In the district I teach in, motivation,well, is lacking. I really think it depends upon the area. I teach in a rural farming area. Many students know that they are going to farm. Therefore, I cannot offer a blanket statement as to academic motivation. I really think it differs everywhere.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My feeling is that it was never higher in my lifetime.  At least, it wasn't higher among my friends at my high school back in the early to mid '80s.  I wonder if the problem is that most of us teachers were relatively good students and hung out with people who more or less cared about school and therefore are unhappy now that we have to deal with and care about students from the whole spectrum.

vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thanks to everyone for very thoughtful responses to my question!

hubus | Student

I guess, in prior to these comments posted here, that academical classes will be motivating you only if you see the big deal of it.

myriad | Student

Well, since I am among this generation in which you pose your question, I have to say that many of my friends have a strong will to do well in school, but mostly for the overall effect. To get into a good college, to achieve an A in the class, to simply prep themselves for a test that will be placed on their permanent record. Many of us, myself included at times, only strive to do well to achieve that final objective. We don't specifically have any strong desire to work hard to learn at full capacity. At times, I find certain subjects I really do try hard in so I can increase my knowledge within that subject, such as with writing and poetry, and specifically science focusing on the human anatomy. But in general, the bigger picture of the final grade, the final report on our record, is much more important than what we are learning itself.

chroro | Student

i really enjoyed reading all of your views thank you very much for such great beneifit my friends lol

samjazael123 | Student

Well I think you can motivate children to learn academically by showing them the path to success. To show them schooling isn't just about games, but an open world of oppertunity. I would create ways to help children or teenagers to study and gain knowledge simply and more funnily. You can help people learn quite easily at a young age. All you need is to find what certain people learn differently than others. I might say that helping kids overcome anxiety about tests can prove to be beneficial by making students achieve higher with confidence. So we must make students confident of themselves.