A popular article on Slate this week offers a nearly perfect demonstration of how not to write about college students. The lesson is on how to pretend a small fraction of students stand in for the entire undergraduate population.
Here’s how it* works.
The title (“Kids of Helicopter Parents Are Sputtering Out”) and thesis (“perfectly healthy but overparented kids get to college and [suffer from an] inability to cope”) proclaim a focus on students suffering from helicopter parents – a legitimate topic, one widely discussed in education circles. The text as published by Slate hits a nice nexus between education and parenting, solidly popular topics today.
It’s also largely about rich families.
Check out the source with which Lythcott-Haims leads, William Deresiewicz ‘s Excellent Sheep. This book is entirely about the socio-economic and academic elite, traditional-age students at the Yale/Harvard level. That’s a small fraction of America’s undergraduate population. I think the book recognizes this. Lythcott-Haims does not, instead allowing that elite to stand for the whole.
Then the article adds another elite example, students at Stanford. (That means we’ve hit the 1st, 2nd, and 4th richest American universities so far) Once again there’s no recognition that this sample is a small and very non-representative one. But the author does reveal more evidence for my point, when she offers this look into her experience:
In my years as dean, I heard plenty of stories from college students who believed they had to study science (or medicine, or engineering), just as they’d had to play piano,and do community service for Africa, and, and, and.
How many community college students does that describe? How many from public universities? Continue reading