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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Students' 7 Deadly Sins

Date: Thursday, May 4, 2006 1:26pm
AN ACADEMIC IN AMERICA

The 7 Deadly Sins of Students

Undergraduates increasingly seem to choose self-indulgence and
self-esteem over self-denial and self-questioning
By THOMAS H. BENTON


I've been teaching for about 10 years now, and, of course, I was a
student for 20 years before that. So I have some experience observing my
students' sins, and perhaps even more experience committing them.

The sins that I see in the everyday life of the typical college student
are not great ones. Most of the time, they don't seem like "sins" at
all, even if one accepts the religious significance of the term. But
they spring from thoughts and behaviors that, over time, become habits.

Enabled by institutions, students repeatedly take the path of least
resistance, imagining they are making creative compromises with duty
that express their unique talents. So they choose self-indulgence
instead of self-denial, and self-esteem instead of self-questioning.

They do not understand that those choices will eventually cause more
unhappiness than the more difficult paths they chose not to walk.

The traditional model of the "Seven Deadly Sins" provides a helpful
means of categorizing — and perhaps simplifying — the complicated and
cumulative experience I am trying to describe:


(click "more" or the title at top to read about the 7 sins and students)


Sloth: Students often postpone required readings and assigned
preparations, making it hard for them to understand their classes the
next day. Gradually, lectures and discussions that were once interesting
start to seem boring and irrelevant, and the temptation to skip classes
becomes greater and greater, especially when the classes are in the
morning. Sometimes students arrive late with — in my opinion —
insufficient shame, closing the door behind them with a bang. Slothful
students regard themselves as full of potential, and so they make a
bargain: "I will be lazy now, but I will work hard later." Like St.
Augustine, students say to themselves, "Let me be chaste, but not yet."
More on lust later.

Greed: Students often pursue degrees not for the sake of learning itself
but with the aim of getting a better-paying job, so they can buy a
bigger house and fancier cars than those owned by their parents and
their neighbors. That often leads to greed for grades that they have not
earned. Some students cheat on exams or plagiarize their papers; others,
sometimes the most diligent, harass professors into giving them grades
unjustified by their performance. The goal of such cheaters and
grade-grubbers is not the reality of achievement but the appearance of
it. They will then apply to graduate programs or entry-level jobs that
they do not really desire and for which they are not really qualified.
They want to be lawyers, but they are bored by law courses. They want to
be doctors, but they do not care about healing people. They want to go
into business, not to provide useful products and services, but to get
rich by any means necessary. And so they come to believe that no one has
integrity and that there is no basis — other than the marketplace — by
which value can be judged.

Anger: Seemingly more often than in the past, professors encounter
students who are angered by challenging assignments, which they label —
with bureaucratic self-assurance — "unfair" or even "discriminatory."
When students do not succeed, they sometimes conclude that their
professors are "out to get them" because of some vague prejudice.
Students feel entitled to deference by professors who "work for them and
should act like it." They do not come to office hours for clarification
about an A-; instead, they argue that they are paying a lot of money
and, therefore, deserve a high grade, and, if you don't give it to them,
they will "complain to management," as if they were sending back food in
a restaurant. One hears rumors of cars and homes vandalized by angry
students. But perhaps the easiest places to find uncensored student rage
are the anonymous, libelous evaluations of faculty members found online
at Web sites such as RateMyProfessors.com. Often those evaluations say
less about the quality of a teacher than they do about the wounded pride
of coddled students. More on that topic soon.

Lust: I have seen students come to classes barefoot, with bare midriffs
and shoulders, in boxer shorts, bathing suits, and other kinds of
clothes that, even by fairly casual standards, are more appropriate for
streetwalking than higher learning. When did liberation from uniforms
transform itselfinto the social demand that one prepare to be ogled in
the classroom? It is hardly a surprise that on RateMyProfessors.com,
students are asked to rate their professors' "hotness" — in other words,
the teachers' worthiness to be sexually fantasized about by bored
students. Even in high-school classes, as an observer of novice
teachers, I have overheard lewd remarks about female teachers from
denizens of the back row who fear no rebuke because none is forthcoming
from the current culture.

Gluttony: It hardly needs saying that most colleges struggle to control
alcohol consumption by students and the embarrassing incidents and
tragedies that result from it. But there are other manifestations of
gluttony these days. For example, when did it become acceptable for
students to eat and drink in class as if they were sitting in a
cafeteria? Nowadays, I occasionally encounter a student who thinks it's
OK to consume a large, messy, and odorous meal in class. I once saw a
student eat an entire rotisserie chicken, a tub of mashed potatoes with
gravy, several biscuits, and an enormous soft drink during the first 10
minutes of a lecture. I felt like a jester in the court of Henry VIII.
It seems hard these days to find a student in class whose mouth is not
stuffed with food. Such students will often say that they have no other
time to eat, but previous generations — who were no less busy — managed
to consume small snacks between classes. That is why colleges have
vending machines.

Envy: I think competition is a good thing in education; up to a point,
it encourages students to work harder and excel. But the envious
student, perhaps daunted by some temporary setback, comes to believe
that education is "a rigged game." Envy is the voice of resignation that
cringes at the success of one's peers: "Listen to her, trying to impress
the teacher, like she's so brilliant. I hate her." Envy is the feeling
that no one "earns" anything because there are no objective criteria of
accomplishment; and, as a result, success and failure seem to be based
on political and personal preferences. But envy is not limited to
differences in effort and ability. Even more pervasive is a sense of
unjustified economic inequality, but, it seems to me, the fashionable
students in their convertibles who jeer the commuters at the bus stop
commit a greater sin than those who envy their money.

Pride: I once asked a group of 20 students how many thought they were
"better than their parents"? All of them raised their hands. I didn't
ask, but I assume they all believed they were better than their teachers
too. They would rise higher, be more successful, and transcend the
limitations of their elders. We read this belief in our students'
expressions: "What you know is not worth learning. They're just your
opinions anyway. I am young. I have infinite potential. You are old. And
you're just a college professor. But I will be rich and famous someday."
They have rarely been given a realistic assessment of their abilities
and prospects. Out of this pride — nurtured by the purveyors of unearned
self-esteem, personal grievance, dumbed-down courses, and inflated
grades (often in the guise of liberality) — the opportunity to earn an
education is squandered by prideful students who can make a potential
heaven seem like hell.

The concept of the "Seven Deadly Sins" comes out of the Christian
tradition, but it also has value as an ethical guide or at least as a
means of avoiding unhappiness. Increasingly, as a professor who teaches
undergraduates, I believe that one of the paramount purposes of a
liberal-arts education is to help young people acquire the wisdom to
escape those sins, especially the last one from which the others often
spring.

A liberal-arts education, as I see it, is not about acquiring wealth and
opportunities to further indulge one's desires. Nor is it about
cultivating in students an insular, idolatrous view of their nation,
ethnic group, gender, or religion. It is also not about celebrating the
so-called "great tradition" of authors, philosophers, and artists.
It is about the recognition, ultimately, of how little one really knows,
or can know. A liberal-arts education, most of all, fights unmerited
pride by asking students to recognize the smallness of their ambitions
in the context of human history, and more. Whether it is grounded in
faith or not, a liberal-arts education should help students to combat
the Seven Deadly Sins with the "Seven Contrary Virtues" of diligence,
generosity, patience, chastity, moderation, contentment, and, most
important of all, humility.

Of course, moral perfection seldom arrives at graduation, even in the
best of cases. I teach the courses, and yet I must present myself, at
last, as the "Chief of Sinners." The behaviors I observe in students
often reflect the deeper drives — the resentments and weaknesses — of
their teachers. Perhaps the impulse to identify the sins of others
reflects a corruption more serious than any I have described here. And
that is why, next month, I will sermonize on the "Seven Deadly Sins of
Professors."

Thomas H. Benton is the pseudonym of a soon-to-be associate professor of
English at a Midwestern liberal-artscollege. He welcomes reader mail
directed to his attention at careers@chronicle.com

For an archive of
his previous columns, see

Section: Chronicle Careers
Volume 52, Issue 32, Page C1



27 comments:

Lindsey Chapter said...

So true! It's a shame, really, that their parents have raised them to be so self-indulgent and self-centered. Some of these kids think the world owes them a living- a dangerous idea to hold when it comes to actually attempting to make it in the real world. This culture of entitlement has got to be reigned in. It's getting absurd.

Ryan said...

I understand where you are coming from. From my experiences, I think some kids are lost in their endeavors. Some parents expect their kids to go to college as soon as they get out of high school. They push them into situations which they are not ready for. In doing so these kids are off doing something they are not passionate about. Therefore their attitudes can be reckless rather than outstanding. I also believe that when in college some kids are not ready to decide what their future is. They have a lot of growing to do and a lot to understand about how this world, country, state, and/ or city operates. Sometimes it might be a good idea to take a step back and get to working. If they can't do that then they have a whole lot in front of them which they need to figure out.

Kimberly said...

COM101-550

The greed is what really stood out to me as one of the 7 Deadly Sins of Students. It seems now days that people are getting careers in areas that do even interest them. It seems in this day and age people are out for money. They feel money will buy them happiness. However personaly I feel money only makes you want more and it is ever enough. Happiness comes from within and enjoying what you do. You should look forward to going to work because your doing something that fullfills you no matter what the pay. Its the good old saying, " In the end no one will remember what toys you had but the person you were".

Anonymous said...

I'm a good decade older than many of my fellow students, and I see a vast separation in behavior today than 10 yrs. ago. There is no RESPECT, for self or ANY other from today's youth. There is no sense of value from achievement if you've never had to pay a price. By giving never earned rewards, we sponsor narcissism and blatant disregard by the up and coming reign holders.

Aurya said...

I am younger than many of my class mates and sometime I feel judged and discouraged by the fact that they have that much more knowledge than i do and we are at the same level of educations so yes I am competitive because if I wasn't I wouldn't get nearly as far as I have but i do not think I am "better than my parents" my mother is working on her doctorate. As for lust, you pay for your higher education and I feel the right to dress as I feel appropriate for the season. I show clevage and always have but if I were to be judged for it I honestly would not explain myself to anyone. No, people should no rate their professors by "hotness" you go to school to learn not to check out your teachers.

Anonymous said...

in this age of low employment and many applicants for each job, paying attention to this story may help. We cannot be so "me" and "rights" centered. We must think of how potential employers will see is if we want to rise to top dollars and doing what we want to do. At least in most professions..you are judged just as in this story.

Kyle said...

I think it could just be the generation, where they think they deserve everything served up on a silver platter. I've seen every one of these sins in class and during my observation hours at schools. It's kinda sad to see. Plus, in all honesty, I don't believe I'm better than my parents, because I haven't had to struggle and earn what they have. Just sayin'.

Breyon Miller said...

It is true, that as generations go on, and time goes by. People start to become more lazy and start to have so many distractions. Many people have the thought in their mind that if they take the easy path through something that they wont have to work as hard, but it turns out in the end, after everything is said and done, they face challenges that are harder than they could have ever imagined. They won't know how or what to do because they never learned. When in taking the difficult path, it enlightens you knowledge a lot more than the easy way would have. These people that take the difficult path usually have an easier time later on in life, and if anything tough comes across they know better how to deal with it.

Stephanie S said...

I think if you were to ask most college students today why they are attending school they would say something that ends with the job they want- often to make more money. I know I'm always told that I need to go to school to get a good job, so I can relate to the greed aspect of the seven sins. I enjoy learning especially in areas I'm interested in, but it is unfortunate when people spend so much time and effort focusing on a path they only want for something they think will make them happy, and don't know for sure.

Tritcy I. said...

It is sad to say that I actually agree with everything you just stated. This is my first year in college and i couldnt agree with you any less. Its ridiculous how we all want to be rich, have fame and power, yet we are lazy and dont really want to work hard for our hopes and dreams. Yet, whenever we get a not good enough grade we have to complain about it like we actually tried our absolute best on our assignment, when in reality we didnt try at all. As generations go by, the lazier people tend to be getting. Thats not good for our country. We should be moving forward not taking steps back.

Raianne Everhart said...

I totally agree with this reading and I have to admit myself, as I am a college student, I have committed some of these sins! After reading that it has made me think of them a little differently and question myself to a certain sense. This reading could also help better me and help me overcome these college "sins". I really liked how he approached this particular topic as well, and really helped me understand it from him point of view.

jcdaniel62 said...

I too am older than many of my fellow students, and all I can say that when I walked into the cashiers office to pay for my classes out of my own pocket, with my debit card, without the help of any financial assistance,I knew then that any kind of adverse behavior on my part (be it sloth or anger or whatever),would be the same as throwing my hard earned money away.

Linda B said...

The seven deadly sins have never made more realistic sence to me, than this. I wish all students knew this, and maybe the world would be a slightly better place to be in, but then, thats just wishful thinking.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how true this article actually is when it comes to college students. Many unwilling to learn the material because they would rather be out partying, and many others like the article said are there just to ease by so they can have a higher paying job when in reality they have no desire what so ever to help the sick or justify a case for someone. Also students who come to class not dressed properly, dont expect for your professor to take you seriously when your stomach is hanging out.

Jade Morton

Georgina Zielinski said...

I totally agree with this article. I know so many people whose alcohol consumption has interfered with their classes. When people eat a little snack in class it doesn’t bother me too much, but when someone brings a whole meal, that smells really good, it’s very distracting. I think going to school and getting a job in an area you don’t enjoy will take some of the joy out of life, even if you make more money.

Viviana Velasquez said...

This is so sad, and the hard part is that it's true. I've seen people enrolling in programs that they don’t fit in it. They've done it just because the reward that they will get from it and not because of the passion that they feel for it.

Miranda connell said...

These are all very interesting and obvious points. The one about greed, i have to say i dont know too many people that have gotten degrees "just for the learning experience" fact is: the economy sucks and statistically men and women need a bachelors degree or higher for a decent pay grade job. We need to supply for our children and our future to be HAPPY and HEALTHY. Bottom line is money runs all that and most people i do know will choose a major they are most interested in. Theres is a lot of validity in all of these "sins" 

Anonymous said...

I am a returning college student after 20 years and things I have seen on campus didnt happen 20 years ago. Now a days kids lack respect and they feel they can do whatever they want whenever they want. Kids need to be disiplined more at home and at schools.
Angela Mains
Comm 101 Sec 4080

Berenice said...

so true but the same time is sad.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this post has generated so many comments. Really, what more is there to say? I thoroughly enjoyed his "Seven Contrary Virtues" and have made a print out to research and break down, maybe even use for my informative speech. Thank you for posting!

Jessica Pena
Com 101

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately these are completely true. I do believe, though, that not all students are like this, or at least don't hold these qualities. I value education in every subject, even though I am a Chemistry major. Understanding and bettering myself is why I take courses, not for the grade. I do tend to procrastinate, but I am respectful to all my teachers, especially because I am usually in uniform in classes. There's still hope for students, they just have to have passion and drive and most of all respect.

Nicole H.

Jess Kobayashi said...

I think that everything has just gotten so casual nowadays, that people tend to take things for granted. The respect is absent because it was never taught at home. People used to dress up to get on airplanes and go to movies and to dinner, now jeans and pajama bottoms are more the norm. I think that says a lot oabout my generation, we just don't respect much. We think the world is all screwed up and everyone is out to get us, even our professors. We are sometimes lazy and expect things to just happen for us. It's sad. It's funny to read about but then when you go into a classroomand see the way students treat their teachers, it makes it all too real.

-Jess Kobayashi

Danny Mack said...

It would be hypocritical to say anything against this post. As I was reading along, it started to sound more and more like me. I hate to admit it but I do skip class sometimes because lectures are not exactly what I look foward to in the mornings. I do drink on the weekends. Students do mess around a little bit, but even though they are adults, they are still growing up in a way. Students like me don't look foward to having a career, and personally I am trying to be a kid as long as possible.

Jake Von Goldberg said...

I personally do not like the Seven Sins. Envy and Greed are the motivating forces of ambition. Students who find themselves committing Sloth or Gluttony will have to commit Pride to get back on track. When we talk about Lust in the sense of clothing attire or hotness, and I think it falls back on the frequency of sexual thoughts. It is claimed (even though no study officially back it up) that every seven seconds people think about sex. Anger in this example seems to be the result of indulging in other sins, I.E. Gluttony, Sloth, or Lust.

Jason S. said...

Some of this is true, having seen it many times, and I do not agree with the behaviors. However, I see these more often when the professor lectures rather than teach. This post needs to be viewed as change in both student generation and that of the professors.

Anonymous said...

I found this to be an interesting point of view. It prompted me to ask myself, have I committed any of these percepted acts or better yet, what will I do to not be categorized by any of these suggestions.

CJ Carr-RT

Anonymous said...

I am also older than most of my classmates and I have seen some of this behavior, but I also think there are some young people that work very hard and want to succeed. I cringe at the thought that a professor would concentrate so heavily on some of his students downfalls and be blind to the great ones.

S. Hayes PTA