I teach an accelerated version of an MBA class and in my last section students were lamenting at how challenged they were to complete the final paper on time. When I asked for feedback for the class, they suggested that I require an interim assignment where students had to provide their reference list in advance. (Presumably, this will provide an incentive for them to start working on their papers earlier in the course!)

They were quite vocal in their requests and even provided a well-thought-out rationale in writing after the class had ended — but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It felt too much like coddling. If I try to teach anything in my courses it is relevant life lessons and requiring self-driven forethought and responsibility seemed to be good skills to reinforce (or learn?).

I worry that the bar for personal responsibility keeps getting pushed further and further into adulthood. It used to be that you had to take greater ownership for your actions as you grew as a child. Then it was when you entered high school. Then college was the mark of independence, only now life coaches are there to provide assistance in navigating that system. Are people now on their own when they begin their first job or are onboarding buddies and mentors extending that phase of independence as well?

The conversation in class made me wonder where and how we teach self-accountability today. Our public library has stopped collecting fines – a seemingly unrelated action – but I think learning from a litany of small actions that have consequences is what teaches people to assume responsibility for their outcomes. If being late in returning a book doesn’t matter as a kid, how do people learn to set their own benchmarks and make sacrifices to achieve other goals?

Schools, sports and extracurricular activities have resulted in very structured lives for our youth and I see them challenged in transitioning to a phase where they take responsibility for creating their own schedules and deadlines. The tough love on my syllabus may be the most valuable thing they learn in class.

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