Man is constantly producing and reproducing a culture. The cumulative total of current intellectual, spiritual, and emotional constructs within a nation or people is like unto a flowing river. Change is its constant. And as education must occur within a culture, not apart from it, an educator must understand and perhaps withstand the culture in which he is teaching. For those of us who have a few years of education behind us, we often express to others, “Today’s student is not the same as when I started teaching.”
One such conversation recently put me up against it when the other teacher asked, “When did students start believing they were above all this (meaning school, the classroom, learning, etc.)?” As he and I talked about his concern, I began to label the current classroom culture with the phrase, “Seinfeld Syndrome” thinking perhaps he and I were on to something new. But then I did a search of my phrase and found that medical journals have considered this a real psychological effect for years.
A condition—named after the lead, Jerry Seinfeld, in the popular sitcom on the 1990s— which is characterised by self-absorption,nihilism, and superficial relationships with others
Segen’s Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.
So this has been around long enough to be labeled. And it seems pandemic. Many of the students I currently teach seem to judge themselves smarter, more witty, and generally above their teachers, peers, and certainly their parents. This is concerning to an educator because it is the antithesis of an educable mind. Humility must come before learning. Being willing to learn is tantamount to being able to learn. The following are some questions I wrote out upon considering this phenomenon in the classroom:
- Is a part of this syndrome the focus by many teachers on knowledge acquisition? If Johnny believes he can find more and better information on his own than what his teacher can supply him in class, then this syndrome seems “logical.”
- How does one address the incidence of this syndrome in class? I would proffer that it is the old Socratic form of questioning that seeks to first demonstrate to the mind that it lacks a proper understanding of said study that would bring someone suffering under Seinfeld Syndrome back to their senses and the ability to then learn.
- I wonder how much of this is the displacement of the local school with the current ‘federal’ model of schooling? To the extent that educational decisions are reached apart from the local community, it places the family in an adversarial position to the school (those people) and thus encourages through the parent a child who sees themselves not as a part of the school community but rather as a “consumer” who must fight for their own rights, and look down on the “big bad school.” Maybe I am reaching, but it seems possible.
- Some writers, considering this syndrome, find it easy to produce jeremiads against our insolent and pampered youth. But at the heart of such living surely there is a cry, a desire to come out from such insolence and be significant. So what is the plea at the heart of this syndrome and how can teachers help answer that call?
Education will be a part of whatever answer our current culture gives to our youth about life and meaning. May we be teachers who show them Ultimate Truth, not give them one-liners.