August 26, 2008

Young and old and little

When I'm at a meeting with residential life staff, and we're talking about ways to help our first year students adjust to living on campus, I try to be helpful. I share what I've learned after 25 years of teaching first year students. I enthusiastically endorse student programs on topics like diversity, stress, and alcohol use.

But often I think, quietly and to myself, that we aren't addressing the real issue. It's completely unnatural to take hundreds of eighteen-year-olds and put them all in a building by themselves. It's crazy, really. No amount of programming is going to make that an ideal situation.

I've often thought we could solve a whole bunch of problems in this community by ripping down a few walls and redesigning a few buildings. What would happen if we could combine daycare centers and senior citizen housing with college dorms?

College students would behave so much better if they had a bunch of pseudo grandparents living on their floor. They could benefit from the wisdom of their elders, while they infused the old age community with much-needed energy. College students would act responsible if they had little kids to play with, to be role models for. I think the elderly could benefit from having college students nearby to run errands for them or push their wheelchairs.

Heaven knows, when I'm old, I don't want to live with a bunch of old people. I'd much rather be near the energy of college students and little kids. Sure, the building would have to be carefully designed, with some community spaces and some private spaces, but how much healthy the situation would be for everyone.

When I was talking about this on the phone with LovesWolves, I said, "We'd have to rebuild some buildings, but in this country, we're always ripping buildings down and building new ones."

She laughed and said, "I think the walls you have to rip down are inside people's minds."

But that's always the way it is.

23 comments:

dr said...

My grandmother lived for a while in a facility, specializing in caring for people with Alzheimers, that backed onto a daycare center. In addition to making it easy for the old folks to sit quietly and watch the kids play, the daycare teachers would bring small groups of toddlers and preschoolers over every week to visit. It felt like a magical idea to me.

Cranky Old Man said...

It might surprise you how many students already have elderly family that need caring for. If you read some of the academic blogs, you will also see how many educators adopt a “no makeup ever policy” that might be at odds with using students a health care aides.

Cranky Old Man

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

Wow. What a simple and astonishing idea.

RageyOne said...

The walls inside people's minds are the hardest to rip down.

kathy a. said...

there's a lot to that idea. i really liked dorms because they were a chance to get to know students from a lot of different backgrounds. but in college, i also volunteered to visit old ladies in a WTCU rest home a few blocks away, and to tutor kids at a community center, and for a program college students ran to take inner city kids out on field trips. guess i was looking for some inter-generational opportunities.

BlackenedBoy said...

I'm fairly sure that you and I have discussed this before.

What people fail to realize is that eighteen-year-olds are, in everything but name, children. They're inexperienced, naive, and oftentimes very afraid of everything going on around them.

They still need (and secretly crave) guidance, authority, and protection.

Do we as a society really believe that eighteen-year-olds are any more capable than sixteen-year-olds of making their own decisions and living their lives by themselves?

If it were up to me, the age of majority would be raised to twenty-one, placing more restrictions on what young adults can do but also giving them more legal protection.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

A "futurist" named Joel Barker was on our campus for pre-school meetings. He told us about a K-12 school that was mixed age, and that worked very well. His contention was that the pheremones of a collection of 15-18 year olds created a lot of trouble, but that having younger kids around forced the older ones to be more responsible and less like their evil selves.... sounds like your dorm/daycare idea would do the same thing.

zelda1 said...

I look at my freshmen and think about the many things they are going to face, some good, some not so good, and some that will scar them for life and I want to protect them. I especially worry about the girls. Yesterday, I asked my comp I class, how many had ever lived away from home for more than a couple of weeks and none of them raised their hands. So, I told them to keep a few things in mind: getting falling down drunk is not safe; when a girl says no, it means no; and hang around in groups and leave in groups. They laugh and think not me, and by the third or fourth week, well, you know things happen.

Rana said...

I think it wouldn't be a bad idea either.

My freshman year I lived on campus (as I did all 4 years, actually) and didn't leave it until close to Christmas break, when I decided to go to the local mall. Aside from being overwhelmed by all the things for sale, I was astonished to encounter large crowds of grandparents and toddlers - it was "disney day" aka bring your tots to the mall - and it made me realize how few non-adults ever made it to campus.

My sophmore year I was in one of the language dorms and due to a mid-year recall of our language teacher to her home country, we ended up having a single mother and her 10-year-old daughter living with us instead. We were all reluctant at first - we figured she'd cramp our style - but it turned out really well. There's nothing like living with a parent and a kid to improve your language skills! and both of them were really fun to live with.

Finally, at D's high school, it shared space with an elementary school, and each older student was assigned a toddler to look after and mentor (not every day, but on regular occasions). The toddlers loved the attention, and the teens grew to be quite protective of "their" kids.

I think it's good for people to learn that they can be independent and stand on their own if they need to, but most of us will live our lives in the presence of other people - that's a good thing most days, I think.

liz said...

I really love this idea.

Phantom Scribbler said...

God, I have been muttering this under my breath to myself for YEARS, jo(e). It's such a relief to hear that I'm not the only one who thinks that four years spent solely in the company of one's peer group is maybe not the best way to help young adults reach a healthy, productive maturity.

Sandie said...

I agree! It is a great idea and have often thought about the daycares for the elderly and young ones should be together, but I like adding the college students into the mix too.

Tall Kate said...

As everyone else said, this is a FABULOUS idea. I have long maintained that one of the problems in this society is the intense age segregation.

lizardek said...

You are both SO right!!

Amy said...

I really love this idea. Many of my students live at home with large extended families and commute to campus, and they just seem much more grounded than the dorm residents.

hele said...

It would be a wonderful place.

Worth breaking down a few walls for.

concretegodmother said...

AGREED!!!

concretegodmother said...

Jo(e) for Education Secretary!!!

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Hypatia said...

What a great idea!

And Science agrees -- have you already seen this article?

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=talk-to-teens-live-longer

jo(e) said...

Hypatia: I hadn't seen it, but it makes sense to me. Thanks for the link!

Jarrett said...

The separation of age groups into different districts or buildings is no smarter than separating poor people that way. High-rise public housing exclusively for the poor was a spectacular failure that blighted a generation of lives, and today planners are smarter. It's healthier to live around people of diverse incomes, just as it is with diverse ages.

The 20th century was all about those kinds of separations -- like the separation of residential areas from commercial ones in suburbs, thus forcing everyone to drive to get a quart of milk or a newspaper.

Someone needs to pull together the diverse strands of thought that are saying hey, it's better to mix everything up. Because the same conversation are happening in many fields. What you say is true not just of age, but of income, ethnicity, economic purpose, etc etc.

jo(e) said...

Jarrett: Good point.