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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Teaching fragility: 1/5 of undergrads are 'disabled'

Colleges are disabling students, teaching them that they need not show up in class, complete assignments on time or give an oral presentation in class, writes Colleen Eren, who teaches sociology and criminal justice, on Discourse.

The definition of "disability" has broadened to the point of meaninglessness, she writes. No medical diagnosis is required if the student self-declares as suffering from anxiety, depression, learning disorders or attention-deficit disorders.

As a result, a growing number of students are seeking twice as much time on exams, "flexible" submission dates for assignments, permission to miss class and the opportunity to take oral exams in private or not at all.

"There was a 292 percent increase in students classified with disabilities at the top eight liberal arts colleges over the past 12 years," she writes. For example, 27 percent of Amherst students and 26 percent of Brown students get special treatment for disabilities.

For all the talk of "equity," the most privileged students are more than four times more likely to receive accommodations than students at community college, which tend to enroll the least privileged. Perhaps upper-middle-class Amherst students see disability as a way to acquire the virtue of victimhood. Or they just want more time on tests.

"In 2016 a remarkable one-fifth of the undergraduate population in the United States was determined by their college to have a disability, with learning disabilities, attention-deficit disorder and the psychological issues of anxiety and depression comprising the vast majority of these disabilities," Eren writes. And the numbers keep going up. There's a move to include "test anxiety," which surely includes almost everyone.

Young people who are anxious or easily distracted need to figure out how to cope with their challenges before they face the challenges of the workplace, writes Eren. "It is highly unlikely a manager will give them double the time to complete a task as they give others, and many careers require reading and executing tasks in expedient fashion."

Quite a few requiring speaking in public. Nearly all require showing up.

Lowering the bar will lower the value of a college degree, Eren predicts. Worse, "we will have saddled students with a belief in their frailty, in a workplace that will provide them with lowered expectations and severely damaged the resiliency they need to succeed in their post-academic lives."

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