“What’s the matter with kids today? Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?”
OK, that’s satire. But I’ve heard plenty of teachers say, in all seriousness, “Why don’t students read instructions anymore?” Or, in a tone of surprise, “These kids didn’t actually read the problem!” I’ve even said things like that myself.
Not that it’s a majority of all students, or even close to that — but there’s a definite sense that the issue has gotten worse.
It probably has.
But it isn’t really about kids; the same issue afflicts adults. That conclusion struck me the other day when I read “Can’t You Read the Sign?,” an essay by the inestimable Patrick Maguire. Do read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts:
I recently entered Staples and was greeted by this 20″ x 30″ sign immediately upon entering:
After walking around the sign, I heard some commotion at the check out line about 20 feet away. Following a minor ruckus, a customer loudly stated, “You should have a sign!,” and stormed out. [Of course I had to get the scoop from the cashier.] She told me that the customer presented a credit card to pay, she apologized, and informed him that their POS was down and for the time being, they could only accept cash. After pleading his case, to no avail, the customer kicked a cardboard display of tape, dropped his verbal parting shot about the need for a sign, and left. And yes, I confirmed that the sign was in place when he entered the store…
My go-to, neighborhood greasy spoon, the Busy Bee has been cash-only for decades. Despite a small sign in the front window, every day, on multiple occasions, customers pull out plastic to pay and the staff explains that they are cash-only. Tired of explaining why, and where the nearest ATM was, they posted this sign on the front door:
Nothing has changed. Every single day I go to the diner I see someone try to pay with plastic. ‘No one’ reads anything or follows instructions. If you doubt it, ask a bartender or server about their interactions with customers. No matter how detailed you explain something, customers often reply in a nonsensical way, oblivious of what was just communicated to them.
And read the sign in front of our Vice-Presidential role model: