Welcome to Grade School...er...College, Part II

Monday, July 21, 2008
So you all know that my current professor recently rewrote the syllabus for the class because so many students turned in substandard papers for our first assignment.

Well, now the students in the class are working fast and furious to place the blame for the failures squarely on the shoulders of the professor. There are e:mails going around to the entire class, essentially abrogating all personal responsibility for the substandard work. "The professor wasn't clear in her expectations!" "I rewrote my paper, and she's still not satisfied!" "I need more frequent feedback!" "How come she's so strict on the Turabian style?" etc., etc., ad naseum.

Christ on a crutch. You'd think that adult students, admitted to a prestigious university, would take some fucking personal responsibility for their own education.

I want to shake these people by their pudgy little shoulders and scream, "If you were confused, why didn't you ask for clarification? If you need more frequent feedback, why didn't you ask for it? And the Turabian style is the standard for this University, you putz."

For my own part, I'm finding this class to be ridiculously easy compared to the other classes I've taken at DU. You can be sure that my own course evaluation will detail that opinion, and also reflect negatively on my class-mates.

One of the things I've tried to impart to the Smart Boy is that real adults take responsibility for their own outcomes, and that fortune favors the prepared mind. I guess some people will never grow up...

27 comments:

Steve Buchheit said...

My wife teaches college level biology. That the students are blaming the instructor is the norm these days. At least they aren't threatening to sue.

Eric said...

Hell, blaming the prof was the norm when I was in college in the '90s. For that matter, The Paper Chase features Harvard Law students bitching about their professors and assignments. I don't know if it's a generational (post-Boomer) thing or something that can be traced back to the 16th century. (I suspect the latter, actually.)

It's immature, for sure. And unattractive and not really defensible. I imagine non-trads have a bit more perspective than people not-long out of high school, though.

Eric said...

(My comment should have mentioned that The Paper Chase is set at Harvard in the '60s and was loosely based on the writer's own experiences there.)

John the Scientist said...

Yeah, but Eric, the Paper Chase bitching was about real issues, and being pushed to memorize more and more stuff, then analyze it.

The bitching by Janiece's peers is about being held to a style or about not getting enough feedback.

I think bitching and moaning about teachers has been around long before the 16th Century. It's part of what my advisor used to call "getting your circuits rewired by reality".

But what you bitch abotu, that really says alot about who you are. and I loved the "pudgy shoulders" comment. Hit the gym, hit the books, skip the video games, guys. (Advice I'm taking right now, myself, BTW).

John the Scientist said...

A huge defect in the analysis of this article was that the author missed the effects of grade inflation and this kind of tolerance of juvenile behavior in our institutions of higher education.

A college degree used to signal some serious effort on the part of the student, but that signal is getting weaker.

Janiece Murphy said...

This may make me seem like I'm slipping into "You kids get off my lawn" territory, but I have to say I was a bit miffed about the syllabus rewrite and the subsequent "dumbing down" of the course.

Even though my employer generously pays my tuition to this school, I feel like I've been short-changed on the content due to the inability of the rest of the class to turn in college-level work. Argument is a subject that all college students should master, and I believe the rewrite and elimination of the final project will result in my not getting as much out of the class as I could of.

Is it wrong for me to want the rest of the class to have to face the consequences of their own failure rather than me having to compromise my own education? I'm not without compassion for their issues (or the instructor's), but I feel like I'm being punished for my success. Thoughts?

Eric said...

Asking for feedback is tough. Not understanding an assignment is even rougher when you don't understand that you don't understand it. And, I suppose, part of the point of the educational setting is that you get to face failure in a non-critical situation: i.e. maybe you shouldn't have to face the consequences of your own failure as such, since you can get a do-over in school that you don't get in real life.

I don't really want to defend the students, because I agree they're whiners. And I agree with John that what you whine about says something about your character. But I also think--tho' I'm not absolutely clear on this--that most of your classmates are still "dumb kids" in their early 20s (speaking personally, I was a dumb kid until 27 or so--after I'd graduated from law school and been a practicing lawyer for two years).

You're coming into it from a different perspective: a professional who's going back to school. And so I think you have a tendency to maybe expect more than what it is--that's not necessarily a criticism, since what you're expecting may be what college ought to be. I guess what I'm saying is that maybe nobody is being unreasonable: it's reasonable to expect more when you're coming back to college, it's reasonable to be a clueless idjit when you're 22.

And so I guess what I'm also trying to say is that the "consequences of failure" mean different things from those different perspectives. You're thinking of failure from a perspective where it's generally not an option, they're thinking of failure in the context of the consequence-reduced bubble between high school and Reality that is college. I'm not sure your fellow students aren't facing the consequences of failure--but they're doing it in a world where you bitch about the assignment and then bumble along.

I also think it sounds like you're getting things out of the class even if they are whiners and idiots (and they are): you passed the original assignment and appreciate the difference between the old and new syllabi. You're cognizant that the class has been dumbed down and are in a position to do further work on your own if you so desire. I'm not sure what else you could be getting out of the class.

Jeri said...

I think it's because many less mature students would really like their skull to be popped open and edumacation to be poured in from a pitcher. Or something like that.

There's no value if there's no effort in acquiring it!

My company would pay for me to get a master's degree - an MBA or MS. When I was in ANC, there were three great programs - an MBA in telecommunications mgt, an MS in engineering and science management, and an MS in project management. (The one Tania just finished, I think!)

I couldn't get excited about any of 'em. They wouldn't make any substantive difference in my career, with 20 years of experience, and I'm not particularly interested in the areas of study in and of themselves.

Now an MFA in creative writing or fine art (metal arts or mixed media) - THOSE would be absolutely riveting, I could drown in programs like that. The heck with return on investment. :)

First, I have bachelor's degrees to buy for the teen boy squad. Then I can think about going back to school for what I love. You can bet I'll be one of those annoying non-trad students in the back asking tons of questions and getting a 4.0.

MWT said...

Heh. Students are like a pack of wolves. Show any sign of weakness - in the form of admitting that you might be wrong in front of them - and they'll be merciless.

I say that as someone who made that mistake while trying to teach a junior-level ecology lab. Woah. o.O

I hope you're sending out emails to back the poor prof. I know I sure would've appreciated it at the time...

Janiece Murphy said...

Eric, the students who are enrolled in this program are all adults - no 22 year old idjits. I think the oldest student (and one of the biggest whiners) is in his mid-50's, the youngest is early 20's, and the rest are spread between. The program was designed as a bachelors completion program, so "traditional" students aren't included.

I was willing to leave things as they were with no comment on my part until the "poor us" e:mails starting flowing in. Now I think I'm just getting irritated by the whiney-butts.

We'll see how the rest of the semester goes...

Janiece Murphy said...

MWT, I did send out an e:mail when someone made the mistake of saying, "I think we're all in agreement." I disabused that notion, and made some pointed remarks of my own.

I don't think the prof knows about any of it.

MWT said...

Yay "silent majority" speaking up! :)

John the Scientist said...

"it's reasonable to expect more when you're coming back to college, it's reasonable to be a clueless idjit when you're 22."

But Eric, it's also resonable to expect that many of the clueless ijits in college today (who would not have made the cut 20 years ago, IMNSHO) that you fail and bumble along somewhere else, and that the course in question does not get dumbed down.

College is the place where you get to find that the "if you believe in yourself, you can do anything" message that's shoved down throats in pop culture and in high school is a line of horse shit. I think I'd be a lot closer to your position if the prof had not actually dumbed down the course.

As a TA, I taught a lot of clueless ijits who got slapped around and then got a clue and got going - either studying harder or studying elsewhere. We never dumbed down the course work, partly because it was hard to dumb our curriculum down much further without getting the ACS on our backs.

And maybe it's an issue of hard versus soft subjects. When I went to Engineering School, in the first week we had a unit on ethics. Great failures were rubbed in our noses; structural and design failures that resulted from people not geting it. And we were told that either you get it or get out of the field. If you want to build bridges or practice medicine, being too much of a clueless ijit at 22 is a right that you give up when you enter the field at 18. Soft subjects don't have that kind of reality check.

But given the amount of money our society spends on loans, scholarships, etc. for liberal arts and social science students, I think we should expect a little of that hard science attitude to creep in to other disciplines.

That aside, this is also a really good indicator of the malaise affecting our high school system in the US.

John the Scientist said...

Well, I take that last comment back now that Janiece elucidated the demographics. Sheesh.

This class is not going to be weighted much in the prof's teaching evaluations (sad but true about these types of classes), I suspect some divergence to the path of least resistance.

Eric said...

Much of what I said also goes by the wayside in light of the class demographics. I wouldn't expect that kind of whining out of non-trads, and it does paint an entirely different picture. I had an image of a bunch of young adults who were practically teenagers, not a bunch of older folks who ought to know better.

So, yeah, it's not so wrong to expect grown-ups to deal with the consequences of their failure and to have the maturity to ask questions. A 22 year old who's an idjit is a typical 22 year old, whether he's an engineer or an English major (hopefully the engineer's not an idjit while he's building a bridge, but I'd also hope his firm is keeping an eye on his early work); a 50 year old who's an idjit is just an idjit. There's never really an excuse when you're old enough to know better.

Random Michelle K said...

Brief horror story.

One of the nursing profs told me that a *parent* had called the president of the university to complain that the nursing courses were "too hard".

That still makes my jaw drop.

MWT said...

(to Michelle's story)

Uhh...

...

Uh. Okay then...

I suppose for their troubles, they get to be mocked all over the Internet now. :)

Janiece Murphy said...

I think the issue may be the difference between students who are attending for the purposes of getting a quality education (i.e., fulfillment), and those going for the purposes of improving their employment possibilities. If all you're after is a piece of paper so you can demand more money or be eligible for different positions, I wouldn't think the quality would be as important.

Since I'm already at a self-imposed glass ceiling, I care about what each class will teach me.

I guess I'm a weirdo...

Big surprise.

Random Michelle K said...

(points and laughs)

WEIRDO! WEIRDO!

Hey. Wait. That includes me.

Humph.

mom in northern said...

Don't want to be the one to rain on anyone’s parade but as a "retiree" I can tell you that the world's whiners are not limited to the hallowed halls of learning. They live in the worlds cubicles too...
Just ask Delbert. The sad thing is that as the population ages these same "whiners" are moving into positions of management where they can really "Make a difference". Just ask Delbert.

Can you spell things like ‘quality control’ – ‘customer service’ – a work ethic or pulling your own weight, or how about fessing up when you screw up?

Tell the prof that it is the students job to adjust to him and not the other way around.

Eric said...

Wait... there are weirdos around here?

...

...

I had no idea. I'm going to have to think about how I react to this. Probably while I'm driving to work tomorrow in my car with the license plate referencing a semi-obscure pulp-fiction writer of horror fiction from the 1920s. I may even have to discuss the situation with my friends at our next session of D&D-based computer gaming, unless they're too busy working, respectively, on a short film about zombies or finishing a review of a book about medieval philosophy for a scholarly journal. In which case I will probably be watching cartoons.

Goodnight. You freaks.

Janiece Murphy said...

Er-ic's a Weird-O! Er-ic's a Weird-O!

Oh, wait...

Jim Wright said...

Hmph, I've been busy and as usual showed up late for the conversation.

I dunno, Janiece, it may be that you and I were trained differently, and as initiated Chiefs we tend to be proactive, aggressively proactive. If I don't understand the orders, I demand clarification. If I don't understand the situation, I work at it until I do, in detail.

As somebody who has spent at least ten years behind a podium teaching at all levels of the military - I laugh whenever I hear the old adage "There are no bad students, only bad teachers." What a load of crap, while there are bad teachers, there are many more bad students. Students who don't know how study, don't know how to take fucking notes or organize their notes and their data acquisition process, students who don't know how to think or are too dammed lazy to do so.

I used to laugh when I went through refresher training and inevitably somebody would spout the old saw "There's no such thing as a stupid question!" Bullshit, I've heard a million stupid questions - usually asking something that is clearly spelled out in the syllabus or was just stated in the lecture, or is just completely off topic. I once had a student, a fairly senior officer, complain to me after I failed his dumb ass, that I hadn't covered certain testing material during the class. I had him flip open his course book, his "notes" consisted of page after page of doodles. When I asked him about it, he said he had a "good memory" and he didn't have to write everything down - this in a class on complex information warfare tactics and fleet integration, a topic he had no background in. So instead of working to acquire that background, ask questions, and do the research - he just expected me to give him the answers so he could get credit. Wrong. If he was going to command weapons in battle, he dammed well better understand the topic, he didn't, so he failed. And better in the classroom than out there where my shipmates' lives were depending on him. He bitched to the CO. Really he should have known better than to complain to the CO about a Warrant, that's just how stupid he was. I showed the CDR's notes to the CO - and the CO upheld my failure recommendation.

What chapped my ass about the situation was that fact that the CDR just couldn't seem to understand that what mattered was knowledge and comprehension, not just a check in the box. He wasn't interested in learning, he just wanted to say he attended my lectures.

Random Michelle K said...

He wasn't interested in learning

Actually, I think that's a major problem with post secondary education in general.

People really don't want to learn, they just want the piece of paper that lets them get a better job.

vince said...

I work for me, and in computers. That means that, while I have taken computer science classes, I mostly teach myself as new technology comes along. If I couldn't do that, I'd have been out of business years ago. Maybe the whiny asses need a better incentive - like learn or starve.

Janiece Murphy said...

Jim, I'm with you. I'll go out of my way to help students who truly want to learn, but are having trouble, and I'm quick to hit the "just pass me because I need this for my career advancement" folks in the face with my Shovel.

If what I was teaching had no value, I wouldn't be teaching it.

Jim Wright said...

If what I was teaching had no value, I wouldn't be teaching it.

Goddammed right. Why would I waste my time? I've got better things to do. You sit in my class you'd better pay attention, participate, and put some effort into it. Or else.

But then again, being a Warrant gave me certain authority no generally available to the average military instructor.

Lazy students piss me off. Which seems to be a theme for me today :)