Copyright © Louis Schmier
Date: Fri 10/7/2005 3:59 AM
Grrrrrrrrrrrr! I am not a happy camper. I've been in a stew for the last few days. It always happens at this time of the semester. I was going to let it pass, as I usually do, with mumbles and rumbles under my breathe or in the sanctity of a colleague/s office. But, not this time.
'This course isn't what I expected," her voice meekly told me over the phone. She wanted to drop from the Perspectives course on the Holocaust.
"What did you expect."
"Just some lectures, a few readings, and a test. You were supposed to be a fun teacher. It wasn't fun being crammed into a corner for an entire period on that first day as if we were in a cattle car. And those films aren't fun. You're not easy. This course is serious and hard. I didn't expect to have to work in this class. It's only a two hour Core perspectives course."
"Fun? This is a course on the Holocaust? You want me to crack jokes about the murder of 12 million people? This course has been an emotional roller coaster for me, and you want fun?"
"Well, that's your reputation."
"What's the real reason you want to drop the course?"
"What's the real reason?"
"I have to spend outside time for this class. I have to go listen to speakers who survived the Holocaust. I'm not comfortable looking at the horrible films you show in class. I have to write journals about my reactions to them and what we see in class, and talk of my own prejudices to see how prejudices like them can led to the Holocaust. And then, I have to help write a play in the first person as if I was a by-stander who let these things happen. I don't have time for all that."
"You don't have time? Golly gee whiz," I answered with a tone of more than a little sarcasm. "What do you have time for? You've got time for your sorority? You've got time to go home and see mommy and daddy and boyfriend almost every weekend? You've got time for going to the local drinking holes? And you don't have time to work? What's the real reason?"
" I don't want to do that, especially write the play."
"You don't want to do that? I'm not sure I'll sign that form."
"Because you should stick by your commitment. I told you the first day of class while you were all crowed in the corner of the room to simulate a cattle car heading for Auschwitz that this was going to be a demanding class, that if you weren't ready to put in the time and effort, you should do yourself and me a favor and drop the course, and that I had a waiting list of twenty-five students ready to fill your seat. You knew what the requirements of the course were from day one.....Are you going to bail out on the others in your writing community?"
"What's your major?"
I nearly choked. "Education!?!?!?!??! You're going to be a teacher?!?!?!?!? Is that what you're going to let your students do? Not do an assignment just because they don't want to or because they supposedly don't have the time?"
"Then, you're being a hypocrite?"
"....Yes....I guess so."
"No 'guess so.' I guess you don't think that is a big deal. Maybe you ought think about changing your major....."
Grrrrrrrr. It's the time of mid-term. Students are scurrying to drop courses so their GPA doesn't drop and the Hope Scholarship doesn't drop them. Some of them act like a herd of cattle infected with mad cow disease on a stampede ready to trample anyone who gets in their way. They can be disrespectful, irrational, confrontational, assaulting, and abusive if they don't get their childish way. Most professors sign the form with a sneering "good riddance" or a sighing "what can I do" attitude. Not me. I grrrrrrrrrowl. This the one time each semester I almost want to agree with the academic naysayers. This is the time I see what they mean when they rant and rave against grade inflation and coddling of students.
And, for this brief time, they're right. It is coddling time. It is grade inflation time. In our university system, a student can drop a course as late as mid-term without any consequences, without any accountability, not even a feather tap on the back of his or her hand. Never mind student errant behavior, never mind irresponsibility, never mind a lack of discipline, never mind the pursuit of less than mediocrity, never mind preferring to crack a keg rather than a book, never mind wanting to take the road most taken, never mind seldom showing up in class, never mind not doing assignments or handing them in on time, never mind sleeping off a hang-over or worse, never mind rushing a sorority or fraternity rather than rushing to class, never mind all this and the other stuff of which excuses are made.
We condoning such attitudes? What are we modeling here? I'll probably get into trouble for publicly airing my distaste. I really don't care. My rabbi always says, "write the letter and then throw it away." I did. This is the fourth letter! The policy is wrong; it's stupid; it's criminal; it's obscene; it's unconscionable; it's immoral; it's uneducational. It's not caring about the student. I'm not sure what it's a caring about. It would be nice to hear the reasoning behind it. But, no one has yet to offer me a convincing explanation or rationale for this policy other than a discussion closing "it's Board of Regents policy." Want to give a student ten days to drop a course at the beginning of the semester, fine. Want to allow a student to drop a course for extenuating personal, family, or medical reasons throughout the semester, I'm all for it. But, just because they don't want to do the work, or the work too hard or challenging, or it will adversely affect their GPA? No! Can you hear those naysayers saying, See? This is how low higher education has sunk."
So, each time at this time of each semester this policy brings out the old '60s protester in me. It raises the hair on the nape of my neck; it reddens my face; it tightens my lips. This time I won't go silently into the good night.
You know, I am a wholeness teacher. I pride myself on being a character educator. I struggle in my classes to help students develop their character, to help them bring out the potential within them, to overcome the limits they have placed on themselves or have allowed to be placed on them, to learn that there are consequences to their actions, to stop blaming, to assume responsibility, to be disciplined, to be principled, to pursue excellence, to be accountable, to give it everything they've got, to believe in themselves, to spit in the eye of difficulty, to pick up the gauntlet of challenges, to stretch themselves, to take risks, to transform obstacle into opportunity. And then, at mid-term this comes along as a threat to neutralize all my efforts, taking their eyes off learning and back to grading, encouraging them to become unaccountable whiners and wimps who are all too ready to blame and all too ready to assign responsibility to someone else, all too ready to want only convenience and comfort and guarantees. What are we teaching them, that it's okay to blame their shortcomings supposedly on circumstances beyond their control, on dead alarm clocks, on flat tires, on inconsiderate professors, on torturous practice schedules, on too much of a load, on dead car batteries, on police pullovers, on time-consuming Greek rushes, on lack of parking, on inconsiderate room mates, on lost keys, on locked doors, on demanding parents, on challenge, etc, etc, etc.?
One of my colleagues in another department told me as I snarled about this policy over a cup of coffee, "I thought you were student oriented." He was serious. Not student oriented? Me? You think this policy is student-oriented? I'm upset with this policy because I give a damn about the students, because this policy doesn't teach students a "stick-to-itness," because the habit created by following this policy will come back to bite them in their buns. We all want students to make good choices. But where are they to learn? Certainly not from this policy of catering and leniency. It doesn't teach them to improve. It doesn't teach them resolve. It doesn't' teach them to be accountable. It doesn't teach them how to become better persons, only how to get a better GPA. It doesn't teach them how to overcome challenges, only to how to back off from them. It doesn't teach them to face fears and tackle unpleasant tasks. Is that how they learn to place a higher value on learning rather than getting grades? All it teaches them is to rationalize, offer excuses, submitting to impulses. They can just walk away without a by your leave. Is this how we teach them to dig out from the hole they've dug themselves into? Is this the clock by which they should set their moral and ethical watches? Is this how they learn about the perseverance they need when trying to master a job or get the right job, finding the right relationship or working through the problems? Is this how they learn to make good choices? Is this how we teach them to resist self-indulgence? Is this how they learn to resist putting their integrity on the auction block? What a great price we're teaching them to pay for so little in return.
Grrrrrrrrrrrrr. I am tenured. I am senior professor on my campus. I have a reputation for being an iconoclast. And, in this one instance I use them all to the hilt. I know I'm flailing at windmills. I know I can't stop a student from dropping a course, but I sure don't have to make it easy, convenient, and comfortable for them to do so. I know people roll their eyes when I take this semesterly stance. Nevertheless, I just won't go quietly into the night. In protest of this demeaning regulation, I don't make myself easily available. Let them search high and low to find me. At least, some will show some energy and initiative for the first time. Anyway, if they are unlucky enough to catch up to me, I make sure they're not comfortable in my presence. I'll give them a pyroclastic blast. I'll read them such a riot act about responsibility, commitment, self-discipline, perseverance, pursuit of excellence, self-respect, tail-tucking it straightens out their hairdos, blows them backward, and tatters their clothes. Then, I won't even sign the drop form. Let them scurry to find someone else do it!
Get the idea I'm mad about the signals this sends to students, about the life lessons this teaches them, about the lousy habits it lures them into?
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History www.therandomthoughts.com Valdosta State University www.halcyon.com/arborhts/louis.html Valdosta, GA 31698 /~\ /\ /\ 912-333-5947 /^\ / \ / /~\ \ /~\__/\ / \__/ \/ / /\ /~\/ \ /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" - \____