The first time one teaches a college class comes with no meaningful preparation. In most graduate programs there is a one-semester lip service course on pedagogy that ostensibly exists to teach teaching; in reality it is the graduate version of a blow-off course and it mostly imparts crucial lessons like "Don't fuck the students" and "Make a syllabus." To say the least, teaching (as the instructor, not as a teaching assistant) for the first time is largely a "jump in an hopefully you'll figure out how to swim" affair. Accordingly the first year or two in the classroom ranges from awful to barely adequate depending on one's natural abilities. The learning curve is steep.

Among the most common mistakes we make at the beginning is creating a course that is far more difficult than the undergraduates expect. We start out naively assuming that undergrads are like we were as undergrads. They're not; we were nerds. We were the 1% of undergraduates who care about the material enough to consider graduate school and a life in academia. The other 99% are somewhere on the continuum between ambivalent and totally uninterested. We expect that the students read the assigned readings (They don't). We expect that they learned certain things in high school (They didn't). We expect that when we tell them something in a lecture, often multiple times, they will remember it (They won't). We expect that they will study for exams and spend more than a few hours on a research paper (Probably not). The preceding may not be true if you are lucky enough to teach at some elite institution. For the vast majority of us, though, the early teaching experiences shock us to accept the reality that many undergraduates had a woeful K-12 education and/or they have very little interest in excelling academically.

So we adjust. We reduce the amount of material we attempt to cover and vary what we do in the classroom until we find what appears to work for the students. We concoct ways to force the students to keep up with the reading. We account for the fact that some freshmen wander into an American government course without knowing that "legislative branch" refers to Congress and that Democrats are more liberal than Republicans. We analyze data on our own exams and assignments and make adjustments where the students haven't done well. We like to think that we improve as teachers and make the class better, and certainly most of us do continually improve. But let us not kid ourselves: compared to our initial teach experiences, we make the classes easier. This is both practical – We don't want to explain why our class of 40 had 33 F's – and necessary, as students deserve a class that is at the appropriate level, which varies greatly by type of school and student population.

Eventually we reach a point at which we can't make the class any easier. More accurately, we won't. As one of my colleagues is fond of saying, "The only way I could assign any less reading would be to assign none." Eventually you have to struggle with the question of what is the minimum necessary for something to be called a college course at an institution that attempts to maintain academic standards. You look at the topics covered and decide that nothing else can be pared away while still doing the intended scope of the course justice. You look at the exam questions and assignments and decide that you simply can't make them any easier, simpler, or less time consuming. You look at what you present in class and come to the conclusion that this is as basic as it's going to get.

It's an unpleasant moment when you reach that point and find that the students' performance is still not where you would like it to be. The remaining explanations are that the students simply cannot succeed in a true college-level course or that you are a very poor teacher. Personally, I never wanted to find myself rooting for either of those options. And the tendency of the system is to either make excuses for the students and blame everything on the teacher or vice-versa with little middle ground.

This post is not one where the story is resolved at the end. These are questions we never stop asking – what can I do to be better, and if I'm not the problem then what can I do to fix it?

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44 Responses to “WATER LEVEL”

  1. carrstone Says:

    I see a strong parallel here to the way the Fed appears to think, particularly in the last sentence's 'if I'm not the problem then what can I do to fix it?'

    And, to give you your due, Ed, I believe you to be sincere whereas, in the case of the Fed, I think it's more about job security and the need to prepare for the life after the Fed on Wall Street.

    You see, no parallel at all.

  2. DES Says:

    I teach a LOT of required intro to philosophy courses (Jesuit university), so I have faced many a tough crowd. The classes are typically half freshmen and half sophomores, and the attitudes range from bored to mildly resentful (this dumb required class had better not hurt my GPA) to terrified.
    After trying to teach too much material too quickly for a couple of years, and cringing in horror when it was time to grade papers, I finally realized that duh, I was trying to do too much and that the students and I did not have remotely the same ideas about the class.
    Now I address this head-on by asking, on the first day, what they think the class is for. Some bright light will inform me that it is a requirement, and I agree sweetly, but ask why is it a requirement? (And so forth . . . I presume you've encountered Socrates at some point in your own educational journey). I end this series of questions and answers by observing that the study of philosophy is supposed to help one think. All professions require the ability to think, except possibly runway model and porn star. I then look at them and observe that no one in this class is good-looking enough for either of those occupations, so they might as well improve their ability to think.
    At this point a number of them are beginning to dislike me, which is my cue to point out that there are more than twenty other sections of this class taught by my esteemed colleagues, none of whom have (yet) been called Dr. Smartass on Rate My Professor. Sometimes a few of them do drop the class . . . . less grading for me.
    The class content has remained the same (dead white guys predominate). Still trying to give them a reason to believe it's a worthwhile exercise has helped a little.

  3. Both Sides Do It Says:

    Why isn't there a Dean of Pedagogy? Hear me out.

    A position that would harmonize workloads among intro classes, make sure teaching standards were uniform within and a across departments, etc.

    Before you go all "don't bring in $$$ so why would the pod peo

  4. Both Sides Do It Says:

    From the standpoint of administration: why isn't there a Dean of Pedagogy? Hear me out.

    A position that would harmonize workloads among intro classes, make sure teaching standards were uniform within and across departments, etc.

    Before you go all "doesn't bring in $$$ so why would the pod people administrators care": there would be all sorts of easy PR bullshit and metrics pitched at various markets to spew in glossy leaflets – We Take Education Seriously And Employers Know That Too, we can make sure Junior won't take blowoff class after blowoff class, etc.

    Couple that with massaged GRE scores and job placement stats and the most brain-dead MBA drone could revamp the rep of a boring school within three academic years, tapping a new stream of applicants and that sweet sweet federal loan money.

    And it would give them (the pod people) more operational intelligence in their ongoing twilight war against the faculty.

    Tell me that's not worth a Dean and a few dean-lets using whatever criteria you wish. Not that administrative bloat needs satisfy rational decision-making plans to happen.

    I think it hasn't been done because it involves actual work.

  5. rustonite Says:

    "Deans of pedagogy" exist already- they're called provosts, deans of faculty, vice presidents of academic affairs, or something like those. But trying to get faculty to do anything the same way is worse than herding cats, and harmonizing course expectations inevitably leads to a race to the bottom.

  6. A Says:

    Unfortunately, this blog post could have been written about K-12 preparation (Though may of them do not have the vast experience one would expect from a University Professor) which is at the root the problem discussed here.

    My MIL was a 1st grade teacher, after hearing some of her ideas, I know why the students in the city where she taught are not generally regarded as "smart."

    Further, I friend of mine was a middle school teacher for one year, she said that she would have been better prepared if she had studied corrections.

    I believe that teaching is an art, some are artists, some are not, but there are quite a few painting by numbers out there. (Too our children, the next generation.)

  7. US in the UK Says:

    Treat education like a consumable product and what you get is "produciton line" quality. To a business, production costs and quality are competitors. We 'cogs' must do what we can.

    Having taught high school (5 years) and at the university (9 years), it is hard not to grumble a bit – especially as *I* age. Technology, values, culture, etc… the potential explanations run the gamut.

    However, as long as I feel I've done the best with what I've been given (environmentally, institutionally, student-ily, etc…), I can sleep at night. I'd rather them had my class than not – at least – been exposed to it. Maybe one of them will accidently trip over an idea that sticks (and helps).

  8. Tom Sinclair Says:


    When I first starting teaching almost fifteen years ago at a four-year career college, I had the same experience. In my case, I was brought on to teach I.T. classes based on my work experience. I had never taught before and didn't have a degree in education. (Though I did have a graduate degree in math/computer science and about fifteen years experience in the technology industry.)

    It took me a while to realize a few things, namely that everyone has a different background, everyone has a different learning style and unless you're teaching a core class in their degree program, your students are there to get the course credit.

    Now I begin the class by explaining exactly what they need to do to pass the class and that, while I will do whatever I can to help them pass, I get paid the same if they don't.

  9. wareq Says:

    It's good to end it that way. For a skeptical secular humanist and liberal progressive, there's entirely too much misanthropy, loathing and contempt on here to fit with what're supposed to be your biggest ideals.

  10. c u n d gulag Says:

    Spot on!
    I was an Adjunct for 6 years, and my first course was Acting 101.
    That first semester, I started off with 3 books, and had quizzes, tests, and papers.

    For that ONE class, I spent days correcting the spelling and grammar errors on the quizzes, tests and papers.
    It was too much work for the pittance they were paying me. I did the class more out of love, than for money.

    After that, I stuck with one short book, and eliminated the quizzes, tests, and papers, and my life became a lot easier.
    And it became easier for the students.

    I didn't remember being that naïve when I came to college.
    But, who am I to judge?
    I'm sure all of my professors bitched about me and my classmates, and thought we were lazy and stupid.

  11. Jimcat Says:

    I thought that misanthropy and contempt came with the liberal territory. You try to do your best for humanity, but time and time again, individual people act in such a way as to make you wonder whether it's worth the pain.

  12. Anubis Bard Says:

    I suppose one way to analyze this is to wonder who the "customer" is. Until fairly recently, it was a combination of parents, students and employers who wanted something like an educated, employable person at the end. I think most employers these days don't particularly want an educated person, but rather a docile subject who's shown some ability to not fuck up basic tasks and put up with low-stakes tedium. So with no quality control, that leaves the parents who pay or co-sign for the bills and the banks who manage our national system of educational debt peonage. And nothing should interfere with the conveyor belt of diploma production – certainly not something as trivial and devalued as education.

  13. schmitt trigger Says:

    "The other 99% are somewhere on the continuum between ambivalent and totally uninterested."

    And with smart phones!

    I have never been a teacher, but have friends who are. They unanimously tell me that smart phones are the scourge of the classroom.
    What are your experiences?

  14. Chuck B Says:

    I suppose one plus at the collegiate level is that you're dealing with adults (at least age wise), who, at least in theory, are responsible for themselves. My wife teaches at the K-12 level where "parents" add a whole other level of ridiculousness to the situation.

    Typical scenario- report cards go out and little Johnny gets all Ds and Fs. "Parent(s)"shocked, want to meet with teacher to discuss grades. Typical conversation:

    "Parent(s)": Why is Johnny getting such bad grades?

    Teacher: Well, he doesn't pay attention in class and either doesn't turn in his homework at all or turns it in incomplete.

    "Parent(s)": Nobody told me (us) that he wasn't paying attention in class and not doing his work. Why not?

    Teacher: Well, I contacted you multiple times about his behavior and work, but I didn't hear back from you. We also send out deficiency notices during the quarter.

    "Parent(s)": So what are you and the school going to do to help him bring his grades up?

    I am not exaggerating here. My wife has that type of conversation every year. Most kids and their parents are pretty good, but there's always that X percent who blame everyone but themselves and their kid for their kid's failures, then expect the teacher and the school to fix the problem.

  15. Ahab Says:

    It's a product of (1) families and communities that do not encourage students to push themselves, (2) a general attitude of entitlement among students, and (3) immaturity. Nothing a teacher does will change a student's performance until the student him/herself matures past these things.

    During my grad school years, I taught undergraduate classes as part of my assistantship, and I was stunned at how many undergrads were overgrown children who thought my job was to entertain them for an hour. When they discovered that I expected them to work hard and pay attention, they resented me immediately.

  16. ladiesbane Says:

    First, the students are lost little lambs in the classroom, but a lot of what you teach will stick with them. Or come back to haunt them.

    Second, if there is anything you really want them to retain, anything you want to inform their values and discernment, hammer it in with all the repetition you can muster without going mental. (Repetition is my job. My JOB is repetition.)

    You are teaching the most important (and unpopular) subject these large children will need to know for the rest of their lives. Please give them good, simple-to-operate tools to be better news-watchers, article-skimmers, and voters.

  17. quixote Says:

    Those of us in biology have a much easier time figuring out what the rock-bottom requirements are when faced with that sea of gormless pre-med freshmen.

    "What is the least amount of ability to learn this student must demonstrate so that I won't have heart failure if I saw them looming over me in the emergency room?"

    Also a big huge YES on the smart phones. I've taught for more decades than I want to admit, and the ability to focus has dropped off a cliff in the last five years or so as the kids who *grew up* addicted to cell phones have reached college. (Growing up with that addiction seems to do some scary brain-shaping.) At the same time, the ability to reason has dropped off a cliff as the No-Child-Left-Behind-just-tell-me-what's-on-the-test students have reached college. This is not a good combination.

  18. J. Dryden Says:

    (Cracks open a fresh fifth of Jack Daniels.) I dunno–it's true that I have my share of 'you can't make me do it, you can't make me care that I'm not doing it, and you can't make me feel bad about not caring about not doing it' students, and once upon a time I was deeply deeply wounded by such creatures–those first couple of 'tossed in the deep end' terms were pretty brutal.

    You learn certain tricks. Be funny–that always helps. Acknowledge that many of them don't want to be there–in general, see the class from their perspective–follow them out the door and remember how much of their lives are made up of competing demands. Stay current with pop culture, but don't force in 'Belieber' jokes or such–be aware, not eager. Make it clear that you're not their friend, and that if they disrespect you, you will exercise all your disciplinary options. In general, be confident and expansive and self-evidently ruthless.

    And still, you will lose most of them. But that's OK. I often, when asked about this phenomenon of student indifference, use the phrase: "Not all the baby turtles will make it to the ocean." And they won't. Nothing you can do about it. Focus on the ones who have a shot–focus on the ones who try. And if they don't make it–if they fail, well, seagulls gotta eat, and failing those who legitimately fail is part of the cost of demanding effort in the first place.

  19. Bosh Says:

    One thing that students can smell is a teacher going through the motions. One of the most important things a teacher can bring is enthusiasm for the material or at least being very good at faking it.

    Every person figures out their own way of communicating to the students that they give a shit, which is why I hate any kind of standardized curriculum as they're all pretty hard to care about as a teacher and the students will inevitably pick up on that.

  20. Two Below Says:

    Here in Wisconsin, education has been attacked by Walker and the legislature, in part to rile resentment towards teachers as part of the union-busting plan, but also to justify cuts in funding for education at all levels. Walker has systematically tried to define what education is and does. For example, one of his proposals was to tie funding for colleges and tech schools to the number of programs they have to train people for jobs in Wisconsin. Walker isn’t the first or only politician to try to reduce education to a commodity, but he has made strong efforts, and I have to believe that his efforts have affected the expectations of students and their parents as to what an education should be. No doubt laziness and lack of maturity contribute greatly to the problems Ed describes, but I have to believe that the devaluation of education by the likes of Walker adds to the attitudes of students and parents. As for me, I resent the hell out of politicians and businessmen dictating what my education (the formal part was acquired long ago) should be. The situation won’t improve as long as people’s expectations about an education are influenced so negatively by people who don’t have one.

  21. Mo Says:

    This phenomenon isn't limited to academic instruction. My brother the helicopter mechanic recounts an apprentice who could not do 4th grade math (such as calculating gallons of fuel) without consulting his smartphone.

    Brother had to explain that doing helicopter mechanic work is a life-and-death matter: screw up, and the thing crashes and kills people. There is no margin for error and sloppy math. Recommended apprentice do a series of arithmetic workbooks to at least memorize the multiplication tables.

    Alas, said apprentice eventually got sacked as untrainable, after months of the other mechanics having to re-do all his work.

    As to whether poli sci is a life-and-death matter:
    Why, yay-uhs

  22. Chicagojon Says:

    I recommend you go teach 2 year olds. I'm convinced that more is learned from ~28~36 months than at any other time in one's life.

    AFAIK once they turn 4 people are broken and I wouldn't ever try to be a teacher – especially in a system that groups people by age instead of level of performance/desire.

  23. Hilary Says:

    My husband and I both TA'd in grad school for 500-level undergrad courses. We both had to grade essays and were both struck by how utterly, ridiculously BAD the student work was. It gave me a real respect for the crap that instructors have to put up with.

    I'm not a teacher and I don't think I'm particularly good at it when I have to. Because of my work, I'm occasionally called on to teach all or part of a workshop or seminar. But I've never been taught how to teach and I wish I had been – I'd still like to get some training from someone who knew pedagogy.

    Also – this was on the NewsHour last night:



  24. Elly Says:

    Based on my own personal experience, I've come to believe that a college/university education is largely wasted on the young.

    I graduated from high school in what-was-to-become Silicon Valley, in CA, in 1975. Back then, CA public schools were among the best in the nation, but even then, I was able to sail through the system without breaking too much of a sweat. I was smart and an excellent memorizer (a skill honed by years of participating in school plays), so I did not have to work particularly hard to get good grades. I also scored well on my SATs (without any test prep!), and went straight into the University of California after graduating.

    Over the next 2+ years, I discovered some interesting things about myself. I'd always been a science nerd… yet, even though I was studying what I thought I'd enjoy, I was bored to tears. My once-excellent grades slipped lower and lower, and I had a hard time even making myself care. But the clash between who I was, and who I thought I was made me think about my life in a way I never had to before. I eventually came to realize that:

    1) my strong high school performance was due to the social support and recognition I received for being "smart." Basically, I had a whole cohort of adults and friends telling me how bright and talented I was; and I my efforts were commensurate with maintaining my reputation. When my "cheering section" vanished, I lost my motivation to succeed.

    2) my presence in college had nothing to do with my own plans or goals… in truth, I didn't really have any. I was told by the aforementioned adults in my life that I should strive for a "career," and that – once I entered UC – I would emerge from the other side with one. But as I entered my junior year, I started to feel a little panicky – even though I'd "learned" a lot, I felt I didn't really know how to do anything. Nothing I was (even haphazardly) studying seemed applicable to the "career" I was told was my birthright.

    Point being, I began to understand that going to UC wasn't specifically what I wanted… rather it was what I'd been socialized to want, and I went along with it because I didn't have any better ideas.

    So I dropped out. Completely. In fact, I left the week before finals, so received "F" grades in the courses I was enrolled in. And I didn't care: it felt great.

    And it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I went to work as a restaurant cook – an experience that taught me how to work. It also served as a reality check: I learned what life without a degree looked like. After 3 years, school started looking pretty damn attractive again, so I returned – on probation – to UC, determined to treat school as an 8-hour/day job. And from that point on, I was a straight "A" student and was recruited into the graduate program even before I had my BS in hand… fittingly enough, the associate dean who made the call on re-admitting me served on my thesis committee, and he sent me a note after signing that "students like [me] are the ones that make it all worthwhile."

    But my re-discovery of academic excellence wasn't based solely on my "school-as-job" philosophy. The other thing I discovered (to my surprise) was that all the stuff I'd originally found booorrring was actually interesting! In fact, one of the classes I'd originally walked out on was an upper-division Biochemistry class, taught by a professor that I'd immediately pegged as a pompous A-hole. It was a horrible class taught by a terrible prof… and – not only did I have to retake it – I had to retake it from the same professor! Yet, on the re-do, my opinion of both the class and the man did a 180. He hadn't changed, of course… I had.

    Sorry to be so long-winded, but when you wrote "…they have very little interest in excelling academically," you could have been writing about me, back in the day. The difference is that the economy and affordability of a university education made it possible for me to grow the f**k up and get it right on my second try. The current crop of indifferent students may not be so lucky.

  25. carrstone Says:

    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

  26. Mo Says:

    Elly – you're not alone on this one – I did the same damned thing, only I started my own little business instead of going back to college. Thanks for the post.

    And oh yeah – fuck that smug little troll carrstone.

  27. Chicagojon Says:

    J. Dryden wrote:
    "Not all the baby turtles will make it to the ocean."

    And the majority that due get eaten by fish and diving birds.

  28. Sarah Says:

    @Elly: British people do a "gap year" for that purpose. It'd be great if we could adopt the same practice in the US.

  29. Sarah Says:

    And oh yeah – fuck that smug little troll carrstone.

    He posts some bizarre word salads that don't have anything to do with anything, never mind the subject or the point of the original post. And he actually thinks posting "the more things change, the more things remain the same" will be made more relevant if he writes it in French! I'd have to say, it's rather pathetic to see a five cent mind such as his, trying and failing to use fifty cent words.

  30. sluggo Says:

    carrstone is paid by the word. It does not matter if they form actual sentences or make sense.

  31. Mo Says:

    Hey, maybe carrstone is a robot! Sort of a low-level whack-a-doodle Turing Test?

  32. Southern Beale Says:

    I think that's part of teaching and it's not limited to college/university level. Every teacher deals with this.

    I teach ESL to refugees. Today I started a new class and one of my students has literacy issues. Everyone else pretty much has that stuff down but this one student hasn't associated the English alphabet with the sounds they make .. that's a pretty big deficit to deal with. He really needs to be in a literacy-level class, but I know last summer I had placed him in a literacy level class and here he is in my Intro 1 class again. Damn.

    It's not his fault, he tested in. I blame the tests.

  33. Rich Says:

    I came to college teaching having worked as a teacher's assistant in a school for behavior disordered kids and then as a graduate assistant for a professor where my duties included grading papers, writing exams, etc. I also had course work in areas like learning and behavior modification. Perhaps because of all that, I missed a lot of your early problems. My experience over the course of several mostly part-time gigs (I had full-time day jobs, except for one year of being a visiting assistant professor where teaching was my major responsibility. I also taught an extension course which I referred to as my mail oder psychology class (lessons done by mail).

    I've often had no choice of text book and my students have ranged from the obviously gifted to those who were dumb as rocks. The institutions varied a bit. My best class experience involved section where the students were first to enter college in their families–their backgrounds and interests were familiar to me and it was easy to find ways to make the course material relevant to them. That was a very rewarding experience. Other experiences –not so much. I usually try to figure out why students are there, so I ask questions about that the first day—my most rewarding group (just mentioned) came from students who'd been closed out of freshman composition, so I don't think it matters if they're majors or not. My least rewarding were branch campus students who had little choice in what was available. The latter group were similar in some ways to the rewarding group I mentioned–first generation students; they were mostly transfers from community colleges in a metro area where people are very concerned about education but don't realize how mediocre their schools are. Those students complained about the amount of work I assigned to the coordinator of courses for that campus, except it was less than what the main campus courses was assigning. The coordinator was prepared to take their side until I pointed out what was verifiable from the syllabi.

    My ultimate lessors are that you can find ways to get through to a critical mass of an initially uninterested group, but you can't do it all the time. And sometimes, you'll get a group that is just opaque or hostile. Your best and worst students will be those from "good schools' and those who are the first to attend college. You should be sensitive to initial test distributions, and be willing to make adjustments if things look to be too tough, but if the distributions don't change–they're probably just dumb as rocks. You need to have clear expectations–I always reviewed for exams, but never said what was going to be on an exam—I told them by college they should know how to figure that out. They had to come to class to get an A, because the classroom material always included stuff that wasn't in the text. College students shouldn't have to have attendance requirements, they should be able to figure out what's important in a course. I could care less if someone is a major–I did well in many things outside my major, and that's true of most people. Anything that requires a college education requires writing, so I always include at least some modest writing requirement–a paper in small to medium sized classes; short answer items in medium to large classes–and the requirement for the real world is always spelled out to them. Jokes help. Clarity helps. But also clarity of what you're trying to accomplish.

  34. bb in GA Says:

    One conceit I think exists among the teaching class is 'My subject – the most important!'

    When I taught college algebra at the JC level. I asked for an honest effort and a fixed amount of time maximum on the homework per week. I also gave credit for honest attempts at the homework, not getting it right. I respected the fact that my students had four or five other courses besides mine. I was optimistic and got pretty good results.


  35. anotherbozo Says:

    For decades I taught visual art (painting, drawing, color) in a Jesuit college—almost a contradiction in terms—with decidedly mixed success. I liked to give "thinking" assignments, i.e. taking advantage of the vagaries of language to allow for multiple interpretations, multiple possibilities. I explained all that to the class at the outset. The one question I dreaded to hear back from the students while they were working was "Is this what you want?" As if there were a right and wrong way. I.e., "I don't care what I'm doing, just give your approval and let me get it over with."
    My success rate was about 50% inspired solutions, 50% by-the-numbers, bare-minumum responses.
    I blamed myself. Maybe I was playing too many games. Maybe I should make it easier. Still life, figure, landscape, whatever's less challenging.
    Then for one year I taught as a visiting professor at a much more elite college, where entering freshmen had been stringently vetted for motivation and SAT scores were much higher than the Jesuit school ever saw. The staff said, "teach your ideal course." And all of the assignments I'd brought with me, all my best ideas from years of teaching, worked. Every one.
    What worked there also worked at Princeton, where I taught painting as a "guest lecturer" once. Moral: student level and motivation matter, a lot. Everyone in the education racket should have a go at a non-required course in an elite institution. At least once, just for the beauty of it.

  36. Juche Songun Says:

    bb in GA:

    If you are past the 8th grade and haven't successfully passed an Algebra class, the state should have the right to euthanize you.

  37. bb in GA Says:

    @Juche Songun

    I certainly agree that passing algebra is important, but post 8th grade failure is unlikely to catch on as a capital offense…

    Just for the record: Algebra (I or II) D.N.E. College Algebra

    Am I being obtuse in seeing a conflation of the two in your pithy comment ?


  38. Mo Says:

    Remember, Juche, the pirates and game riggers on Wall Street all passed algebra classes in their sleep.

    An aptitude for math doesn't rule out sociopathy.

    Instead of euthanasia, how about FEMA camp trailers in the tomato fields of northern Mexico? Y'know, international cooperation. We'll swap you some of ours for some of yours.

  39. Jado Says:

    I firmly believe that part of the apathy stems from the mandate to turn out "well-rounded" graduates. As a student, I was REQUIRED to take a history class, and a sociology class, and English classes. I am an engineering major, with high scores on the SAT for both sections, and I resent having to waste time and money learning WWII AGAIN with moron Intro students who don't know/care about events that happened before they were born. Was I permitted to place out of this history class? No. Was there a test I could take for course credit? No. Is there ANY other option? No.

    Did I treat the class with contempt and barely participate? Yes (I was young, and I took out my frustration on those who were present. I was wrong, but there you go.)

    I blame the administration for concocting curricula dependent on strict hierarchies of classes, with little to no leeway for the advisers. I had a high school education that got me into your university – how about remembering that when it comes to class selection? I shouldn't need to "re-learn" the same information I had in 6th grade, 9th grade, and 12th grade. I had to be damn good to get into this program to begin with. Treat me that way.

  40. carrstone Says:

    I understand your pain having been through the same mill myself. But I'd recommend your reading the Comments on You Tube; they're so full of ill-informed passion, thoughtless bias and mauled grammar that a second bite of the cherry is unavoidable.

  41. DWhite Says:

    History, Sociolgy and English are not about just learning "information". Perhaps if you had paid more attention there may have been more benefit to the courses than you received in 6th, 9th and 12th grades.

  42. Redleg Says:

    Alas, with the demise of faculty-run sites like Rate My Students and College Misery, I have had to amuse myself with your occasional rants about academia.

    I have seen the same sort of things you mentioned. It does make sense, from time to time, to review and refine the learning objectives for the course so that they are manageable and still reasonably challenging. When the student body varies so much in terms of ability and motivation to learn, it is quite a challenge to design and deliver a course that will meet the needs of the profession or discipline as well as address the various needs of the students. It seems like a never-ending battle and consumes much more time and cognitive and emotional resources than it should. I am just so pleased that I have tenure.

  43. sc Says:

    goddamn, i wish we'd had smartphones in MY day (somewhere between 1999 and 2003).

    while it may be disrespectful to be reading the internets and texting away in class — in some freshman-level core-curriculum classes it's the only way to stay awake in a lecture hall full of 350 people watching a TA read their transparencies (i guess these are powerpoint slides now) verbatim for an hour and a half.

    if an actual class that one must attend presents nothing that's not in the textbook (or made available in handout/slide/email form), what's the point in attending and paying attention? "gotcha" questions that aren't information don't count — they're the stick to force students to attend, and the exact sort of thing that makes people ask "is this going to be on the exam?"

    and yes i showed up to physiology 120 or whatever it was exactly three times, and finished with a curve-demolishing 102%.