Anyone who has taught for a living knows that you pick your battles. You can't carry on like you're prepared to die on every single hill because damn there are a lot of hills – more than you realize at first and they seem to multiply whenever you're not looking.

A few weeks ago someone posted a comment that they observed a student cheating on an exam. There's an obvious issue of integrity there, but two others that aren't so obvious. One is the monumental hassle it entails to discipline a student for academic dishonesty these days. The other is the fact, in his words, that the student was well on his/her way to failing anyway. So on the one hand, the instructor could go through a bunch of hoops to fail a student for cheating. That is the Right thing to do. On the other hand, he could save himself the hassle and let it be.

My biggest frustration – and believe me, this happens every semester, every year – is students failing to show up for exams. They forget about them, fail to set their alarms, yadda yadda. Everything about my personality and the way I see my job makes me want to give them a zero. It is the only way they will learn anything from the experience. But there are times when letting them take a make-up exam is just…the easier thing to do. The path of least resistance. I'm not happy about it, but I'm not going to lie and say it doesn't happen.

Here's what we tell ourselves when we let supposed adult students get away with behaving like children in a consequence-free environment: "This will catch up with them in the long run." In other words, a college student might be able to talk some administrator or professor into letting him make up an exam he slept through, but when in the future he sleeps through something important at work…his ass is fired. Because he learned nothing from the experience in college other than "I can get away with anything!", he'll inevitably do it again in the future. And when he does, there will be consequences. Real consequences.

Lately I've wondered, though: Are there? Or is this just a thing we tell ourselves to feel better about the fact that we have a hard time being strict? Part of me believes that someone who lacks the basic organizational and emotional skills necessary to do things like meet deadlines and complete tasks is bound to be chewed up and spit out in the working world. Part of me wonders if the people who skate by on complaining and making excuses now will continue to do it in the future. Sleeping through class is a good gateway drug to sleeping through other things. Failing to do academic work on a deadline seems like a great way to get in the habit of not making deadlines in the future. So I hope there will be consequences, but lately I'm not so sure.

We learn quickly in adolescence that life isn't fair. The rest of life exists to confirm that. If some people can slack their way through one part of life, maybe they can slack their way through others in the future. Conversely, we all live in an At-Will labor environment wherein we can find ourselves laid off or terminated even if we do our jobs really well, let alone if they fail to show up on time and do what they're paid to do. I know some people are really good at working the system, and I (and of course others) have to deal with it all the time. We hope that everyone gets what's coming to them in the long run, but I've been alive long enough to understand how rarely just desserts are served.

48 thoughts on “THE LONG RUN”

  • Then again, there are the few that do finally get their act together and are successful. Your giving them a chance gave them the time/opportunity to fix things. I know, I was like that as an undergraduate. Eventually, I succeeded and went on to grad school, post doc, faculty position and finally full prof. Now retired. But I owed so much to my understanding undergrad profs!

  • Pretty much agree on all points, but . . . and there's always a but . . . I think it's possible to distinguish between the 17- or 18-year old freshman who sleeps through an exam and a slightly older upperclassman who does. The latter are very likely still trapped in their adolescent sleep cycle, while the former, well, they're probably just a slacker. Anyway, that's the long way of saying that I'm still grateful 26 years on to my freshman Econ 1001 class that let me take a makeup exam after I slept through the actual exam… And, FWIW, I'm mostly not a fuck up now.

  • My experience in the white collar world is this:

    The instances where you have some incredibly important make-it-or-break-it task you must complete within a few short hours at a specific time are relatively rare. Maybe if you do sales presentations to clients, or if you get tapped to speak at the once-a-year corporate all hands meeting, but on the whole, if you miss this week's monday morning team meeting, there will still be a monday morning team meeting next week. And the week after. And the week after.

    If you are late to this week's monday morning team meeting, you might miss some boring status updates, but if anything important to you happened, someone will fill you in. If you were personally important to the meeting, maybe it started late and will run long. You will not still have to complete a 2 hour meeting in an hour and a half. Or if you do, you'll simply do less in the meeting. You will probably be lightly mocked when you arrive, though, so there's that.

    If you miss another meeting, you reschedule it. If it is with a client, you apologize and apologize and apologize (and probably lie about an illness or traffic accident if all you did was forget an alarm) and likely don't lose their business unless your relationship with them was already tremendously precarious. Or you realize you're going to be late or absent and call in and arrange for another employee to cover for you.

    If it happens all the time or if you lose a client, you might get in shit, but as a one-off? Nobody cares.

    Where there are high pressure, low time available situations, they're not things that get scheduled weeks in advance. It's "I showed up today and some shit went down, and we had to rush to get it done for the client's deadline." If you knew about it weeks in advance, you probably didn't leave it so that you only had a precise three hours to get it done.

    Also, you get up and go to work at the same time every day. So, "I forgot to set my alarm for the 9am exam I have to write on Tuesday for a class I normally attend Thursdays at 4pm" isn't so much a scenario that exists. There are still alarm malfunctions, power outages (less of a problem now that people use their cell phones as alarms) and other problems, but there isn't the artificiality of exam season.

    Also, you're probably not the only person who does your job or knows what you know. So if you aren't there, it's not like the work completely fails to get done. If something positively has to be done in the few hours you're late for, someone else can probably do it. And then you owe that person a beer.

    Honestly, the idea that exams represent something similar to the real world is a bit laughable. If you didn't allow students to make up exams they missed by accident, all you'd be teaching them is that school is even more fake and bullshitty than they already know it is.

    That said, all of this is based on corporate office work. For people who end up in highly regimented shift work jobs, things may well be really, really different.

  • I've been thinking a lot lately about the utter myth of meritocracy in the US, and the world at large. I've been absolutely fascinated by the Theranos story — possibly the greatest grift of all time. It pretty much confirms that our society is built on the appearance of competence rather than actual hard work / ability / skill / brains / gumption / good hygiene what have you.

    I mean, I'm 41 years old. Am I that much of a fucking idiot to have gotten this far in life before realizing that all the "work hard and you will inevitably prosper" stuff my parents and teachers taught me was complete horse shit?

    Cf. also a) pretty much any successful US politician, b) pretty much any successful singer / actor / artist (with notable exceptions!), c) Chelsea Clinton's husband, who just blew up a 25 million dollar hedge fund and will probably move up in the world of finance.

    I know I'm just bitching and moaning and rambling here but in solidarity with Ed, yeah, attempting to do quality work in a somewhat professional manner and turning it in on time is pretty much for suckers, ain't it? Why continue to draw out the illusion?


  • @Jacq: Pretty much exactly my experience in the Inc. world. I'll just add that if you manage to have a good relationship with your boss, you can get away with much more than one would assume. Especially if there's a semblance of "A Real Reason" why you were late or failed to show up completely. Yes, this includes completely made-up excuses, as long as they are loosely connected with some known factoid. Also, in some cases the system will tolerate employees who are always late, miss deadlines, and don't "behave" according to group culture, just because the quality of their work when they do it is so good that everything is forgotten. This includes the star-engineer that always mumbles and never showers, but once every few months comes up with an idea so good it boosts the product's groos margin by 10%; or the designer who never shows up, is always grumpy, but their designs are without fail the ones that top the sales charts; or the salesman that berates and belittles everyone they work with, but when the Big Client comes around they will always nail it, and get five-star Customer Sat scores in the process. These are not tropes- those are real people, and you'll find them in any company that's big enough.

    @wetcasements: the world is very meritocratic, only the merits that lead to success are not the ones we are taught in school. We all know the kid from school who sucked up to the teachers and always got straight A's without studying, or the guy from the next desk over, who copies other people's presentations and presents them with his name on the slides. It's a different kind of skill and ability, but perception is what you're actually judged on.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    wetcasements: Blowing up a 25 million dollar hedge fund, in the world of finance, is equivalent to losing three dimes in a couch.

  • I remember years ago when I was working as a teaching fellow for a pretty large Harvard class on the Bible (nice gig for an atheist!) there was a graduating senior who believed himself to be a genius based on nothing but a delusional ego. He missed section consistently, showed up very late for class if at all, failed every exam egregiously and then turned in a final project way late and with blatant plagiarism. Open and shut case for a fail plus the consequences of plagiarism, right?

    Well, the professor decided by some positively Talmudic inner process that this was not "pernicious" plagiarism and our young genius somehow got himself a D when the final grades were turned in. I believe he went on to work for Goldman Sachs, which struck me as a fate that both sides of the deal deserved. And so it goes.

  • About getting in good with the boss; absolutely. I just left a position in great part because the boss made the pointy-haired boss in Dilbert look like a genius and actively rewarded the incompetents because they didn't make her feel bad about her own lack of abilities. I had a co-worker stumbling in for the day anytime between 11 and 1 (the office closed at 6 pm), which didn't really matter because she couldn't code her way out of a paper bag, nor could she spell HTML or CSS; forget anything more complex. Despite being in her late 40s, she has zero college credits because "all the teachers are stupid". Another would float off for hours at a time, which was okay because when she was in, all she did was muck things up and delete code randomly. The few competent people were burning out right-and-left from the pressure of holding up an entire office single-handed; the last time I spoke to someone left, they looked like a zombie. THOSE are the people the boss went after, not the screw-ups.

  • I think there is some peer group pressure in Inc. world which didn't exist in Edu world. Still, gentle pressure can be ignored.

    For a short time I was the boss for 80 some people in a large corporation that periodically mandated 2-3% layoffs just because. The layoff candidates identified themselves through their work habits/work results.

    That situation doesn't contradict the other comments. An incompetent boss overrides all other considerations.

  • There are persistent myths involved in this: that people change, that we can change people, that the lesson we intend is what people will learn, that everyone learns the same lesson the same way, and that that way is, no surprise, how we learned the lesson. Except for that, yes, go ahead and be a hard ass if it makes you feel better, or, the source of all mercy upon the land.

    Until we get past "the individual is everything" attitude, and learn our impact on each other, and care a bit, we're just cleaning up the dishes. Maybe after dinner, maybe next week sometime.

    When nothing is at stake, no one gives a shit, we just run on how we like it. We have to learn what is at stake and that's tough given all the people and myths involved. There is always more than one person involved in a failure. It's almost like we're somehow really involved with each other! Oh my, how is that supposed to work?

  • anotherbozo says:

    My Exhibit A for a lifetime slacker who indeed got away with it is George W. Bush. I'm sure his career in the Texas Air National Guard was emblematic: get the sweet deal and then fudge even THAT. Money and privilege bought his way out of every jam until he was able to convince enough people that he really WAS exceptional. And by that time, he was indeed—as an entitled bullshit artist.

    Now, a million dead Iraqis later, not to mention 9/11 victims so many others, he paints—with a totally clear conscience, no doubt. A particularly American kind of monster.

    Others here could doubtless make the case better than I.

  • When I taught (at a large university), if students missed an exam with an excuse such as "I forgot," I let them take a makeup if they got a note from the Dean of Students. On one occasion, the Dean called to thank me, because he had worked extensively with this student to overcome this and other issues. If students missed an exam with excuses such as "I had to go home to attend a funeral," I made them show some proof before they could take a makeup. The looks on their faces were priceless, but they usually provided the evidence–airline tickets, gas receipts, and so on.

  • @Jacq
    Pretty much this. I'm a little over two decades out of college and I can count on one hand the number of people I know that have been fired for cause. The number of people laid off because of down sizing, a bad economy, or mergers number in the hundreds.

  • "I can count on one hand the number of people I know that have been fired for cause. The number of people laid off because of down sizing, a bad economy, or mergers number in the hundreds."

    Sometimes a mass layoff can be a good justification for a housecleaning. There are companies that do layoffs on a regular basis to "rationalize the workforce" or "ensure that the employee talent pool aligns with the corporate needs". In plain English, that means that the lowest-performing employees are laid off. It's a kinder. gentler way to clear the deadwood – they can collect severance and unemployment benefits – but they are still gone.

  • In defense of students, some of whom are, yes, naive little butterflies, you are probably one of 4 or 5 profs with deadlines, projects, and exams. You might not know that the student's grandma is on her deathbed, or she lost a week of sleep because her roommate is suicidal, or her boyfriend is an assbag who needs to have everything proofread. Maybe the student has 3 papers due in one day. And these are people who 3 years ago still had mom & dad doing their laundry and driving them to school every morning. Most of these kids are learning how to be adults.

  • When I started working in the civil service, I had the impression that private sector businesses operated with ruthless efficiency. Pull your own weight, perform or get weeded out, bottom line, all of that.

    My second husband was working in a corporate job when we met and married, and he told me stories that disabused me of all that. It's as if all organizations composed of people have similar flaws and imperfections.

  • So many things I want to say in regard to this particular subject, but first let me say this: Another brilliant post, Ed.

    And while we're on that topic, anyone ever see or read this article before?
    (Another thing to worry about could be some form of "retaliation" if you do decide to justly punish them for whatever they did wrong; maybe they'll bring in their parents and the administration to twist your arm into giving them a free pass, maybe they'll just vandalize your car, etc.)

    My $0.02 on the issue? IMHO, it's become clear that higher education in this county isn't about intellectually enriching the students or helping them get the jobs they want, but letting the lazy admins keep theirs, and if keeping the kids around even after doing these things will keep them coming back and paying more sweet $$$, then so be it.

    There was once a time when I wanted to be a college professor, not just because I loved knowledge and learning, and because I wanted to impart that stuff onto any students who wanted to learn, but because I thought somehow college would filter out the good kids and genuine learners from the riff-raff and the lazy slugs who only went to school because they were made to do it. But after hearing so much about the declining quality of college students these days (and even seeing some of it for myself), now I know otherwise. To paraphrase something which Ed once said in another post on the topic of education, a lot of these kids are being forced to go to college because Mommy and Daddy refuse to suffer the perceived shame of having any offspring without a college degree (and because they think somehow college education will create jobs for the students).

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    These kids are getting increasingly mixed signals about what college is supposed to be for. If it's a training ground for the professional world, they should get training in that system of risk and reward, along with a reasonable expectation that they will be able to enter their chosen fields on graduation. If it's just for partying, a way to postpone the humiliation of dramatically underperforming the folks in the New Economy, it's hard to see the point.

    I'd guess the children of wealth will always be able to skate by on "charisma" if they see fit. The rest will have an inxreasingly rough go of it regardless.

  • "I've been alive long enough to understand how rarely just desserts are served."

    Which is, of course, why we invented religions. Well, that and because nobody wants to be told anything bad is his or her fault.

  • Fulfilling the Promise says:

    "someone who lacks the basic organizational and emotional skills necessary to do things like meet deadlines and complete tasks is bound to be chewed up and spit out in the working world."


    You mean like an untenured college prof afraid/too lazy to flunk someone for cheating?

  • Ed, if you want my opinion: Maybe the misbehaving student should be reprimanded now while it matters, instead of just waiting and hoping for his bad habits to finally come back and bite him in the butt later in life.

  • Ed,

    The solution is to make the make-up exam fiendishly difficult.

    "That's not fair!"

    "It's not fair you got extra time to study for this test either, is it?"

  • Two stories:

    1) A friend in grad school at an Ivy had a classmate whose plagiarism was egregious. Whole pages were cut & pastes from books, passed off as her own. She was sent to the dean. She explained that in her culture, that was how papers were written (Pakistan, iirc). He explained how you can't do that here.

    She did not change her behavior. Her cohort, who began to hate her for doing no work ever, went on strike to demand she be kicked out. So the dean met with them and said, "I've decided to let her slide, because it's her culture, so you can either wreck your own careers over this or move on."

    They decided to ostracize her socially until graduation. I have no idea if she cared. I believe her father was the Foreign Minister or maybe Minister of Agriculture.

    2) A friend of mine is currently a prof and her system is to tell the students on day one, "Except for the final, I will drop your two lowest grades." There are quizzes and short papers and a final. "This means you can completely skip two quizzes or two papers, take zeroes, and it won't affect your grade. The trade-off is, never tell me an excuse for why you missed something. I don't care and won't listen. I'm giving you two excuse-free freebies."

    She thought she'd solved the problem! Guess what. She's still pelted by students who skip the first two quizzes just cuz and then late in the semester actually NEED to skip one. "But I have a good excuse!' And "It's not fair! My friend used his zeroes just to have fun and I had to use one because my grandmother died!" She was appalled not only that it happened but how clueless and shameless it was.

  • I have an undergrad friend who just lost out on a big chunk of financial because he missed a deadline. Sometimes fuckups have consequences, and sometimes a little pain now can educate one so he can avoid greater pain later on.

  • Townsend Harris says:

    I told my young student I was worried about her getting credit for my course, because she'd missed three of our first five classes. She said her grandmother died, and offered to bring evidence. I said I 'didn't care, but don't miss any more classes so as to maintain eligibility for a credit-bearing letter grade instead of the college's mandated "unofficial withdrawal"'.
    She missed the next class, and a week later she gave me a copy of a note from a funeral home. The note listed a woman's name and a date of death from 39 months earlier.

  • When I was younger, I held the belief that people in careers were actually good at their jobs. Meaning that if you work in a job that requires training, experience, and education then you must be competent and diligent at that vocation.

    As I have gotten older, I have realized that the work force is no different than high school, college, graduate school, or whatever. A lot of people suck at their jobs and are apathetic about getting better.

    I doubt that it was ever different.

  • @Jimcat — that's their story are they're sticking to it. But it's generally not true. Layoffs aren't used to clear out the deadwood. Often, quite the opposite.

    In my first gig in a Fortune 500 company, we had a major layoff — the company's first. They used the opportunity to get rid of people who asked too many questions, people who didn't play the game of corporate suck-ass well enough, people who were too smart and therefore made their less-intelligent bosses uncomfortable.

    In another layoff, they used the salary column method. They needed to cut $xxx,xxx dollars from salaries. So they just went down the salary column picking out the numbers they needed to make their goal. Then, they looked to see who the lucky suckers were.

    When I got sacked from my last real job, the boss admitted to someone (after a few drinks) that the layoffs were unnecessary, but he wanted to send a message to corporate that he was "serious about the budget."

    He also used the opportunity to get rid of anyone working remotely. He was massively insecure and remote workers made him nervous. In fact, one woman was told that if she would agree to work in the office, she could keep her job.

    It has never been my experience that they used layoffs to get rid of poor performers. In fact, quite the opposite.

  • We have these little moral stories we like to tell ourselves — work hard and you will succeed; goof off and you fail — and when a particular individual case seems not to work out that way, it seems like an injustice or something.

    Part of the problem is that these rules are probabilistic like a lot of other phenomena. To the extent they work, it is in the aggregate. Working hard, studying, being on time, etc., along with many, many other factors, may help you succeed in life, whatever success is. So if you compare 100 hard workers with 100 goof-offs, you would find that a greater proportion of the former did well than the latter. Maybe.

    I have read and heard it said from a variety of sources that realizing this is the way things are, and openly admitting it, is the difference between the "liberal" way of seeing things and the "conservative" view. Liberals know that there really is no such thing as a level playing field and want to smooth out the results, not so there are no winners and losers, but just so that things aren't quite so winner-take-all. Conservatives may or may not know it, but they will never admit it publicly or they don't care.

  • Captain Splendid says:

    Not that I was much of capitalist when I started to join the workforce, but I have been fairly staggered these last few decades by how freaking inefficient the private sector is. Every single complaint I've heard thrown at government can be found in the private sector.

    Every single childish schoolyard behavior can be found in the private sector. Everything you always hated about high school can be found in the private sector. I have watched captains of industry ignore any and all advice or recommendation, even ones they good money for, because they don't like someone.

    The worst are the guys (and they're always guys) who are skinflints and proud of it, not understanding that their half a mil/year business could be three times the size if they'd reinvested some of that money.

    And then of course, every single one of them is living example of people born on third who think they hit a triple.

  • Captain Splendid says:

    Oh, and completely forgot this sickening tidbit: The bigger the corp, the slower they are to pay. Capitalism as it exists today is about as anti-competitive as it can get.

  • Maybe a middle ground between no punishment make-up exam and a zero? Partial credit? I can't tell if your school requires any and all punishments for cheating to be go through a bunch of bureaucracy or not. If a prof is heavily scrutinized for a middle ground non-failing punishment then that seems like a failing of the administration.

  • I'd suggest allowing a make up exam but telling everyone up front that you will deduct one letter grade. If they made an A, they will get a B. etc. I was born in 1950, have been with the same company now for about 20 years, so I'm considerably older than most of the mangers. I do not understand what these individuals value in an employee, particularly the head of the department. Reliability, competence, intelligence and dedication are apparently not on his list. From what Ive seen, what is valued most by him is being female, young, and having big breasts.

  • My major contribution here is that my wife got a two-page manifesto from an upperclassman by e-mail this week, after she informed said student that missing 7 classes, being late to every class he bothered to attend, and failing to turn one major assignment in completely meant that he was in line to receive a low C rather than the A he (apparently) expected.

    That's not the amazing part. The amazing part was when my wife explained that if she'd actually followed the policy in her syllabus, he would unquestionably have failed. Her class is in the student's major and concentration, which means he'd have to repeat it until he passed, and she doesn't want to deal with him again. So instead she awarded him the lowest possible grade without technically failing.

    All of my pedagogical training says that's insane. All of her actual experience says that (1) everyone in the department knows that a CD grade signals a mercy pass, so (2) why should she take on the responsibility of dealing for another full semester with a student who's both lazy and disruptive?

    I'm not sure what the solution is, but it seems to bear on the same institutional questions Ed poses. I wish our society had a better way to deal with people who play the system. I'm not sure what that would look like, though: the overall outcome of "successfully" dealing with the problem is better, of course, but is that worth it if doing so is worse for the individual actors involved?

  • for Robert M.

    This situation may be more common than you think. My colleagues referred to the D+ as the "F___ You" grade. Some students were so disruptive, annoying, or just impossible that, when they failed your course, they might have to take it again. The D+ was the minimum passing grade and it meant you were rid of them. It doesn't sound fair, but if you have to devote an inordinate amount of time, in class or out, to dealing with such a student, is it fair to the other students?

  • Deadlines in the working world: Yes, most are flexible. Being late for a client meeting is not good, but they can work the meeting around you if the traffic sucked. Or your alarm didn't work, both of which happen now and then.

    Deadlines that can't be missed: Proposal submittals. 30 seconds late and it goes in the trash. I've won projects I shouldn't have because the incumbent got the proposal in late.

    Public meetings. If there's a report or presentation that has to be presented to the public, it has to be done and accepted. No skating.

    Contract bid dates. When a design is going out to bid, the date is set and you've got to get it done.

    Permit application and compliance dates. When there's a potential $35,000 / day fine for being late on the submittal, it gets done on schedule.

    Other than stuff like that, though, most of the work world has a lot of flexibility.

  • Academics and slacking students aside, it comes down to discipline (not in the militaristic sense), and that seems to be on the decline. Difficult to fully succeed in any endeavor lacking it.

    This crowd will no doubt scoff at the basic premise, but in the ancient days of palmistry an entire reading could be done from the thumb, the length of which indicates degree of discipline.

    I long ago dropped palmistry but before I did, I looked for two signs: discipline and a good heart; the rest was filler.

  • Richard M. Nixon says:

    May years ago I was in an executive outplacement class with eight or so other displaced suits. I knew why I was there—I was burned out with travel and work pressure. I badly wanted out, and my company agreed to pay for outplacement (when you become a corporate executive you never get fired or flat out quit, you just float to the next thing). There were others in the class who were part of massive layoffs from the telecom and banking industry.

    One such fellow was the brother of a famous right-wing blowhard of radio and television fame. He held to the opinion throughout the classes that there must have been a gigantic mistake that made a such a far-seeing and hard-working individual vulnerable to layoff. There were two or three others in from his outfit in the class, unlike “Bill”, seemed to accept their fate. It was clear they though “Bill” was a horses’ ass.

    Anyway, in the “Building Your Resume” class we were all urged to go up to the whiteboard and list our accomplishments. Most of were straightforward and somewhat modest, and had to be prompted by the instructor to expand on our accomplishments to make them more attractive on a resume. No such prompting was needed for “Bill”, he covered two whiteboards with bullet points that showed he saved his mega-company from absolute ruin dozens of times.

    One of his cronies stood up and looked at the whiteboards meditatively. He looked over and said “Bill, you do all this?”
    Bill proudly asserted he did all this and more.
    His crony said “And they laid you off?”
    Bill shook his head and acknowledged that this was sadly true.
    “Damn, Bill,” the crony said, “Just think of the quality mothafukas they kept!”

  • Back when I was in the military, I used to think "The corporate wold can't be this screwed up. They have to make a profit!"

    Then I went to work in the corporate world and quickly came to realize it was the same exact people, just wearing different suits.

  • Your fear of no just desserts is correct. I stopped having either fear or hope about anything to do with "the long run" once I heard someone I consider very wise utter the phrase "The long run is made up of the short run."

    Anything that is happening now, will in all likelihood continue to happen. And then we are dead. Newton's laws of motion + nihilism is all you will ever need.

  • @mago:

    in the ancient days of palmistry an entire reading could be done from the thumb, the length of which indicates degree of discipline


    Ahem. If this is a real thing, it would be easy to verify scientifically. Find a highly disciplined group of people (Olympic athletes, Navy SEALs, Trappist monks, etc.), measure thumb length, and see if there is a statistically significant difference from the general population.

    Guess what? No such difference exists, because it's not a real thing. Science is useful that way.

  • @mago and Talisker: a former co-worker of mine from Hong Kong would pretend to tell your fortune, and one of the markers he used was whether you had calluses on your palms–if you did, it was a sign your children would respect you. The truth? Where he came from, people who worked hard had calluses on their hands. If children grew up seeing their parents work hard, sure, they'd likely respect the parents for it. Moral of the story: palmistry is all made up.

  • In some ways I lean in the same direction as Ed, but I always try to moderate the inclination and cut the students some slack (as long as they're not repeat offenders), because I don't want to pull up the ladder behind me, so to speak. I once had a class—in grad school even—with a take-home exam that was due on May 17th, but for whatever reason, nobody's fault but my own, I wrote down the 19th as the due date. I did not discover this error until the evening of the 17th, when I was sitting down to work on it (thinking I still had plenty of time!), and saw that I had just missed the due-time by several hours. I immediately wrote a panicky and apologetic email to the professor, who (probably heaving a large sigh) cut me some slack and let me turn it in late. She would absolutely have been within her rights to give me a zero. But she didn't, and I took other classes with her and eventually wrote a master's thesis with her, and I'm really grateful that she didn't feel the need to "teach me a lesson" or whatever.

    So I do try to extend the same courtesy to my own students. But I do have to keep reminding myself sometimes….

  • I know I shouldn't do this, I know I'm off topic (I've loved this comment thread — it affirms everything I've ever believed about the corporate world), and I know I'm annoying people with trivial stuff, but it's not f^cking "just desserts" unless you're talking about strawberry shortcake. It's "just deserts," from an old form of "deserve." I know it looks like what we call arid, sandy plains with cacti, but it really means, "what you deserve."

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