27.5.12

IT IS UP TO THE PROFESSOR TO MAINTAIN STANDARDS.

At Inside Higher Education, John Warner, deputising for Oronte Churm, reacts to Janice Fiamenco's Unteachables post.  Mr Warner concurs with a Cold Spring Shops diagnosis in part, then dissents in part.
It would be hard-to-impossible to argue that the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality hasn’t resulted in some, let’s say, excesses of self-esteem that occasionally rear themselves in ugly ways in the classroom. I don’t think this concern is limited to traditionalists or conservatives, however, as you can hear this lament in the hallways of the most liberal of institutions.

I think it’s just as reasonable, however, to argue that the attitude of entitlement is rooted in the corporatization of higher education, where a degree is a commodity, and students (and parents) are customers.
There's plenty of blame to go around, but you'd think that higher-education-as-business might recognize what the graduate programs in business do, namely, that the customers are the employers who hire tables at the job fairs, not the students.

Keep reading, though.
Ultimately, though, that debate isn’t all that interesting to me. Whatever the cause, many of us agree on the result that winds up in our classrooms.

What piqued my interest is her conclusion that these students are somehow “unteachable,” because my experience is the opposite, and the notion that today’s generation of students is somehow any more “unteachable” than any other is total horseshit.
Indeed. Teaching is a lot like farming, although the growing season begins in late August.
When I look at my classroom at the start of each semester, particularly in a freshman writing course, I realize that I’m looking at a room of people who, in reality, don’t really know what it is we’re there to do.

I know this because I was them. My hunch is that Professor Fiamengo was not. Professor Fiamengo is assuming our students to be familiar with things they can’t possibly know, or, even on her own terms, are too warped by their progressive educations to understand.

If our students don’t know something we think they should, it is our job to teach them.
The column is instructive, particularly for beginning professors, heck, for veteran professors who would like to encourage student achievement without shamelessly becoming undemanding (which the students will see through in any event.)
When it comes to grading, I tell them that grammar and mechanics and accuracy count because in this class, the ideas are inseparable from the way they are expressed. I explain my attendance policy (there isn’t one), my loathing of cell phones, why I don’t allow computer-aided note taking, what to do if they miss class. I briefly describe all the assignments they’ll be doing. I inform them of my teaching philosophy, of my grading standards, and even the historical distribution of grades in the class.

In sum, I inform them of all the things that I believe are important in the course and discipline we are studying, and I am inviting them on board the train as it leaves the station.

Does everyone get on board? Of course not. Do I still get disgruntled and upset students in my office? Of course I do. But when they’re there, it’s not to try to move me toward their standard, it’s to understand what they should be doing differently to succeed at mine, something I’m willing to spend as much time as necessary doing.

What I am doing, is offering them access to a kind of power, a freedom, agency over themselves and the world.
I like the reference to getting on the train. Some years ago I heard someone offering two different visions of teaching styles, using the 'bus as a metaphor.  Do you keep the 'bus on time, or do you make sure the people get on the 'bus?  It's a rare semester that I don't apologize to a class for scheduling too much stuff, then cut out a topic or a reading, rather than cause unnecessary stress.  The main material is challenging enough, whether I get through all the subtleties or not.

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