Friday, July 23, 2010

The H.M.S. Beagle Has a Reserved Parking Spot Outside My School

After four years of toil teaching Basic Comp in my local community college, I have learned vastly more than my students. Most teachers have. We know their natures, their tendencies, their excuses, their foibles. Like you, I see bullshit coming a mile away. Most of us can usually (though not always) tell who is going to succeed and fail based on early observation of their actions. And what is the main indicator of success of failure in college and indeed life in general? FOLLOWING FUCKING DIRECTIONS.

As I was walking through the park after class the other evening, ranting to myself about my students, it all became clear: Nearly all of us are told, from the age we can communicate, what steps to follow in order to live a “good” life. From parents, teachers, PSA’s on TV, church, caring friends, even the Surgeon General and Nancy Reagan, we have all been WARNED. We were told a million times, during most of our lifespan, an immense host of wise, time-tested bits of advice that were intended to make our lives fruitful, happy, and comfortable—all sorts of strategies for living that were intended to help us achieve our life goals:

Don’t smoke. Don’t do drugs. Wear a helmet on a motorcycle or bike. Don’t commit crimes. Do your homework. Don’t stick a fork in an electrical outlet. Don’t carry scissors pointing toward you. Don’t run around the pool. Beware of trampolines. Don’t put food in your nose and ears. Don’t have a child when you’re 12. Be on time for class. Stay in school. Be considerate of others. Eat right. Exercise. Dress decently. Get good grades. Graduate from high school. Don’t be a whore. Work hard. Drive carefully. Get a good job. Be responsible for your actions.

And yet, given a lifetime of wise directions, many people (like my snowflakes) FAIL TO FOLLOW THEM. In my classes, I’ve had students who are felons, young, unwed mothers by the score, former and current druggies and burnouts, absurdly nerdy video game addicts with no friends, countless irresponsible students who can’t turn in their work, and generally just roster after roster comprised of about 70% fuckups.

So on I walked, and do you know what I concluded? Some of you will hate me for saying it: The fuckups were all warned, for their entire lives, how to live and not live, and they never listened. SO FUCK THEM ALL. I have no sympathy for them, and I sure as hell won’t go out of my way for them, especially when there are still some good students who DO follow directions and are dead serious about their educations. Teachers have limited amounts of time and energy. Should we spend it—in futility—on the least likely to succeed? Hell no.

Yes, some had all sorts of negative messages and psychosocial disadvantages competing with the messages of wisdom. But I don’t care. If they can’t or won’t FOLLOW DIRECTIONS that are insistently and constantly repeated to them, year after year, then Darwin will win the day, as he should. These fuckups DESERVE to be where they end up, because it’s the Law of Nature. Social stratification exists for a REASON, just like oil and water naturally separate. Survival of the Fittest, Natural Selection, whatever you want to call it, will put them right where they belong—flipping my delicious burger at Carl’s Jr., or greeting me as I enter Wal-Mart.

No cookies for them. No cookies for ANY of them…


  1. Heresy!

    You just haven't adapted your pedagogy to reach the poor lost lambs!

    Of course, this is what happens when educational institutions substitute social promotion and credentialism for an actual education. I mean, look -- society's not suffering one bit for it! The student loan industry is BOOMING! Too bad the default rate is rising dramatically. Oh, and then that's that dearth of jobs thing.

    Oh, well. But we gots lots o'diplomas!

  2. Ah, following directions. Seems so simple, huh? Yet the fucktards refuse to do it.

    Two years ago, after struggling to get students to follow simple directions for their assignments -- assignments I created to HELP their grades -- I gave the flakes an in-class assignment similar to the one I was given in the third grade. You may know it:

    1. Hand out worksheet that explains to read the entire sheet before beginning.
    2. Worksheet then tells them to do a bunch of dumb things.
    3. By the time they get to the end, they realize that the whole exercise could have been avoided had they SIMPLY READ THE DIRECTIONS.

    Of my class of 33 or so students, NOT A SINGLE ONE FOLLOWED THE DIRECTIONS. So they learned their lesson, right? Of course not. Many of the same morons were in one of my classes last year where they failed to read the open-book test directions -- the ones that explained that copying from the book would result in a massive deduction of points. How shocked they were when I followed my directions and docked them big-time points.

    Since that experience, I have begun emailing test directions to students prior to the test. I know it makes no difference to them, but when I have to justify failing the dumbasses, at least I can show they were warned in advance.

    And in a couple of years, when I have a new wave of students, I'll break out the following directions worksheet again. Then I'll stand back and laugh my ass off at them -- again :)

  3. I completely understand your frustration about students who don't follow directions. I tend to give directions in such detail and in so many different ways that some students have called me "overwhelming" at the beginning of class. Most of them eventually figure out that if they make it through the first few weeks, my routine is astonishingly regular and they are following the same set of directions over and over. Then the light bulb starts to go off.

    But to put my proffie-hater hat on here for a minute, if you have that much contempt for people who've made mistakes in their lives or who come from cultural circumstances that don't match the skill set required for college, there are two things you should NOT be doing with your life: teaching basic comp and teaching at the community college level. (I'm assuming here that by basic comp you mean developmental classes.)

    Yes, a remedial English course at a community college is the place where people who didn't pay attention in high school and refused to follow directions end up. It's also where people who haven't been in school for 20+ years come because they've just forgotten a lot of the rules. It's where students who came through crappy school districts in which their pulse and their presence were enough to ensure No Child Was Left Behind. It's the place where students are the first person in their family ever to try to go to college. And it's the place where people who know they've made mistakes but want to do better show up counting on you to help them with their second chance.

    I'm no Pollyanna. I know you can't save 'em all, or in some classes, even most of 'em. Yes, write off the hard-core, "I'm here for the financial aid" or "My parents told me to come here or I'd have to get a real job" students, but at least try to give the others the benefit of the doubt. They may not know exactly what college is or why they are here other than it's what one does to get a good job. Show them. Uphold your standards, but give them that chance. Have some faith that you'll reach at least a few of the clueless. If you have such contempt for them that you think they've already failed, then so have you.

  4. As a woman, I'm stunned that you would follow "felons" with "unwed mothers." I'm sorry, is this 1901? Grade as you will, be unsympathetic to life's circumstances if you must, but please don't group women who choose to breed without an attachable man, with felons. I've never understood society's aversion to young women who breed without a husband. Are you expecting Americans to turn to salt pillars for the sins of teenage mothers?
    Even the felons and drug addicts are not there for your judgement on their quality as human beings ("fuck-ups"). They are there to be taught...that's your job. Try to do it the best you can and if they don't take it and run, well then you've still tried.
    Honestly, my own experience has been that the most unsympathetic professors were usually the flakes of their departments. So, put away your chop block before you find your own bits on it.

  5. "Teachers have limited amounts of time and energy. Should we spend it—in futility—on the least likely to succeed? Hell no."

    I'm with ya, no cookies, and I teach at a community college too (if that is where you teach).

    EnglishDoc, I hear ya, I really do. Actually, I am considered a nice person in real life.

    But the line I quoted from Nocookies says it all. We just simply HAVE to give our time to those who will take advantage of what we are offering.

    One of my collegues who recently retired after 30+ years put it this way to me: it is like being a doctor giving medical advice to patients who may die if they don't follow the protocol. Some of them will follow your guidelines. Some won't. You can only give them good advice, and if they don't take it, they are doomed.

    But at least I can know I gave them the tools to succeed. I don't lose sleep over the ones who fail. Either they are willing to do the hard work to catch up in their lives, or they are not. No one ever said it was going to be easy.

  6. This is a blog for venting steam, so rhetorical excess is expected, even welcomed, especially when it's entertaining or well done.

    But in real life, I'd say that obviously we don't judge students or write them off for what we assume they've done with any other part of their lives. The only part of their lives that matters to us is how they handle the class.

    In class, absolutely, we do have to practice triage; our energy is limited, and we need give more attention to the ones who seem to be benefiting by it.

    But it cannot matter to us what our students did - or what we assume they did - before they got into our class, or any time they're not in class for that matter. It's none of our business.

    Much less can we use our assumptions about the rest of their lives as a guide to how well they're likely to do in class, and how much attention we should therefore pay them. That would be disgraceful.

    So I second EnglishDoc. If the contempt was real, and not merely an amusing rhetorical flourish, please get out now, and get another job, because you are doing yourself and your students no good.

  7. EnglishDoc, I actually attended a community college back in the day. More than 1/2 of my ENG 101 class was gone by semester's end, either because of lack of attendance, lack of ability, or just laziness. Nobody had a problem with that because nobody allowed excuses for not doing the work properly. It was expected and didn't get hand-waved away because students "made mistakes in their lives or [came] from cultural circumstances that don't match the skill set required for college."

    So, while I get that you were putting your "proffie-hater hat on," I think your suggestion that an anonymous instructor crying into the ether of the Internet about the woeful ill-preparedness and/or excuse-making of students should reconsider a new profession because you don't like their hyperbolic and exaggerated-for-effect "contempt" for those students isn't really appropriate. It would be like me knocking you for paying a sub to take over your classes (as in your other post). Neither of us have all the details so making ignorant career "suggestions" is insulting.

    To amy, I had the same thoughts when I read the "unwed mothers" snark. But then I remembered one cherub who tried to pull the "I'm a single mother and I just *HAVE* to pass this class" whine. She was right there next to the "I can't lose my scholarship" athletes and the ""I have a learning disability" claimants trying to get some sort of extra credit at the end of the semester (without any of that documentation most schools require).

    Snowflakes will use ANY excuse, real or imagined, to get out of required work. That's what makes them flakes. It's the sense of entitlement and attempt to weasel out of responsibility for their own behavior and poor performance in class.

    So, we can play dueling "you're just flake" all day long, but the fact remains that there is a difference between an actual education and a socially promoting (but empty) credential. Which should the faculty be spending their time and energy on providing?

    On preview: I mostly agree with Merely Academic, except about the "getting out" part. Who are we to judge if "tough love" of the sort that might push these students to succeed in the class might not be what they need? For me, the venom seemed to spew from excuse-making. How else could No Cookies know all these personal details? They told him/her.

  8. Eon't confuse hating with failing. That's the way students think. As Amy and Merely Academic said, we are judging who passes our class, not who gets into Heaven. It's not tough love or cruel indifference - it's applying standards.

  9. Please tell me where in my reply I said anything about lowering standards. In fact, I specifically said NOT to lower standards. This is not an either/or scenario. I think this particular post struck a nerve with me because the tone is much like some of the people I work with who have been teaching for 30+ years. They have no faith that there's any learning capability in the vast majority of our students at the community college level. They make a lot of blanket statements about how "Our students aren't capable of X." But even though they have given up on the vast majority of students, they still won't retire because the money is too good and (at least until recently) they weren't being held accountable for their failure to teach.

    I share your contempt for people who use higher education as their own means of social justice. I have colleagues who will pass students through because "they tried hard" or "they were such nice kids" or "he's a single dad/she's a grandma coming back to school/he lives in a homeless shelter and deserves a break." Their rationale is that eventually someone else will be the one to weed out these people who can't cut it. They get to feel good about themselves while those of us who care about whether the students are actually prepared for the next course get to be the bad guys. Thankfully, sequential success is now becoming part of the way we look at effective teaching.

    I can't remember where I saw this study, but several years ago I read that at the average community college, 20% of the students are going to make it no matter what. They're the motivated ones we all want in our classes, the ones who got decent educations, come from middle class or better circumstances, and will follow directions. Another 20% are the ones who are most definitely not going to make it. They are the ones who really don't want to be there, who are always going to put personal issues before schoolwork, or who have profound cognitive disabilities that we're just not equipped to deal with. Those are the ones we can't save no matter what. But that leaves 60% somewhere in the middle who can be taught to varying degrees. A lot of those won't make it either. Some will eventually, but it may take them longer. The ones who need the most energy are those in that middle group.

    I recommend Rebecca Cox's The College Fear Factor. I don't agree with everything she posits, but she makes several good points about how our the expectations professors and community college students bring to the classroom don't usually match and how different strategies can help bring us closer together. None of those strategies would require lowering standards.

  10. Paraphrasing: Don’t smoke,do drugs, commit crimes. Do wear a helmet, your homework. Don't electrocute yourself, carry scissors, run near pools, use trampolines, put food in orifices, have child at 12. Do be punctual, considerate, healthy, prudish in fashion, stay in school, get good grades, graduate, work hard, drive carefully, get good job. Don’t be a whore. Be responsible for your actions.

    I love this. It's such a strange paragraph! First, who here has never committed a crime? Are you kidding me? From changing lanes in an intersection to pocketing an apple when you were 10, I'm 100% positive we have all committed crimes, probably multiple crimes, our whole lives. The real issue is: don't get caught.

    And don't be a whore? Fer relz? You've got to be kidding me. How awful would this job be without the perks?

    And then, the gem: "don't have a child when you're 12." Because everything else in this paragraph is all about responsibility for your own actions... and being raped when you are a pre-teen is apparently the 12-year-old's fault. Not Uncle Ronnie, not stepdad fuckhead, not 18-year-old-taking-advantage-of-newly-pubecent 12-year-old. No, it's the little girl. And she just made a terrible life choice. HILARIOUS!!

    You've got some fucked-up priorities, there. And I don't mean that in an aggressive way. They made me laugh a whole lot. In fact, I'm still giggling.

  11. I don't think you understand Darwin, or how natural selection works-- just saying.

    I also think you enjoyed this vent a little too much. My intuition, and the tone of many of the "vents" here tell me that people like you enjoy coming here to complain about these things. I'm glad that society provides you with a ready supply of fuel for your blogs.

    Social stratification indeed.

  12. I try to get around this problem by telling my students, usually on the first day, that they are adults. That means 1) I can't "make them" come to class, do their reading/homework, study for the exams, etc., etc.; and 2) just like in every area of adult life, they get to live with the consequences of their actions. Though my admins may not like that attitude, I think it lets me off the hook with the know-nothing/do-nothing segment of the population, and it saves me aggravation because I can always fall back on "well, I told them on the very first day..."

  13. Everyone criticizing No Cookies needs to get a grip. I suspect that those criticizing No Cookies have also never, ever, ever taught the same student population No Cookies is venting about.

    First of all, No Cookies is venting, and No Cookies has legitimate complaints.

    Second of all, how do I know? Because I teach the same student population.

    As for the discussion of unwed mothers, I believe that No Cookies was even more politically correct than he/she wanted to be.

    Amy, you've probably never had to sit through an entire academic term of a class comprised mostly of women under 30 with multiple children from multiple fathers, all of them (the women) wondering -- out loud, often -- when their "checks" were going to come in. These checks would be their Pell Grant checks. In academic terms like that, said women drop the moment their checks arrive. Their breeding in the manner of their choosing is not felonious; their gaming of the system -- and using children to do so (as they do admit to, out loud and often) -- should be.

    Seriously, people, if you haven't worked in the kinds of trenches that No Cookie has described, then you really don't know what you're talking about when you criticize. How many of you, for example, routinely check the local sex offender registry -- for your students' safety as well as your own -- to determine how many may be in your classrooms? How many of you face the seething resentment of students who are forced to attend college to fulfill a parole or to receive some sort of unemployment or charitable benefit? How many of you have had to console students -- on a regular basis -- when a family member has met a violent end?

    The last time my colleagues and I hammered out measurable course objectives for one of our developmental writing courses, we debated about using the word "responsibility." (Actually, we debated whether or not the college would back us up, legally, if we listed "demonstrable responsibility" as a measurable course objective.)

    During this discussion, two of us said out loud what the other half dozen was thinking: "Can we include advice on birth control as part of 'demonstrable responsibility?'"

    We all laughed -- and we are all dedicated, educated, compassionate, intelligent, professional people.

    We all laughed because we all needed to vent. Venting is a necessary and important aspect of collegiality. That's why RYS was founded and why CM attempts to carry the banner.

  14. Greta,
    Perhaps you were wealthy enough when you were a student that you are unaware of "satifactory academic progress" rules. Rest assured, your students could not long make a game of withdrawing from classes after their checks arrived. You also seem to miss the idea that these women may be angsting over when their checks will arrive because they are taking classes rather than working. They may actually be desperate for money to feed themselves and their children. I don't have children and I was more than once desperate for my financial aid to arrive and keep homelessness at bay. I'm pretty sure that this won't be my ticket to Hades.
    To be honest, having been in the "system" of welfare, food stamps and the like, I have to tell you that everyone "games" the government to some extent. However, it is not done to fund Cadillac purchases (except for the tail wagging dog handful of cases which make headlines.) Usually people game the system to survive because the rules are so strigent that you can't get by without working a little off the books etc. For example, welfare will drop you the moment you find a job which brings your income up to a non-qualifying level. There is no saftey net.I've known women who lost their welfare as soon as they found work, and thus their day care. This had the nasty effect that they then lost their new job because they had no day care for their children. By the way, refiling for food stamps or welfare takes a long time...which means no money. It's circumstances like this that make parents feed their children.
    I know that some women, like some men are selfish and manipulative for less respectable reasons, but that doesn't mean that you should suspect the worst of your students. Again, judge their work not their personal lives.
    I once knew a student who had a two year old daughter. She went to school full-time and did full-nudity stripping twice a week to pay the bills. She had to crawl around naked on a dirty floor to make enough money to go to class and feed her daughter the rest of the week. To me, that suggested a mother's devotion to her child. I wonder what it would mean to you and No Cookies.
    Oh and well you mention women who have children by different fathers with a tone of disdain, I ask who dicatated that women should birth children by one man? Why are you expecting your students to live up to arbitrary rules and conventions? Focus on how they perform their tasks as students...those are the rules/standards you can and must set.
    By the way, with your birth control rant, and description of government benefits as "charitable" you sound like an awful amalgam of a Eugenics supporter and Ayn Rand.

  15. Amy, I'm not trying to start a flame war here -- not at all. I just don't think you understand the student population to which No Cookies and I are referring.

    I understand how welfare works, and never once did I suggest that food stamps fund Cadillacs. I'm also a card-carrying liberal, which I'm sure you doubt. I know that for many people in the Ivory Tower, acknowledging a flawed system -- or the flaws of those who game a system -- while espousing (and working hard for) genuine liberal ideals is a difficult-to-understand concept.

    If you were familiar with this student population, we wouldn't be having this conversation. These students speculating out loud about Pell Grants are not noble creatures providing for their children. The ones complaining loudly about the alleged lateness of their grants -- en masse, at the start of every class until the fourth week when their checks do come in -- are the ones who also brag about how they're going to buy clothing, furniture, and high-end electronics with their money, and how they're going to party when the money comes in. They don't care that they won't ever be able to go to school again. They just want the big checks (and they are big) for as long as they can get them. I've also seen them interact with their children. They need remediation in parenting as much as they do math and English. That's not eugenics or Ayn Rand talking. I don't want them to be proper little parents created in the image of some hegemonic ideal. I just don't want them to scream at their children, yank them by their arms, curse at them, slap them, and threaten my presence. Imagine what they do when behind closed doors.

    The reason I'm discussing the women is because they have custody of the children. The fathers are despicably absent.

    Yes, I know plenty of students who rely on federal aid to help them and their families, and I am one-hundred percent behind federal and state aid because I know its value. If you want to think that everyone who is poor is noble, then you have at it. (You may also think, for example, that everyone who is rich is motivated, that everyone middle-class votes for safe schools and clean water. I say go for it.)

    I would never interfere with any man's or woman's reproductive rights. I don't care how many children a woman or man has, or with how many partners. That is private business -- when it's kept private. I routinely hear women students discuss candidly the ways in which they tried to ensnare men by becoming pregnant, or how they deliberately became pregnant young because they wanted status within their own community. I wish I were making this up. I forgot to mention that STD rates in this area are off the hook.

    You say you once knew a student with a two-year-old daughter who had to strip. That's the difference between us, Amy. You once knew a student like that. Once.

    I love my job, but I do need to vent and such venting does not make me what you'd like to think me to be, Amy. If you don't want to read the spleen that's displayed here, then avoid blogs with the words "college" and "misery" juxtaposed in their titles.

  16. I don't understand what some people are expecting from a site called COLLEGE MISERY!


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