Saturday, January 28, 2012

Haywood from Henderson On What's "Wrong."

Y'all are not going to believe this.

An online student submitted his first assignment last week. The assignment required students to discuss how one historical aspect of basketweaving had affected modern basketweaving. The historical effects of basketweaving development are factual, and supported by empirical evidence.

The student wrote that in his opinion, historical basketweaving had had no effect on modern basketweaving. Accordingly, I gave the student a poor grade.

The student requested clarification over the course of a couple of entitled, demanding, and threatening emails. In one of my responses, I stated "your opinion that historical basketweaving has had no effect on modern basketweaving is, unfortunately, incorrect." My response went on to provide references to our class resources, including the textbook, that contain the scientific empirical evidence that proves that historical basketweaving has profoundly affected modern basketweaving.

Today, I received an email from my Dean. The student has filed a formal complaint against me for informing him that he is wrong.

Yes, you read that right. I am being investigated for telling a student that he is wrong when he is, in fact, wrong.

While on the surface this appears ridiculous (and is), in fact I am exceeedingly troubled by this situation. There is no effort on the part of administration to look at the content of the complaint and recognize the utter insanity of it. This complaint should have been dismissed out of hand. Yet, our procedures have become set in stone recently, in no small part due to negligence on the part of other institutions (Penn State, for example).

I assure you that I am not leaving anything out, other than the actual text of the email thread (2 emails to me from the student, one response from me back to the student). I am not failing to mention that I told the student to go blow a goat, or in any way was rude, dismissive, or less than helpful.

I literally mean that I am being investigated for correcting a student when he was wrong about a concept in my field.

17 comments:

  1. You failed on a number of counts.

    First of all, you were not fair and balanced. There are two sides to every issue. The class reading materials did not contain the evidence that the other side has on this matter or, if it did, it contained less evidence than for the side you represent. So the student had no recourse other than to present his position as unsupported opinion. This approach "is bias" as my students so often remark.

    Secondly, there is no final proof for anything in the humanities. More evidence might turn up later. We might be brains in a vat. We might have been created by aliens two hours ago with memories of previous events and artifacts from before that period created to look old. So your position that a particular perspective is at all conclusive is simply dogmatic. Dogma has no place at a modern, secular university.

    Thirdly, the evidence you presented was, as you state from the class reading. In other words, you are arguing that everything is just text. In addition to that, you are clearly equating your personal power as instructor with knowledge and your knowledge with power. This is all just cultural Marxist post-modernism and will not be tolerated.

    Finally, the student paid for education. Education raises self esteem. It does not diminish self esteem. For most personality types, learning that an opinion is wrong erodes, sometimes slightly, sometimes to a greater degree, one's self esteem. This type of learning therefor goes against the ethos of education. Certainly, you could argue that the hazing and abuse in military training, or even torture, can be used to teach. But our institution will not tolerate the infliction of trauma as a didactic approach.

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    1. These parodies of administration doubletalk are really good. Too good. It's the equivalent of sending the WWII Germans fake plans that we're headed towards Normandy but a few hundred feet north of our planned landing.

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    2. For (1): do you think there are two sides to the issue, 2+2=4? If so, do you have change for $5? How about $50?

      For (2): I tend not to take that seriously, whenever I'm being chased by a large, angry dog that appears that it wants to bite me.

      For (3): Cultural Marxist post-modernism? Sounds like name-calling to me.

      For (4): Haven't you heard that self-of-steam is on its way out? We can only hope. And yes, some of the most thorough and deepest learning I ever did was when I was in the U.S. Navy: it builds character, you student and dean should try it.

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    3. @ Frod - Any defense of the notion that 2+2 has only one particular solution, presumably four, is evidence of being trapped in the white, Eurocentric, male, capitalist, heterosexual paradigm of scientism. There are alternative and subaltern ways of knowing and the university should make room for those experiences and appreciate the diversity and richness they bring to the academic community.

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  2. Which reminds me: where is Strelnikov when we need him?

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  3. Your dean is a jagoff for letting this get this far. If your student wins this, learning will stop at your school: and the Dean's workload could get much larger. But then, if he can get a bigger staff to handle it, he has an incentive to let it. I hate the sensation that the inmates are running the asylum: it was worst when I was untenured and more vulnerable, but it never did completely disappear.

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    1. The dean reminds me of someone I once shared an office with while I was still teaching. He retired from the institution and came back under contract to earn some extra money. One day he told me that while he was head of a different department, he absolutely wanted no hassle whatsoever. That lead me to believe that he was a cream puff when it came to student issues, giving into their complaints and demands, no matter how trivial or ridiculous, in order to get them out of his hair.

      Unfortunately, his successors in that department weren't much better as I found out when I later taught some service courses there.

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  4. Time for some rabble rousing. I'd point out to the Dean that if this case is even considered, then grading can no longer take place except to give every student a 100%. Marking an answer wrong on an exam should result in a full blown investigation, and any student has the right to such an investigation, given that the precedent has already been established, and, hells bells, so much of the law builds upon previous precedents.

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  5. I like Prof Poopiehead's idea to henceforth forward all grading to the dean.

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  6. Honestly, I think telling students that they are wrong is a fine art.

    My main goal in grading? To avoid having any interviews with my students about said grading.

    And so I phrase their wrongness very very delicately. They are never "wrong" -- just less right than they could be.

    "You make a good point here, Stan, in arguing that Hitler was an alien who lived off of the blood of rain forest frogs. I never thought of it that way. But I think a stronger way to put it would be that he was a human man from Germany who spent a few years being vegetarian. I especially like that passage of our book where it asserts his human-ness and his brief vegetarianism. If you wanted to enhance this paper, I would suggest thinking about that passage and considering a point/counterpoint format for the essay. Nice job! I look forward to your next paper!"

    72 C-

    (to be read dripping with sarcasm, but they never quite get that)

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    1. What gets me is that, when I was a high-school student in the '70s, students were often yelled at for being even half this stupid. Now, we have to treat every extra-speshul one like hothouse flowers. I try my best, but I'm still often criticized as being "intimidating." But a much worse criticism would be "ineffective," so I still keep pointing out errors, and with a red pen.

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    2. I used to think that education was a test of character. I remember when I was a freshman I was told what I'd be doing before I finished my B. Sc. I saw some sort of equation with all sorts of symbols that I didn't recognize at the time and I thought that the person who told me that was nuts. Nearly 4 years later, I understood what many of those expressions were, but it required dedication and self-discipline on my part to accomplish that as Fourier series and partial differential equations aren't the easiest things to master.

      The important thing was that my professors expected me to do that in order to get my degree. Many of them saw that I had the capability, though I might not have thought so when I started. It was because of those expectations that I began to grow up.

      One of my greatest disappointments as an instructor was that I was, for the most part, forbidden to expect the same from my students. I started teaching nearly a generation after I was a freshman and I was appalled at how poorly prepared and ill-disciplined my students were.

      I started with a group of shiftless whiners who expected high marks for sloppy work and things went downhill from there. Often, I gave advice on how to do things better, though I didn't always penalize them for every mistake. Unfortunately, they just as often ignored that advice and carried on as if I'd done nothing. With that attitude, I hated to think what sort of employees they would have been because the workplace isn't nearly as forgiving as academe. Out there, mistakes can cost money or, worse yet, hurt someone.

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  7. The student is a spazz; shoot him.

    That good enough for you, Frog and Toad?

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    1. Actually, Strel, seeing as you asked the question, no, it is not. We expect something longer and more gory in its description. What, are you now phoning it in?

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  8. @Haywood,
    do please update us on this one (and good luck!)
    EC1

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    1. Yes, please do keep us posted. I'm hoping that the "investigation" is merely a sop (albeit a ridiculous one) to the student, and you will be fully vindicated. But I know better than to think that that's a certain outcome.

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