Thursday, April 4, 2013

Vince from Valencia With This Week's Big Thirsty! Who Gets To Tell Students They're Too Dumb for College?

There was an apocryphal story that made the rounds in the early days of computers and internets, the punchline of which was a tech support worker who told a caller they were, "Too stupid to own a computer" because the caller couldn't figure out why it wouldn't work during a power blackout.

I realize I'm about to open a can of worms here, but: Who gets to tell students they are too stupid for college?

Is the Admissions Office responsible? Don't they let them in?

Are advisors responsible? They are supposed to be all about, "College is for everyone! You can do anything you put your mind to! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!"

Is Student Services as a whole responsible?

Are faculty responsible?

Q: Tell me. Who gets to tell students they're too damn dumb for college?


30 comments:

  1. Me.

    With hot lead and dynamite.

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  2. An excellent question. "Who gets to?" vs. "Who should?" I think we have to. The others certainly won't.

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  3. We are almost explicitly barred from telling students they should drop our class, much less leave college altogether. Unfortunately, my program is so endangered that we are actively encouraged to keep anyone around we can (that's on the departmental level).

    Some schools have a laissez faire (and somewhat unfair) attitude about it: they accept anyone and let the results (grades) introduce them to the door.

    But, oh, how I love giving the fire and brimstone lecture about whether or not the younguns' in my intro classes really know if they belong there--ejection through implication, I say.

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    1. That sounds like the place I used to teach at. It took in whoever could pay tuition and, theoretically, that payment was sufficient qualification for graduation.

      The department I taught in was a 2-year program. After the term was over, all the instructors would meet and we'd sort the first-year students into 3 categories. Those who were designated "A" were automatically allowed to continue into the second year. Those who were "B" were provisional and their status wasn't solely determined by marks. Attitude and work habits were sometimes considered. Those who ended up as "C" were told to go do something else and weren't allowed back until they decided to grow up and maybe try our department again.

      One year, we only let 40% of the first-year group return for the second year, which sometimes made for small classes. The dean didn't do anything about it, but it was the last time that we ever did something like that, at least while I was there.

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  4. I wish I did, and had a branding iron to go along with the job--just a "stoopid" small enough to fit on the cheek. I'd travel the country on my Shetland pony, branding as I went.

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  5. Or, what about a committee (because we need more of those) to distribute giant scarlet 'R's for "remedial" (even though we know they stand for something far more descriptive and offensive)?

    (branding might be a little too permanent and, well, eugenic)

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  6. I don't think it's my job to tell a student they're too dumb for college, though many of them are.

    I do however often say things like "maybe this area isn't your strength" and "you need to put more time into this class," and "no, it's not possible for you to pass the course at this point." As half of what I teach is comp, and they cannot get through college without it, I am essentially telling them that if they can't get through my class, they can't get through college.

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  7. They need to figure it out for themselves, and be given that chance to do so.

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  8. I used to date a girl who claimed that the grade below "F" should be "SG," standing for "Soylent Green." I'm not sure she's entirely wrong.

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    1. That just made my night. Thanks.
      But now I'm hungry...

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  9. During a private conference(which I begin next week, right before the drop date)I will say, "This is just not your semester," after going over their test scores with them. Others it's "Drop or flunk. Your choice."

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  10. CrayonEater is correct that we are responsible for alerting students that they will fail our classes. I urge students who are failing to drop my class. Somehow, I do it in a way that makes them appreciate the heart-to-heart talk. They actually leave my office relieved that they will no longer have to suffer through general chemistry.

    I will not tell a student to quit college. Assessing their talents based on their abilities in my class seems very presumptuous. They might be very good at something else that lacks any connection to chemistry. It's not my responsibility and it's not my problem.

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    1. Unfortunately our final drop date is so early that there's no time to accumulate enough points for the student to have no chance at all of passing. The last time I told a student "you will never be able to pass this" it was just past the 9th week, and it was already too late to drop. S/he had to take the F.

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    2. That's one of my favorite sayings.

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  11. For those in the professions, this can be a difficult issue. In mine, the first clause states that the public welfare comes first and foremost. How can one, with a clear conscience, pass a student who, if he or she graduates, could be a menace?

    At the place I used to teach at, we had an incident in which, apparently, an instructor asked a student whether that person was really suited for that field of study. The student, I heard, took umbrage and the matter eventually ended up in a human rights court. The instructor was sentenced to a session of sensitivity training. The institution, which sometimes had the policy of punishing the innocent and uninvolved, imposed that same sentence on the rest of us in our division.

    The only thing I got out of that complete waste of time was a cup of dreadful tea or coffee and a stale muffin or two.

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    1. That's an interesting perspective. Failing a student who doesn't fulfill the course requirements is easy. Failing a student if he fulfills the requirements but I have doubts about his overall qualifications seems unethical to me. Evaluating the student's dedication to a field of study is reasonable if you are trying to advise the student but it is irrelevant to the student's grade in a course.

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  12. I used to share an office with a colleague who started at the institution shortly after it opened some 30 years earlier. At one time, he was an administrator and he told me how he'd get students to withdraw.

    He would review the grades of all the students in his area and determine who should be allowed to continue. He had withdrawal forms prepared and then called in those who he thought should be doing something else. When each of those students came into his office, he'd tell them why he wanted to see them, present them with the form and, often, they were more than willing to sign their names.

    Sometimes, well after some of them withdrew, they'd visit him at the institution and personally thank him for giving them the boot.

    Sadly, one can't do that nowadays.

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    1. I know a nursing program that calls C a failing grade and won't let students continue if they get a single C as a final course grade. The waiting list for this nursing program is years long.

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    2. I know of a professor who stapled the drop form to the front of the first exam. He'd spread the exams out on the front table in the classroom and ask students to pick them up. It was clear whose test had a drop form attached. He was not well-liked.

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    3. I like the sound of this program. Many, if not most, grad programs work the same way - why not apply it to the (presumably quite important) medical professions, as well?

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    4. Wylodmayer:

      I just had some dental work done at the university clinic. I was assigned a student and there were practicing dentists and, presumably, professors on hand to supervise her. She made her share of mistakes but I attributed it to rookie inexperience. I think she'll do all right in her practice but she'll need to work for several years before she can safely start her own clinic. I told her so, recalling what it was like when I was her age and at a similar stage in my profession.

      What bothered me, though, was the competence of some of the practitioners. Some were very good and were willing to explain to me what went on as I had a lot of questions. Some, however, shouldn't have been let anywhere near a dental clinic. What scared me was that those people were the ones assessing the suitability of that student's work.

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  13. I get to tell them and I do it every semester. Just because they or the state can afford college, doesn't mean they are cut our for it. It plays hell with my retention rate some semesters, but if there's one thing I have an expertise in, it's student preparedness for the rigors of my field.

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  14. (I'm changing my handle to protect my ID; I'm keeping the same icon so people can figure out who I am if they care.)

    I would desperately like to be able to tell the Pre-Meds that they aren't going to med school. But I just don't feel it's my place. I sometimes teach one of their 'weeder' courses, and have had crying students in my office tell me how I am keeping them out of , since their grades are now below the minimum acceptance level. I have so far resisted the urge to tell them that if they were that borderline, they weren't EVER going to get in. They seem not to understand they're competing with students from Harvard, not just Hackensack U.

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    1. This is why I worry when, every spring, the college gets a bloom of posters advertising medical schools in the Caribbean.

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    2. I have the same struggle with pre-law kids. When I think it's warranted, I have told some of them that their chances of getting into a reputable law school and landing that big, cushy law job are very, very low. I usually do also mention, though, that I know of people who have done their J.D.s at non-accredited night schools and found local work in the legal field that, while relatively low paying, was nonetheless apparently fulfilling. But I consider taking away their dreams one of the perqs of the job.

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  15. Spent the last hour (plus) grading 4 composition essays, whose grades were C-, C-, F, and D-.

    Who gets to tell them they're too dumb for college? We do. They get in, but they can't do the work. Then they fail. Then they go to student services or whatever, where they're told, yes, your grades are low but you just apply yourself and you'll do ok (which is a little bit true).

    Is it dumb, though, or just lazy? For some, it's dumb. But for most, it's lazy. My classes are not hard to pass. Over the years, they have devolved to the point where I give them literally everything they need to pass--handouts that spell out how to follow what the PowerPoint says; multiple chances to practice improving their writing; in-class help; office hours (that very few avail themselves of); scaffolded assignments--and for some of them (creeping up over 25% now, according to my stats), it's not ever going to be enough, because they are too lazy (or dumb) to do the work they need to do. I've been in this long enough so that when they flunk my classes, I see them a few years later, and they are doing B level work, because they finally realized that they can't just fuck around (like they did in HS) and expect to pass.

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  16. I cannot always alert a student that they will fail my course. This is because I don't feel comfortable doing that via e-mail, and often the failing ones bolt after class. I have learned from experience not to follow them down the hallway asking to speak with them. Bad idea.

    BUT, I do things like make announcements about the final withdrawal date, and let them know as a group to think about their grades on major assignments. Of course, then little Gracie with her B+ starts crying, but still.

    I have, actually, told students they should think about doing something else besides college. If I get them in my office and we can have a heart to heart, I ask them why they are here when they seem to have other kinds of strengths, ones that are not utilized as much in the college atmosphere. That is an important part of that conversation----telling them I appreciate parts of them that are not rewarded or utilized in the college context. I have to look, sometimes, for these kinds of qualities, but often I do not.

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  17. It depends on what you mean by "tell." Yes, their grades are very telling, but the reasons behind them don't always equate to being too stupid for college. Sometimes it's a question of other things, rightly or not, taking priority. Sometimes it's the wrong major. Sometimes it's the idiot remedial proffie who let the nice kid pass through leaving the job to those in the credit-bearing classes. In over 20 years of teaching, I'd say I've had about two dozen students I would truly categorize as too stupid for college. I've told them as politely as possible. I am very happy to hear we have a new literacy initiative coming up in my system. That will greatly benefit both our CCs and the local State U in terms of getting people up to speed or having them stop at a certain point because they've achieved what they're capable of doing.

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