Friday, April 27, 2012

I'm Hiram and I'm Baffled By Those Last Week Escapees!

I am baffled by two of my students who skipped the last week of the semester, not turning in a final paper, nor taking the final.

Both of these young women were likely to had enough points already. (The department requires a paper that qualifies as a research or sources essay, and while they both missed the deadline this week for the official research project, an earlier paper by both had multiple sources and actually qualifies as well.)

I know both felt snowed under, getting the last paper done, prepping for the exam. But, seriously, even walking into class and taking a nap or scrawling nothing but Nicki Minaj lyrics in a blue book would have gotten them through.

I read a great book called College Fear Factor a couple of years ago, a book that - among a great number of other things - revealed to me that many students just would rather drop or stop coming to a class than turn in work that proved they were not worthy of being in college.

It bums me out because I was one of the all time great "bad college students," but I turned in my shitty work and learned from it. (And took more than a few classes over again.)


  1. I've noticed students won't TRY something new; they're too afraid. If I start doing something in class that they've never encountered or know they can master in 5 seconds, they shy away from it. Their "self of steam" is at stake here because they've been told all along that they're smart and can do it, rather than that they should work hard. So when they can't do it, they think it's b/c they're not smart, and rather than prove that they just aren't smart, they intentionally give up. Work ethic, anyone???

    It sure makes teaching new concepts or ideas difficult, I tell ya. "But we didn't learn how to do that in high school," is a common complaint. Yeah... and that's why you're in college now, yes? If you learned it all in high school, why bother with college? But I'm not sure any of them seem to GET that.

    1. I agree with your assessment. I have the students do a project, which is done by the professionals that they plan to become on a weekly basis. They had an hourlong lecture on the principles of the project and two examples.
      Last year's class just plagiarized the example projects. This year's class bitched and moaned that I didn't give them enough instruction.

      I honestly don't know what to do with them.

    2. I think it's even worse: I think they have been so shielded from failure that the mere possibility of failing (the risk associated with trying something new) traumatizes them. I read a piece about this a while ago (The Atlantic, maybe?) that confirmed my own sense that this fear comes from their growing up in a world where all risk was minimized through child-proofing. I AM NOT SAYING THAT DRINKING THE DRANO UNDER THE SINK IS A NECESSARY STEP IN MATURATION. However, falling off a bike is. Bumps and scrapes are really useful tools.

  2. That problem is even worse Across the Seas. Taking any path less traveled is frowned upon more or less explicitly in many ways, and it can have serious side effects on how students (especially the weaker ones) view their potential.

    In some cases, though, my impression has been that it helps native Capybara squeakers to be trying new things in courses that are offered in Hamster. As long as they're confident that their (iffy) language skills won't be the main focus of evaluation, the fact of wrestling with new ideas across some kind of a language barrier paradoxically eases the process of absorbing those new ideas. Years ago, when studying Gerbil in Gerbilland, I had the same feeling about my own learning process.

  3. Yer tellin' me. It makes teaching general-ed science in any intellectually meaningful manner nigh-on impossible, since it isn't an exaggeration to observe that they know no science whatsoever. (I need to remind them that when ice melts, it turns into water.)

    Also, I remember when I was taking second-grade reading (in 1967), being told, "You learn from your mistakes." This has served me very usefully ever since. This, of course, is antithetical to the idea that children's self-esteem is fragile, and must be preserved at all costs. It therefore is not baffling at all how modern college students came to be so profoundly stupid.

    1. "I need to remind them that when ice melts, it turns into water."

      Whoaa! Dude, I had no idea.

      I mean I had no idea anyone could get into college and still need to be told this. Mind you I do live in Tuktoyaktuk, where ice is sort of a fact of life. But still. Duude.

    2. They also need to be told that:

      - day and night are caused by Earth's rotation, which happens once every 24 hours,

      - Earth goes around the Sun in 365 days (and change), which is a year,

      - there is no air in space: Earth's atmosphere ends 60-100 miles above the surface of Earth,

      - the Sun provides heat and light for Earth and the other planets, which shine by reflected sunlight in visible light,

      - gravity and magnetism are different,

      - the only place in space where humans have ever been is Earth orbit and Earth's moon,

      - climate change is real and it is caused by humans.

      Thanks to Fox TV, half of them see fit to dispute those last two.

      Keedos, I fear for the future of democracy. I am currently wading through a pile of papers they've written. Competent writing is rare (nearly all of you know this already), but fewer than 10% of them have competent writing about competent understanding of science.

      Oh, all right. The new "student success" management would insist that they don't need to understand science. But if they all become prostitutes for Chinese tourists because that's all they're good for, they won't be able to charge much since the market will be flooded.

      I am reminded of a quote by Henry Adams in 1862 (and virtually none of them will know who he was, or anything about the context of why he wrote this):

      Man has mounted science, and is now run away with. I firmly believe that before many centuries more, science will be the master of men. The engines he will have invented will be beyond his strength to control. Someday science may have the existence of mankind in its power, and the human race commit suicide, by blowing up the world.

    3. A story making the rounds:

    4. Yeah, I know an astronomer at Space Telescope Science Institute (the outfit on the campus of Johns Hopkins that runs Hubble Space Telescope) who gave a talk at a school in Tennessee. When she said that we are made of elements that have been cooked up in stars, the adults in charge stopped her in mid-talk, escorted her from the school, and told her that they'd "pray for her." One can only speculate what Mencken would have said about this: Tennessee is of course home of Oak Ridge National Lab, where they pioneered nuclear energy.

    5. Other surprising questions I have been asked by people claiming to be college students:

      - What does "careen" mean?

      - What does "superfluous" mean?

      - What is the circumference of a circle? (I refused to answer, because it came from an engineering student: not knowing that it's two times pi times the radius is gross incompetence for an engineer, and 8th-grade stuff for everyone else),

      - How many feet are in a mile? (This was particularly egregious, since it was given on the exam.)


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