exams (rant)

Lee Hadden hadden at wingate.edu
Tue Mar 7 16:54:02 EST 2000

Although frustrating, I'm glad that this problem is more widespread than just here.
Russ Koning's reference to digging deeper into the available pool of students at his
school may be part of it for some of us, but I believe there are other reasons that
contribute to the " just give me the grade I need but how dare you expect me to work
for it" problem.   [And as one former colleague said, It's not the open admission
policy that concerns me, it's the open graduation policy the students expect us to
abide by!"]

Ever notice the lack of personal accountability in today's students?  Ever hear them
talk about how "dad took care of my speeding ticket"?   Or how they got through high
school with A's and B's without studying?  One of our football players last year
totaled my old big SW my daughter was driving, along with his in the process.  His
first comment to me was that it was the fault of the boys who had trashed 8
windshields the night before with Elmer's glue and macaroni.  That he was totally
unable to see through the windshield as he tried to drive to the highway car wash,
looking out his side window only, was, in his mind the fault of the vandals.   He
plowed right into our car already halfway through a turn at an intersection  and
totaled both.  No one was hurt, but I was furious.  Pedestrians would have been
killed.  And we lost our "safe" second car I let the kids drive.   The reason for
HIS response became clear when I talked to his mother in Florida.  "Well we'll just
have to find out who did that so they can help buy you another car."  Hellooooo...
I told her "The boys made a mess of the windshield, your son created an accident by
choosing to drive it that way."  She disagreed.   [He didn't return last fall.  His
friend, a passenger in his car at the time of wreck, said, "He sort of got his
girlfriend pregnant!"  "Sort of?" I bellowed, "I wonder who he's trying to blame
THAT on?!

Have you ever encountered "why do we have to do this stuff in lab?" -- translated --
"why are YOU making us do this...?"   DUH--- did it ever occur to them that THEY
chose the school, the major, the courses.....?   Last semester one of my colleagues
countered the "Do we have to ..... this lab. ?" moan and groan with a most
effective, "No. You don't.  In fact you don't have to take this course.  I suggest
that if it's so annoying to you that you walk over to the registrar's office and
drop it. Please! spare us all your agony."

You refer to it as "consumer mentality".  For years I've called it "welfare
education."  Just give me what will satisfy me without expecting me to work for it!
Could these attitudes reflect a perceived violation of their [civil] rights that
expecting effort out of them apparently implies?   Have they mixed up the
constitutional right to the PURSUIT [requiring blood, sweat, and tears] of
happiness, with an assumed and misinterpreted  right to BE happy [without effort on
their behalf] ?

Could the attitude have anything to do with the "programmed" approach to their lives
-- programmed entertainment, games, virtual experiences of all kinds, including
"education" for umteen years before we get them?   Each semester for the last 10
years or so I have asked students what creative outlets or pursuits they have.  How
many play an instrument, sing, do craft or handiwork or any type, have ever made a
balsa wood glider, or a kite, and then flown it, have done or do woodworking, etc.?
Rarely do any of them affirm such experiences.   The creativity has never been
developed in all but a few of them.   When I suggested a drawing course to a student
to see if he could develop some creative outlet, his response was, "I don't want any
of that creative stuff.  Just give me my degree."  And that from a 3.4 gpa student!
[It also explained why I found him to be one of the blandest, most boring people I
had ever met.  Nice, but  absolutely dull in conversation and activity.]

I alluded a while ago to an exercise in Plant Biology that I gave my class last
semester.   Since I have a forest of bamboo in my yard, I cut long pieces, gave one
to each student and told them to be creative with it.  Some were very creative much
to my surprise and pleasure.  I'll definitely repeat that or something similar next
fall.  But they were stymied for quite awhile.  Most of all because they weren't
given instructions on precisely what to do to get a definite outcome.  Secondly,
they had to come up with something on their own and make it happen.    Ever try an
open-ended lab exercise?  I get more complaints on those than anything else I do.
"Dr. H  didn't teach us what to do."  "He didn't tell us what was supposed to
happen."  "Ours didn't work because we didn't know how to..... "  "We though it
should do this, but instead it did that and now we don't know what to do."  [It's
not like they don't have access to resources in the library or now the internet!]

Our local schools have had a policy for years of not having a student fail a grade
and repeat it.  The reason?  It might damage their self esteem!   One state dept of
ed. told local HS teachers that if a student failed their class, the student hadn't
failed, the teacher had!!!     {What will happen to their self esteem when they
graduate and discover they have no marketable skills?}  So students are socially
promoted, conditioned to that lack of being accountable for their actions or lack
of, and we wonder why they see it as an affront to them to expect them to work in
our classes.   Most of my students who have grade problems immediately say, "But I'm
going to get a tutor!"  translated-- the tutor will put into my head what I'm not
willing to wrestle with to get there myself.  And then they wonder why their grades
don't improve, not having learned the material, but just having spent more [useless]
time with it.

Oh well, I've "ranted" enough.  But the problem won't go away in one course or even
in four years of college.  The real challenge is to maintain credible standards of
performance and stick to them without caving in to their diminished expectations.
I actually find myself trying to do "fun things" just to get their attention and
then slip the details to be learned in along with the fun.  Is it OK for classes to
be fun, maybe even funny?  How can I whet their appetite for learning without their
realizing they ARE learning?   They have been so conditioned against inquiry and
initiative  in middle and high school that it is more and more difficult to find the
switch to turn the excitement of discovery  back on again [like it was when they
were in elementary school].     Sometimes I feel like I'm throwing pearls
before........     Oh well,  maybe I'll begin a new career and start a new TV show,
"Wanna be a college graduate?"  [Instant gratification with minimal or no effort!]

Till later,

Lee Hadden
Professor and Chair,
Department of Biology
Wingate University
Wingate, NC   28174

hadden at wingate.edu

Beverly Brown wrote:

> Ross,
> This comment really strikes a nerve!  I have recently and repeatedly had
> conversations here with faculty, some with many years under their belt.
> They all note that students are more demanding and apparently feeling less
> responsible for their grades.  Some have termed this a "consumer
> mentality".  It is much broader than just botany, and therefore probably a
> bit broad for this list.  But, it certainly is something that we have to
> deal with!
> Beverly
> Ross Koning wrote:
> > Hi Monique,
> >
> > Here at ECSU, I have experienced what has seemed
> > like a very sudden decline in student's impressions
> > of what to do as a student. I have had to teach
> > study habits as well as botany...and many don't
> > appreciate being told that they have any responsibility
> > in the learning process. You get buckets of attitude
> > when you 'make' them do anything above the minimum.
> >
> > Some investigation turned up some local changes
> > in student acceptance. In an effort to keep the
> > "numbers up" the admissions staff dug deeper into
> > the barrel of applicants. Applicants are ranked
> > on a 1 to 10 point scale (10 as best) on a holistic
> > group of criteria (not just SAT). Generally we draw
> > from the 5-8 group and celebrate 9-10s who choose ECSU.
> > This year we have been accepting 1-4s...OUCH! No
> > wonder they seem like this...they barely made it
> > through high school.
> >
> > I don't know if A&M is doing anything like this, but
> > state legislatures have a lot of pressure on state
> > schools here to "keep the numbers up."
> >
> > ross
> > --
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > Ross Koning                 | koning at ecsu.ctstateu.edu
> > Biology Department          | http://koning.ecsu.ctstateu.edu/
> > Eastern CT State University | phone: 860-465-5327
> > Willimantic, CT 06226 USA   | fax: 860-465-4479
> > ____________________________|___________________________________
> >
> > Electronic services composed and served from •Macintosh hardware.
> > ---
> --
> _:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:
> Beverly J. Brown, Ph.D.                Phone:  716-389-2555
> Nazareth College of Rochester       Fax:      716-586-2452
> Biology Department                      E-mail: bjbrown at naz.edu
> 4245 East Avenue
> Rochester, NY 14618-3790
> _:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:_:
> ---
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