spelling....knowledge

Linnea Ista lkista at UNM.EDU
Mon Nov 17 12:48:43 EST 1997


> 
> And so we have students who are only interested in material they are going
> to be graded on.  And students who can't spell or put a sentence together
> because they don't read on their own anymore.  They don't read and
> therfore can't write.  And most infuriating of all, they are not students
> at college, feeling priviledged for being there---they are consumers
> shelling out big bucks for an education; their professors are education
> providers in the way doctors and nurses are health-care providers. 

Sadly, there are some universities that promote this thinking!
The last place I taught, and the place that burned me out on teaching for
a long time to come, essentially fostered the idea that since they were
smart enough to get into that particular University in the first place,
and because they paid big bucks, they "deserved" an easy time once they
got in. I was not aware of this fact when I first started teaching there.
My first shock came when I was informed by the department chair that my
grading scale was wrong.  I write exams so that if the students memorize
the material, they get a C, which I consider an "average" grade. A's and
B's are reserved for those students who can answer questions in which they
have to apply the major concepts. I was told that this was unfair and that
at this university, average work received a B.

The second shock came when I got a memorandum about writing tests from a
dean's office. Evidently, I was "unfair" in the way I posed multiple
choice questions. I tended to write the kind where the directions were
"circle all correct answers", with of course penalties for incorrect
answers. These were the kind I had in my advanced classes and I actually
liked them. The engineering dean's office (I was in the college of arts
and sciences) sent me a memo stating that there was a specific format that
multiple choice questions should follow as far as they were concerned and
that my format was really beyond the pale. 

In addition to the idea of calling and asking me to return their calls, I
had one student call me at home on a Saturday and demand that I come in
and hold special office hours for him that day. When I asked, why, if he
were having such problems to require immediate attention, I had not seen
him during the copious office hours I held during the week, he replied
that the exam wasn't until Monday and he didn't feel he had to start
studying until Saturday!

Near the end of one semester, I had the head of another department come
and speak to me about the fact that one of her majors was failing the
introductory biology lab class. She asked why, I replied that his lab
"reports" (results and answers to questions on a worksheet) were almost
always incomplete and that he did poorly on quizzes.  He was a
foreign student and his English was inadequate for the course. I told this
to my colleauge, thinking that she could perhaps convince this guy to get
some extra tutoring or something. Her reply was that I had to pass him
with a good grade because his father was a major industrialist
in his country of origin and the University was courting this man to make
a major donation. 


The crowning silliness, however, was the following. In my microbiology
course, I assign a paper to allow the students to go into more depth in a
topic they find interesting. There are no holds barred, the only
requirement is that the topic be a microorganism of some sort (in other
words, if they wanted to do a paper on tuberculosis, the paper had to be
about the physiology,genetics, or transmission of Mycobacterium
tuberculosis, not on turn of the century sanitaria). A further requirement
is that the students had to get up in front of the class and present a
synopsis of their paper. One student presented a paper on Alzheimers
disease and a particular protein that was implicated. The gist of his
paper was that this particular protein had been mapped to a particular
human chromosome. When he was finished, I asked him what this had to do
with bacteria, viruses or other microbes and he replied that the protein
killed the natural bacteria residing in the brain. This information, not
surprisingly, was not included in his paper. He had clearly not completed
the assignment. I went to another biology professor for advice on how to
handle this. He asked which student it was and then told me that this
guy's sister had presented the same paper to this professor's physiology
class two years previously. In other words, not only had he not done the
assignment, but he had plagarized. Unfortunately my colleague did not have
a copy of the paper, so it would have been hard to prove. I decided to
fail this student for the paper portion of the course, and as a result he
failed the class.  I was informed later that the dean had changed his
failing grade to a "D". This was common practice. 

It got to the point that I could spot a transfer student easily. They were
the ones who were polite, turned their work in on time and complete and
were also the ones who would come in after an exam to go over what they
had missed, rather than telling me why I should have "given" them more
points.

I could go on and on about this place!

Needless to say, I didn't last there very long. 

The truly sad thing, however, is that this university has a good
reputation. There is a state university in the same town, where I had
taught the previous year. The students at the private university look down
upon the state kids. I taught at both universities and found that the kids
at the State University got a much better education, were much more
motivated and were better at science when they got done. Sadly when they
go out into the job market, a degree from the other University will carry
more prestige.


What puzzled me the most about this is that I went to a private
university myself as an undergraduate (on scholarship). I looked on this
as a great opportunity to be challenged. I expected to work hard, and I
did. My favorite professors were the one who had high standards but at the
same time made sure we knew that they thought we could acheive them. It
all seemed part of one grand learning/teaching team, rather than me as
student/consumer and they as professor/provider. There seems to be no joy
of learning in the consumer/provider culture and that is sad.


Off my soapbox!
Linnea





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