Thursday, December 23, 2004

Victims of Life

Mike Adams has a fabulous piece up at As a University professor, I can really appreciate this:

I am writing to you because a student recently contacted me to question her final grade in my class. First, she wanted me to explain our complex grading system. As you know, this involves adding your three test scores together and dividing by three. Fortunately, I was able to convince her that there had been no computational errors so we could move on to the issue that was really bothering her. She had had a “rough” semester and wanted me to give her some “consideration” for the difficulties she had encountered, which, according to her, adversely affected her performance in my class.

In addition to breaking up with her boyfriend, this concerned student was having difficulty paying her bills and had to work 30 hours a week while taking fifteen credit hours last semester. These difficulties added up, in her opinion, to at least a one letter grade drop in her class performance.

I remember one first-year medical student who was in a class of mine on medical interviewing. This student spent the entire year goofing around; making jokes and generally disrupting the class (I will admit he was very funny); but for me the clincher was that he never turned in homework or demonstrated in any way that he had learned anything. He was outraged that I gave him a "C" in the class (which, by the way, is considered a really bad grade in med school because of issues of grade inflation which I won't get into here).

"You have ruined my medical career!" he shouted angrily at me.
"Nonsense," I replied. "Besides, you're lucky I passed you at all since you goofed off most of the year."
"But I though you liked me and the jokes I made!"
Well, yes, I explained to him. I did like his jokes, although I had told him more than once that they were somewhat disruptive of the class. And I liked him for what it was worth. His grade had nothing to do with not liking him. I though he was a funny and interesting person. But he didn't complete the work of the class and his being a funny interesting person didn't compensate in the least for that. Needless to say he was shocked, and ended up filing a complaint against me (nothing ever came of it, since I kept good records). But the point is the incredible sense of entitlement some students have. They expect that without work; without effort; without thought--that they can charm their way in life. Or excuse themselves with the "I'm just a poor victim"line. Just as in Adams' class the girl expected that events in her life should compensate for her poor performance. (I can hear it in her future job, say as a safety inspector at NASA: "Well, but you don't understand! I just got a divorce, so I shouldn't be expected to be able to pick up every mistake in my section of the Shuttle inspection! It's not my fault the bolt came loose on re-entry" etc. etc.)

Unfortunately, both my student and Adam's are probably somewhat correct in their philosophies. Many individuals who use the same techniques as our students, not only get by, but are rewarded for such behavior as adults.


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