Friday, January 21, 2011


We are at the end of the second week of the semester. Enrollment in classes has more or less evened out. The students who are coming to class have, more than likely, the intention of finishing out the semester. Whether they are able to do so successfully, though, will depend on any number of factors. Unfortunately, the majority of those factors are absolutely out of my control.

Yesterday we had our first quiz in one of my courses. First quizzes can be difficult. You don’t know how the instructor writes questions, what type of information they’re looking for, how to read the questions. In this particular course, I provide a study guide for my students in advance. I create the study guide from the actual quiz, making sure that I indicate the topics that will be covered.

I also allow students to use a note card - a ‘cheat sheet’ if you will - during the quiz. I don’t do this in my other courses. I question the wisdom of doing it in this course as well. I wonder if I’m being too easy on them, too indulgent. I justify my choice because of the fact that the material in this course is very foreign to many students and the textbooks are really written at the 3000/4000 level as opposed to the 2000 level where this course, of necessity, resides on our campus. Even with the study guide and the note card – many students average a solid ‘C’ on quizzes throughout the semester. In the past I have attributed this to the difficulty of the course material and the ‘newness’ of the topic to most of my students. Today I am questioning those assumptions.

After the class a student approached me to talk about the quizzes. He admitted he didn’t think he had done well on the first quiz – earning 6 out of 15. He is correct in his self-assessment. He asked whether the remaining quizzes would be as hard. I assured him that they would. I then went on to give him advice about how to study. My comments went something like this:

When you sit down to read the chapter, be sure to have the study guide with you. As you are reading, take notes on the concepts that are listed on the study guide, summarizing the ideas in your own words. Check off each item as you come to it, to make sure you don’t miss anything in the reading. Then, study the notes you’ve made on the study guide. After that, condense the ideas down into more concise wording to put the concepts on your notecard. If you do this, you should be pretty well prepared to do well on the next quiz.

This student looked at me as though I had grown a second head. His response was, “I don’t have time for that.”

My student asserted that he had other classes and life obligations and that he just wasn’t going to spend that much time on this. When I suggested that he should consider whether he should be taking the class this semester, that maybe 4 classes was too many for him, he was quick to assert that he wasn’t going to drop the course. He just doesn’t have the time to do the basic studying required. When I
reminded him that there were assignments other than the quizzes - group projects, papers – he simply repeated that he doesn’t have time for this.

It was a fascinating experience. I could literally see the magical thinking going on in this student’s head. I “shouldn’t” demand so much of him. I “shouldn’t” expect him to read or study. I “shouldn’t” advise him to reconsider his decision to take this course. I “should” change my standards and make my course easier. I “should” ask less. I “should” reduce the course expectations. He ‘should’ be able to get a good grade in the course without actually doing any reading, writing or studying.

So where does this thinking come from? Have we watered down our educational system so much that even the most basic expectations of reading and taking notes are now considered ‘too demanding?’ Is any expectation of prioritizing school, homework, and studying above socializing or personal life simply an archaic notion that doesn’t recognize modern life and its demands? Do we really expect that we can learn a new concept without any effort on our part? Do we really expect to have a college degree handed to us in exchange for a swipe of our credit card?

Maybe it’s the consumer mentality that has taken over much of academia. Maybe it’s the sense of entitlement that we hear talked of so much in reference to this particular generation. Maybe it’s simple, old-fashioned laziness. Whatever it is – the result for my student is grave disappointment. The quizzes won’t get any easier, the demands of the class won’t get any lighter. I’m sticking to that old-fashioned standard that you do have to read, you do have to write, you do have to study.

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  1. Hi Judy, let me begin by stating that your class was one of the most enjoyable of my college career. I think the issue is less about college students as a whole and more about the different level of scholarship some students bring to a two-year institution versus a four-year institution. This is not a critique of community colleges (after all I was a community college student myself), but an observation that a large number of students are attending community colleges because they lack the skills, maturity or scholarship required to go directly to a four-year institution. They will learn these skills, grow up and become a better student at a community college or learn that the world still needs ditch digger (albeit not as many of them).
    And yes, I agree that there is a sense of entitlement that permeates our culture, but good teachers, and that includes you and most of your colleagues at Inver Hills, quickly disabuse most students of such notions, much to those students benefit.
    That's is my two cents.

  2. I have just begun reading a new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a memoir by a Chinese-American who contrasts her parenting style, drawn from her parents and culture, with that of (some) American parents. She unabashedly but yet with some self-deprecation explains her own high expectations, badgering, and criticism she had for her two daughters. Her point is that she criticized her daughters because she saw them as strong and capable -- capable of more and better--in academics and in music. Her perception is that American parents see their children as fragile and often praise and shield them in an attempt to build their self-esteem. Of course, praise does not build self-esteem; accomplishment does.
    Her book and ideas have been criticized roundly. I think she deserves to be read and discussed.