Saturday, June 30, 2012


"You can lead a boy to college, but you cannot make him think."
-Elbert Hubbard

The career that I have chosen to follow places me in a position to daily observe the experience of failure. Various students regularly make choices, what appear to be conscious choices, that lead them directly to failing. They choose to not attend class, having read my clearly stated policies regarding NO makeup (see previous post if this seems unfair to you!) They choose to not follow clearly articulated instructions for successfully finishing assignments. They choose to not hand in papers. When they do fail in a particularly spectacular way in the writing of a paper, they choose to not do the rewrite that I offer them for partial credit. In short, the majority of students who fail (in my experience) do so not because they aren't capable of success, but because they choose failure instead.

I also see failure in other areas of my work. I see hours of work wasted in committees studying a 'problem' and forming recommendations for addressing the problem, and having that work be dismissed or ignored due to an administrative position or a 'change in direction'. A failure. I see talented faculty members hired who then leave or are not asked to return for lack of effective mentoring or nurturing. A failure. I see years spent developing and implementing programs which are then abandoned when the newest hot trend appears. A failure.

The most painful failures for me, as a teacher, are those which seem to point out how students have failed to internalize, and thus how far I have missed the mark in effectively communicating, important elements of my field. One such failure I experienced at the end of the Spring semester this year in an Interpersonal Communication course. In ths course we spend the entire semester discussing ways in which you can make your communication in your personal relationships more effective - using Perception checks, avoiding 'YOU language' in favor of 'I language', taking responsibility for your own emotional reactions, and using techniques in handling conflict that lead to a more positive communication climate. Still, at the end of the semester, a student chose to miss class and then chose to be angry with me when I enforced my stated 'no makeup' policy and then chose to address that anger to me in ways that directly contradicted EVERYTHING we had been discussing for the previous 15 weeks. When I pointed that out, her response became even more angry, more ugly, and personally attacking. A failure.

Sadly, I am confronted with perhaps my greatest teaching failure on a daily basis. One of my former students has become a somewhat public figure in local politics. He is not a candidate (at least, not yet) but rather works in high profile support and PAC positions. He is asked to appear on local radio 'talk' (yes, I use the word loosely) shows and has been quoted in print and on television news as well. He and I are Facebook friends, so I am privy not only to his FB posts but also to his 'Tweets' as he regularly links his Twitter account to his FB status.

This individual and I have different political perspectives which, for me, is not a problem. I have a number of friends (and family for that matter) who hold positions that are diametrically opposed to my own. I don't object to anyone expressing their viewpoint and believe that, if we all agree to work at it, we can maintain friendship and loving relationships even when we disagree. The lion can lie down with the lamb, metaphorically speaking.

Daily, in this individual's communication, I see evidence that he not only did not internalize the concepts presented and discussed in both my Public Speaking and Interpersonal classes (both of which he took and passed), he seems to deliberately choose to do exactly the opposite - what we teach as being insensitive, ineffective and downright unethical.

This person embraces hostility in his communication. He regularly indulges in name-calling. When someone expresses a different opinion, he takes on a tone in his communication that basically implies the other individual is a stupid f****ing idiot that deserves contempt and ridicule. His tone in general is strident and angry and if you express a contrary opinion or position his tone is also derogatory and insulting.

He repeats 'party line' sound bites regardless of their accuracy. He backs up his arguments with rhetoric as opposed to facts. His sources are completely one-sided which, as we teach in the basic Public Speaking course, generally indicates an ill-researched, ill-formed and biased argument. I have seen him, in print, deliberately mis-quote and mis-represent the words of others, turning them to suit his own purposes and to support his position on a particular topic. This particular practice seems to be done with glee.

All of these things are counter to what we, in the field of Human Communication, teach. And of course, the worst part of it all is that if you confront him with this and ask him to reconsider his method of communicating, he denies that he is doing any of it. Underneath the denial, you can sense his pleasure in his 'effectiveness.'

A monumental failure. One which makes me particularly sad.

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