Saturday, November 1, 2008

When It Comes to Underprepared Students, The Buck Stops With Mitzi from Medford.

Ben from Boston has just experienced what I have seen in my classroom for the past few semesters, courtesy of the high school mantra "Every Child Should Go to College," combined with the parental mantra of "Get Out of the House and Do Something Productive or I Won't Pay For Your Car Insurance," coupled occasionally with "Well I Passed High School, so Now I'm in Your Class."

The first two categories will wash out on their own, but the third specifically concerns Mentally Disabled Students, and here's where it gets REALLY tricky. I have a student in my class currently who has (according to my college's Disabled Students Office) a severe case of Asperger's Syndrome. The kid is incredibly bright, cracking jokes over the rest of the students' heads. He is a veritable "Peanuts" Pig Pen character, trailing bits of detritus: papers, pencil stubs, drink bottles so most the students won't sit within two seats of him.

His body language is as interesting as he is. He comes regularly, speaks in groups haltingly (no social skills are a hallmark of this condition). He has not turned in one assignment or one paper, except for the in-class essay. Mostly he surfs the web on his computer (I only allow computers for the Disabled Students) and I tell him to stow that away plenty of times. He's just not equipped to be in a college classroom.

I spend a lot of time at the Disabled Students Office trying to figure out what to do, mostly letting them tell me "He's got to meet college standards." Yeah, okay. Then how did he get in here?

What standards did he pass somewhere that decided he was college-abled? At grade time, I am frustrated beyond belief at having to justify grades that I know are right, but rip me up because I know what they mean. (I'm doing my best to buck up here, so no slanderous comments.)

The other memorable student reminds me of Ben from Boston's guy, only my guy was not brilliant. Just incoherent. And in his research papers he quoted his grandmother, mother, the gas station attendant on their trip to Montana (his paper was about global warming) and one of the people standing next to him when "Old Faithful" went off. (Sample line from the discussion section: "The possibility to prevent air pollution is true, as long if the types of air pollution are not regulated through personal and careful attention to our interactions with Mother Nature.") I still see this student on campus; he shuns me as I gave him a D, effectively ending his chances of succeeding in English 101 on his third time through.

I can only say this here, to RYS, but WHAT are these students doing in my Freshman Comp class? Was it some other teacher who, when confronted with them, didn't have the heart to say, you know, college isn't for everyone and here's your D (or F) and good luck? Is it their parents, who don't know what else to do with these adult children and figure that our campus is their playground? In my book, a loving parent wouldn't like their child to flunk English 3 times in a row.

At the root of this is money, of course. A warm body means money from the state. A group of these warm bodies means federal money for disabled students. (Disclosure: I have had other disabled students in my classes: those with things such as bone diseases, severe learning disabilities and they work hard and earn their grades.)

Like Ben of Boston, I can't figure this out.

But unlike Ben of Boston, the sound you hear at grade time is my anguish over having to give them their grades--I pride myself on running standards equivalent to the Big U down the road.

It's unfortunate that I have to spend my time, efforts, energy on students who clearly should not be here. It seems that I'm where the buck stops.