Sunday, March 11, 2007

On Contempt, Eagerness, and Not Being a Whore

The post from "Chief Correspondent" sums up what I take to be the current academic predicament -- a contempt for students coupled with a fearful eagerness to please them, lest they bite back in evaluations. The situation seems not very different from that of a service employee who despises and disses the customers he or she is required to greet and "serve." It's a scenario found again and again in anonymous academic blogs, in which professors write out what they would like to have said to irresponsible and disrespectful students.

I like to get good evaluations too. But from the beginning of my teaching career, I've tried not to bend. When I found blatant plagiarism in the work of one of my department's "best" students, I didn't look the other way. He failed the class. The average semester grade in my classes is often well below a B. I've had to ask my students to do less and less, as the reading and analytical skills they bring with them are less than they should be (and I let my students know that).

So yes, in that way my grades are inflated too. But a B or an A still requires a lot of work. The ire of resentful students whose GPAs have been missed up by their lack of effort is outweighed by the gratitude of students who are interested in learning. Instead of making snarky jokes about how callow my students are (cf. Chief Correspondent's joke about Adam Sandler movies), I try to offer something more worthwhile. It's a great thing to see a room of 20-year-olds watching, say, Modern Times and (mostly) liking it.

"Chief Correspondent" says "Everybody else is inflating grades like blow-up sex dolls at a frat party, so what difference does it make?" Here's the difference that it makes: it makes life more difficult for everyone who hasn't just given up and become a whore (CC's word). I hope that if I ever do become a whore, I've managed to delude myself so thoroughly that I don't even know it. I'd find it difficult to live with myself knowing that I was a fraud.