Top Ten No Sympathy Lines (Plus a Few Extra)

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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This Course Covered Too Much Material...

Great! You got your money's worth! At over $100 a credit, you should complain about not getting a lot of information. If you take a three credit course and get $200 worth of information, you have a right to complain. If you get $500 worth, you got a bargain.

The Expected Grade Just for Coming to Class is a B

This belief seems to be making the rounds in some college circles. The expected grade for just coming to class and not doing anything else is a D or an F. The average grade is supposed to be C although grade inflation is a perennial problem.

Unlike Lake Wobegon, all the children in the real world are not above average.

I Disagreed With the Professor's Stand on ----

The time to deal with this issue is when it comes up in class. I have no respect for anyone who complains on the course questionnaires.

But the professor might put me down, or the students might laugh at me. Not too likely, but even if it happens, so what? If you don't have courage in the safe setting of a classroom, when exactly are you planning to develop it? When your boss asks you to falsify figures or lie under oath? When someone throws rocks through your minority neighbor's windows? When the local hate group burns the synagogue?

Some Topics in Class Weren't on the Exams

The point of a class is the material, not the exam. The exam is a check to see whether you learned the material.

Do You Give Out a Study Guide?

Hmm. The textbook simplifies a vast amount of material, then I simplify it more in lecture. Then you want me to extract the most important ten per cent of that and put it on a study guide, so if you know most of it you can get an A.

So what you're saying is the cutoff grade for an A should be 10%, right?

How Am I Doing In Class?

You're failing.

If you don't know the class material well enough to assess your own progress, and you don't know enough math to estimate your grade given your progress to date, you're failing.

You may luck out and get something higher than an F, but as theologians say, don't confuse mercy with merit.

I Studied for Hours

How many? A college credit is defined as three hours' work per week; one in class and two outside. That's why adding a three-hour lab to a class only results in one additional credit.

This means that 12 credits translates to an average of 36 hours' work a week. That's why 12 credits is considered full time; it's the equivalent of a full-time job.

If you have a course that meets three hours a week for 3 credits but doesn't require six hours of outside work a week to keep up, consider yourself lucky. Other courses may require more time. Also, individual students require different amounts of study time. It does no good to complain that three hours a week per credit is excessive, any more than it does to complain that 26 miles is too long for a marathon. They are what they are.

The one thing you can count on is that a few hours of cramming before the final will not give good results. I recently heard from a student who lamented that she stayed up until 2 A.M. studying, then got up at 6 A.M. and studied some more, and did poorly. And she was surprised? She'd have been better off getting a decent night's sleep.

I Know The Material - I Just Don't Do Well on Exams

Leprechauns, unicorns, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, hobbits, orcs - and students who know the material but don't do well on exams. Mythical creatures.

I've met students who claim to know the material but not do well on exams, but when you press them, it turns out they don't know the material after all. If you can't answer questions about the material or apply the knowledge in an unfamiliar context, you don't know it. You might have vague impressions of specific ideas, but if you can't describe them in detail and relate them to other ideas, you don't know the material.

In addition to content, every type of exam used in college requires specific, vital intellectual skills. Essay exams require you to organize material and present it in your own words. Short-answer exams require you to frame precise, concise answers to questions. Multiple choice exams require you to define criteria for weeding out false alternatives and selecting one best answer. All of these are useful skills in themselves. If you can't do well on some specific type of test - learn the appropriate skill.

I Don't Have Time For All This

Life is about choices. We all have more to do than we can do completely, and we have to set priorities. So we may have to accept tradeoffs. Some options:

The one option that is never on the table in life is to choose a course of action and choose the consequences. If you select a course of action, you also select the consequences. If you want to avoid or achieve a certain set of consequences, you select your course of action accordingly. So easier grading and fewer assignments to free up time for non-college activities are not an option. Don't waste time asking.

But you don't understand. I have a job

No, you don't understand. This is your job. If you don't believe me, just go out with what you have on your resume now and try to launch a career.

I got a message from one guy who did just that - dropped out of school and is now earning six figures as a Systems Administrator. This guy didn't finish college but still has a successful career. When he found out college wasn't for him, he quit and accepted the consequences. He didn't expect college to loosen its standards for him. (Of course, he was successful. If he hadn't made it and was earning minimum wage, I wonder if he'd have taken full responsibility?) So if college is cramping your style, go and do likewise. Get a job as a Systems Administrator, or buy a foreclosed property and sell it for a huge profit, or get in on the ground floor of some new business, or invent a perpetual motion machine. Or start a company to topple Microsoft. Instead of saying that Bill Gates didn't finish college, show me that you're a Bill Gates (would Windows be the mess it is if Gates had spent a few more years learning to think coherently?). Einstein and Edison didn't finish school either. Show us you're an Einstein or an Edison.

Just don't wake up on your fortieth birthday, say "my life sucks," and blame your lack of life satisfaction on your school taxes.

Students Are Customers

True. Students are customers, and they have every right to complain about poor service, unprofessional behavior, and out-of-date material. They also have a right to complain about low standards that water down their credentials.

Students are also products, and employers outside the University are also our customers. These customers have a right to complain if our graduates are lacking in skills, knowledge, and motivation. They have a right to complain if we certify someone as being a potentially good employee and that person turns out to be unqualified.

Despite the rising share students pay for their college education, students still only pay 40 per cent of the total cost. That means the University's responsibility is 40 per cent to students, and 60 per cent to the community. And our customers in the community want people who can communicate, reason, and have a good general stock of knowledge they can call on for unexpected needs. They also want us to provide an assessment that accurately reflects the quality of work students are likely to turn out as employees.

Pretentious Twit of the Year Award

Background: A philosophy professor at Syracuse University has a policy that if even one student in a class reads a newspaper or texts during class, he ends the class on the spot and walks out. One student complained:

“We the students are the customers, the consumers, the ones who make the choice every day to pay attention or not. I pay approximately $30,000 to go here, whether I text in class or not.

Get real here. I pay $30K a year? Not very likely. If this student does have that kind of personal wealth, he's too dumb to keep it for very long. But I seriously doubt that. More likely Mummy and Daddy are paying it, or he's getting financial aid, in which case donors to the university and taxpayers are paying it. Or maybe he's taking out loans, which he will pay back, maybe. Unless it becomes inconvenient and he files for bankruptcy. But it's virtually certain this student himself is not the paying customer.

Do I Need to Know This?

You can survive without the things you learn in college. People survive scrounging out of dumpsters and sleeping in doorways. If you want to talk about quality of life, we need to be a bit more demanding.

There Was Too Much Memorization

Sad to say, students have been victims of a cruel hoax. You've been told ever since grade school that memorization isn't important. Well, it is important, and our system wastes the years when it is easiest to learn new skills like the ability to memorize.

Memorization is not the antithesis of creativity; it is absolutely indispensable to creativity. Creative insights come at odd and unpredictable moments, not when you have all the references spread out on the table in front of you. You can't possibly hope to have creative insights unless you have memorized all the relevant information. And you can't hope to have really creative insights unless you have memorized a vast amount of information, because you have no way of knowing what might turn out to be useful.

Rote memorization is a choice. If you remember facts and concepts as part of an integrated whole that expands your intellectual horizons, it won't be rote. If you merely remember things to get through the next exam, it will be rote, and a whole lot less interesting, too. But that is solely your choice.

It is absolutely astonishing how many people cannot picture memorization in any other terms than "rote memorization," - even after reading the paragraph just above.

This Course Wasn't Relevant

If something as vast as mathematics or science or history can pass through your brain without even scraping the sides on the way through, that's a pretty big hole. Are you sure it's the course that doesn't relate to anything?

Our other customers in the community want people who have a good general stock of knowledge they can call on for unexpected needs. Being able to cope with unexpected needs means learning things that may not be immediately needed. You need to stop worrying about whether you need it now and begin worrying about whether your boss might need it later. A ten year old girl in Thailand saved hundreds of lives on December 26, 2004. She had just learned about tsunamis in school, recognized the warning signs, and convinced her parents to warn the resort management. As a result there were almost no casualties at her resort. In all likelihood none of her classmates will ever have need to know about tsunamis. A number of indigenous groups in the region escaped the tsunami with almost no casualties. They recognized the warning signs, which had been passed along through generations with no tsunamis, until finally that "irrelevant" knowledge became relevant.

Exams Don't Reflect Real Life

Some critics of education have said that examinations are unrealistic; that nobody on the job would ever be evaluated without knowing when the evaluation would be conducted and what would be on the evaluation.

Sure. When Rudy Giuliani took office as mayor of New York, someone told him "On September 11, 2001, terrorists will fly airplanes into the World Trade Center, and you will be judged on how effectively you cope."

Examinations are unrealistic. On the job evaluations where people are told in advance when they will be evaluated and exactly what will be covered are even more unrealistic. They're utterly artificial, carefully neutered attempts to be as fair as possible. The most meaningful evaluations in life are:

When you skid on an icy road, nobody will listen when you complain it's unfair because you weren't warned in advance, had no experience with winter driving and had never been taught how to cope with a skid.

I Paid Good Money for This Course and I Deserve a Good Grade

Right on! And ---

Almost everything you pay for in life is an entry fee. What happens next is up to you. Buy a Lexus and never change the oil and see what happens. Get a triple bypass and keep on smoking and snorking down the cholesterol - you'll be back.

All I Want is the Diploma

The work force is full of people who do the minimum necessary to get by. Give me one reason why I, as a citizen or consumer, should help create more of them.

Call me elitist, but there are a lot more people who want good jobs than there are good jobs to go around. I think society has a perfect right to reserve those positions for people who demonstrate a commitment to excellence.

For people who want to get by on the minimum, there's a reward already established. It's called the minimum wage.


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Created 31 March, 1999; Last Update 02 June 2010
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