25 April 2008

I'm a Lousy Teacher

There's nothing like grading final exams to make me feel like a failure as a teacher.

The question was about the Pentagon Papers case (a case where the NY Times and Washington Post published a stolen Pentagon report revealing the military's conclusion that the Vietnam War was unwinnable).

The answer: "The Pentagon Papers case was a case about Richard Nixon stealing documents from the Pentagon to get reelected."

Sigh. Sometimes it feels hopeless. And that was from a front row student, not even one of the backbenchers.


James K said...

I'm not an expert on your government, but how is it even possible for a sitting president to steal something from the Pentagon? Could he just ask for it.

As a wrong answer, that doesn't even pass the plausibility test.

I remember reading recently that people who are good at something tend to underestimate their ability relative to others (people who are bad at something do the opposite).

Looking back at my time as a tutor at university, the clearest example of this was when I was marking papers for an introductory finance paper. No matter how easy the course seemed to me, clearly many people disagreed.

James Hanley said...

I suppose it would be possible for a president to steal something from the Pentagon, although it would be distinctively odd.

Assume that his asking would create some public notice, and it's something he doesn't want the public to notice.

Also, I'd wager that military intelligence has some info that is limited to those on a need-to-know basis and the president isn't normally cleared for everything produced by the intelligence agencies, so that might be something he couldn't necessarily receive just by asking for it.

But these are pretty far-fetched examples, underscoring the implausibility of it all.

I'm sure I do underestimate the ease of it, but to a large extent I think it's a matter of interest. If the student isn't interested enough to pay attention in class, they're not going to get it, even if they're actually capable.

And I can't speak for other countries, but here in the U.S. we have a very real problem of students not reading. Some don't even bother to buy the books for courses.

And yet they think they'll do well, and succeed in life. And that's where the U.S. is in trouble--free trade is putting a premium on education, as the jobs that are created are increasingly high-productivity jobs that demand good education, but our employers are having a hard time finding qualified people.

That's why U.S. businesses are pressuring for increases in the number of H1-B visas granted (visas for workers with special skills, for jobs employers can't fill with domestic labor).

James K said...

A lot of my fellow students didn't do the reading. Personally I only found the reading hard once I hit postgraduate studies, reading 5 or 6 journal articles for each 2-hour lecture got a bit much for me. Of course, being a freak of nature, I was still able to keep up with the lectures :)