02 May 2008

F for Failing to Show Up

In my American Government class I gave two students an F and another a D because they skipped class too many times. They don't think it's fair.

My definition of fair is: the same rules apply to everyone, they're not enforced arbitrarily or capriciously, and they don't create unrealistic demands. My attendance requirements fit that definition.

One student claimed he didn't realize I took the attendance requirement that seriously. My perspective, although I didn't say so to him, is that learning that it was may be the most important lesson of the term for him. Next time he sees a written rule, he should be less inclined to think it doesn't apply to him.

Here's a confession: I failed a class as an undergrad because I missed too many classes. I had a good excuse, I had mono, but I never let the professor know that. So it was my fault, and I (grudgingly) took responsibility for it. In this case I'm dealing with a student who doesn't want to accept responsibility for his actions, but needs to do so, just as I did. In fact I would have benefited from a hard kick in the ass earlier than that, like so many adolescents.

There's a strange paradox here: students don't want an attendance requirement, because they think they're adults and should be treated as adults, but failing to attend classes is evidence that they aren't yet mature enough to be treated as adults. I've learned the best way to become adult-like is to have people making adult-like demands of you--otherwise you have no incentive to do so.

Each of these three students dramatically underestimated how many times they missed class (7, 10, and 10, out of 28 class meetings, and each thought they missed about half that). But, out of the 45 students I had this term, those are 3 of only 4 or 5 for whom I have trouble attaching a face to the name.

I've received emails from them for 3 days straight, and it's really dragging me down. I hate dealing with this kind of business, and I have to keep reminding me that (a) it's a very small proportion of my students, and (b) it's our entitlement culture that leads them to think they deserve at least a C, despite not fulfilling class requirements, and it's that culture I'm battling, more than it is the students.


Scott Hanley said...

When I moved into the graduate dorm at UO, we had a meeting to discuss noise rules and I realized just how alarming the phrase "We're all adults here" can be. A more mature person responded, "Yes, we're adults. That's why we agree to rules."

James K said...

It seems to me that if a student fails to meet one of the explicit criteria of the course, failure is not only an option, its the right option. If they want to be treated like adults, then why are they whining like emo teenagers?

There are non-paternalistic reasons for attendance requirements. For one thing discussions forms the backbone of a good lecture. If people keep skipping them, that affects other students as well by reducing possibilities for discussion.

James Hanley said...

"emo teenagers"

What is "emo"? On second thought, I'm not sure I want to know.

James K said...

Sorry, that's a Gen Y thing. Substitute "emo" for "adolescent and whiny" and you'll get close to the mark (there's more to it than that, but not much).