College isn’t supposed to be fun. At least that’s how professors view it. Students view college in one of two ways. They either embrace the work and go with it or they don’t embrace the work and they try to move against the grain. Both sides usually make it out alright, but only one side really did the work. This is a source of frustration for college students now and at has been a source of frustration for most students since before I was even born. None of this stops the vicious cycle though, it just raises awareness of it’s existence and makes both professors and students more averse to actually dealing with the problem. Many people tell me that the problem is unsolvable and I don’t dispute the merits of that position, but just because something does not have a foreseeable conclusion does not mean that no solution should be attempted. This is a false argument.
Every semester I bitch and moan about the system and usually people who partake in exacerbating the system. Why should this semester be any different? My analysis of college life is almost always the same. Some students do the work, any student who’s not completely incompetent gets the credit. But what’s the alternative? Some suggest that it is best to simply put your head down and proceed while ruffling as few feathers as possible. That suggestion seems not only incredibly boring, but unproductive as well. Good things rarely come out of conformity. Look at the history of progress and more importantly the history of leaders and progress and you will see a direct correlation between those who bucked the system and where meaningful change occurred.
I’ve had an ongoing argument with an English professor on campus for some time now. Our argument goes as follows: she believes that all writing has the capacity to be good and that work can always be revised to be better. I disagree. I think that there are those that can write and those that cannot and I believe that certain writing reaches a point where it cannot be improved any further. This isn’t to speak negatively of those who can’t write. Many are just as bright if not brighter than most writers and just as useful to society. Being one thing and not another is not in itself a good thing or a bad thing. Being a part of one group does not make you a better person than someone who is a member of another group. Perception of identity does little good. Actual identity, that is, what you are when no one is watching, is what counts.
I call my argument: “Welcome to the Slog” because anyone who ever did anything worthwhile has had to slog it out for awhile unnoticed. As Steve Martin once said: “be so good they can’t ignore you.” A lot of people like that quotation, but I feel like a lot of people confuse talent with potential. Everyone has potential is essentially what my English professor is arguing and I don’t disagree with that, at least not in the abstract. What I would argue is that potential is what my dog has when I throw a ball and he runs after it, talent is not just getting the ball and bringing it back to me, but anticipating where I’m going to throw the ball so he is right there to catch it. I have owned many dogs in my life, but I’ve only had two who could anticipate where I was going to throw the ball.
Is it wrong to believe that everyone has talent? It’s not inherently wrong to believe that everyone has talent in the abstract, but it is to wrong to believe that everyone can do what you want them to do or to put it a little more succinctly; it’s wrong to believe that everyone can do what is necessary in order to be good at their jobs and good at life. Some people just aren’t cut out for this world. This is why people die young. This is why people end up in prison. This is why people die senselessly. This is why some people just never fit in and this is also why some people fail. Everyone needs to fail at something in life in order to get better at anything. I feel like that’s pretty basic, but not everyone needs to fail with the same frequency to get the picture.
There is a class that every graduating history major has to take at my school. They call it a “capstone” course probably because no one in the history department every took the time to learn what the word capstone means. A capstone, at least according to the good folks at dictionary.com is a: “crowning achievement, point, element, or event.” No history major will ever look back at this class and say: “yes, that was the high point of my academic career” or at least they shouldn’t. The previous statement was made under the assumption that most history majors have some level of self-respect although I acknowledge that there are some who do not. This class, which all history majors are required to take in order to graduate, has a fifty percent fail rate. What’s worse is that the history department advertises this fact like new parents show off their newborn child.
I don’t know everything there is to know about the history department at my campus though I do pretend to at various times (though this is usually solely for my own amusement), but no class should have a fifty percent fail rate and even if a class did have that number of people failing it I would never be proud of that fact. For whatever reason, the history department at my school is either inept, incompetent, or corrupt. I’d argue they’re a mixture of all three. Professors frequently deride students for not working hard enough or not putting forth their best work despite the fact that many of these professors could not put forth this work to the adequate satisfaction of someone else even if asked. Some of these professors sit behind closed doors and speak about how they loathe teaching, detest freshman or are too encumbered by a workload that they themselves supplicated themselves with. I don’t throw this information out there to speak ill of my professors, most of whom are very good at their jobs, but merely to point out that no one is perfect and no one should pretend to be.
The solution or perhaps I should say the proposed solution to this problem of having a class with a fifty percent fail rate among college seniors was to add another mandatory class for incoming freshman. Oh joy! That’s exactly what incoming freshman want: more work. In case you weren’t derided enough as a freshman or in case you didn’t believe the uphill climb was steep enough here is more work to prove our point! The ridiculousness of this situation is bellied by the fact that the only seniors that can get into this class are the ones who have asked the professor teaching the class next semester personally. This is because seniors cannot enroll in this class because the department mistakenly made this requirement of having to take another class a prerequisite for taking this class regardless of stature and regardless of whether we were grandfathered into the program. What’s worse is that no one will accept blame for this blunder and the history department is not only pushing blame onto the students for not bringing it up earlier (how would we have done so when we weren’t aware of it until we had to register?) and some are even telling students that they need to take this extra class in order to graduate despite the fact that this is simply not true.
I ruffle a lot of feathers as anyone with even a passing knowledge of me knows quite clearly, but being burdened with problems that are not our fault is not something that students should have to deal with. We deal with enough stress as it is. It’s bad enough that professors procrastinate beyond what I believed was actually possible. It’s bad enough that many teachers don’t do the reading that they ask their students to do. It’s bad enough that we are constantly criticized for not doing a better job when the teachers cannot do a better job themselves. However, what the department is pushing it’s students through isn’t simply unreasonable it is uncalled for. Fifty percent of seniors should not have to wait to the last minute to learn if they will graduate or not. Now I know what the professors tell us. They tell us that students aren’t doing the work or that students haven’t been as actively engaged as they would like. Communication is key to not pissing people off, that much I’ve learned over the course of my life. So if you don’t like the present situation you need to speak up about it. That’s why I’m writing about this situation (that and the fact that the department now actively ignores my e-mails, comments, and suggestions) and this is why not just the history department should look at this situation, but the college itself should conduct an administrative review of the situation as well.