Monday, June 18, 2007

Pieces of Paper

A little while ago, two students presented very different views of my classes.

One student said that he took his tuition and divided by number of credit hours, and figured that he was paying about $120 for each of my two-hour lectures. This perspective made him extremely hesitant to ever miss class -- every time he did, it was like buying two new games and throwing them away!

Another student cynically disagreed, saying that what he was really paying for wasn't class time, but the piece of paper you get when you graduate. To him, the real value of school was its ability to qualify you for a job where you can "do interesting stuff".

The true irony is that this second student was in my Capstone class, working on a team to develop a game!

I wonder how I can best put up a resistance to this second attitude. Other than just being the best teacher I can, of course.


Anonymous said...

I'd embrace the second attitude to encourage the first attitude. Yes, an undergraduate degree often comes down to earning a diploma, and you can get students of very different caliburs who earn the same diploma. That's why a diploma is not enough. Yes, you often need one to "qualify" for the job that lets you do "interesting" stuff. But if all you have is a diploma, you can't compete against the people who pushed their education (or more often, experience) to the limit.

Diplomas, certifications, and the like, all serve as starting points, not endpoints. Most employers only feel safe assuming the low end of qualifications. So you graduated college? That does count for something. It takes a certain set of skills to make it through college. But if you want the "interesting" jobs? That takes more.

In the movie _Rudy_, about an enthusiastic benchwarmer for a football team, there's a scene where one of the star players complains that "this is only practice, and Rudy's playing like it's the Super Bowl." The coach fires back that if the star player played like Rudy, maybe the team would do better, and kicks the star player off the team right there.

While school doesn't work like that, I think a good class challenges people who want to push themselves, lets slackers get by with a minimum, and punishes or drops people who are damaging to other people in the class. Moreover, some classes have no room for one or two of those types. I'd imagine a capstone class is not the place to allow slackers, while beginner classes shouldn't waste resources on challenging people as much.

I don't think you need to resist the cynical attitude, but rather use it to push a student up or away -- both results ultimately help students the most.

Anonymous said...

That last post I made sounded really condescending, as I read it. I apologize -- I didn't mean it like that. :) I wanted to make clear that I think you're right -- do your best to deliver a good class, but take advantage of cynical attitudes instead of fighting them.