Biology Below The Gnat Line

Biy'allogy - (n) the scientific discipline otherwise known as biology, as taught below the Gnat Line. This blog is for educators who teach science in the deep south, where social and political conservatism reign supreme and "evolution" is a cuss word.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

It's gittin', it's gittin', it's gittin' kinda hectic

There are particular things that, for me, herald transition during this time of year: baseball on the radio, hay fever, warm days with cool nights, and graduation. Nothing says, "I've accomplished a goal and am ready to move forward," like a cardboard hat with a tassel on it. In fact, selected* statistics indicate that you are 72% less likely to be homeless, 90% less likely to be arrested, and 81% less likely to experience an unwanted pregnancy if you wore the university regalia. I've worn it three times; my cardboard hat is made of foam and lists slightly to one side. I try not to worry that it makes me look drunk or sloppy. I'm not usually drunk.

It's Final Week (cue scream) and there are an obscene number of students milling around my office waiting for grades. Keep in mind that I've already dished out 80% of the points and appreciate my frustration at being used as a human calculator for people who are too lazy to think on their own. "So, like, what do I have to make on the final to, like, pass this class?" You need to accumulate more than 60% of the total points I've made available. Do your own damn algebra! A friend recently sent this, written by a colleague frustrated by a similar issue. I'm not asking for rocket science or neurosurgery. It's basic math. How do you calculate a tip at a restaurant or your share of the cable bill if you can't do fractions?

Worse are the students who do very little all semester only to expect some sort of extra credit miracle at the end. If I have no idea who you are because you never came to class, why would I care about your academic standing? Why do I have to give you a C in my class so that you don't lose your financial aid? It's not my fault you're on probation.Oh wait, apparently it is my fault. I give out the grades. I've got the power. I don't simply divide the number of points a student accumulates over the number of points possible. I spin the Wheel of Grades located in the faculty lounge, and I've been known to spin it three or four times for my favorite students.

Why is it that when students get a good grade they take all the credit, but when they get a bad grade it's all my fault? And what's with this sense of entitlement? Why does everyone think they should get an A?

While I look forward to getting my free travel mug and/or tote bag at every scientific meeting I attend, there is a misleading precedent set when you get something "just for showing up." Suck at hockey? Have a trophy anyway! Really bad at math? That's okay! Everyone gets a ribbon for participating in the Math-A-Thon! Lacking in talent and morals? MTV will give you your own reality show!

Nobody appreciates that there are consequences for their actions. What happens when these students get jobs? Pharmaceutical Rep: "Oh, I would have finished that presentation but it was my buddy's birthday and we were out late. Can the client come back tomorrow?" ER Nurse: "Mr. Yamagashi in room 235 needed those meds, like, at a specific time? Oh man, I totally didn't know..." UPS Guy: "Huh, I had two packages looked the same, so I guess I grabbed the wrong one. Sorry dude!" When does it start being YOUR responsibility?

They call this generation The Boomerang Generation, but that's not exactly fair. Unmarried singles have historically lived with their parents. In fact, multi-generational households are common in many countries. Only recently have we decided that people should be more independent, and those moving back home tend to do so for financial - not marital - reasons. The difference? It's not that they need their mommies more, it's that their mommies want them back. I've got students being micromanaged by their parents, who in turn demand things from the faculty: grade changes, leniency on late papers, extra credit. If whining and empty promises work with parents, why not with professors? And if parents only ever deliver empty threats, why expect any different from the faculty?

I could talk about this all day, but I've got too many students milling around, waiting for me to do math for them.

* Statistics gathered in a rudimentary search of the internet and should in no way be considered particularly rigorous or unbiased. Remember, statistics are most dangerous in the hands of people who consider themselves experts but really have no idea what they are doing.