06 May 2008

I am "Asian"

I just had the most surreal exchange with a student I've had all year. I think.

Echoing the dilemma of many of my students in this class, a particular student came to me before turning in his first written assignment. He told me that English is his second language, and he hoped, as this is not an English class, that I would not deduct too much from his grade for grammar errors and the like. I told him that I would correct those, but the grade, per the rubric provided to me, called for grading based on ability to read, synthesize and say something coherent about the material. As I did not know the name of the student I did not read his with any less fuss over quality than the others. About a week after posting grades on the class website, I received an email from M. He wrote,

I think you don't understand me. I told you already that I have problems with English, and you degrade me with this grade. I am "Asian."

I didn't respond to the email, as I wasn't sure what I was supposed to say. He didn't seem to request assurance, as these emails often do indirectly. I read this more as a rebuke.

Today after class, he waited around as he usually does. He had his corrected paper on his laptop, and he said, "Look at all of this? What is the point of all of this?" He said I lied to him because I "promised" him I would not lower his grade over ESL issues. Having graded this three weeks ago, I asked him to scroll to the end of the document so I could read my comments. I thought this might help me explain my grade. At the same time, I was unclear what the purpose of our discussion was at this point. Here are the comments I wrote at the end of his paper:

You need MUCH MORE specific information from MORE of the readings. When you discuss an idea from an author you must cite it. Your single example from lecture is given no context. You have discussed only one reading and given no citations at all.

He received an F on the essay. The assignment was to summarize three weeks worth of readings and tie those to at least one of the concepts presented in lecture. In addition to ESL errors, there was an utter failure to do what was assigned. Here is one paragraph from the essay:

MLK, philosopher Kant and Confucius have all mentioned about ethical ideas of “don't use other as a mean to an end”, “Treat others as you’d like other treat you.” under these statements, the leaders and advocates of rational system are unethical because they are promoting the idea of treating the bottom level workers as animals or machine parts to an end – profit maximization. Who’d like to be treated as an animal or a piece of number for other people’s profit? Last but not least, standardized bureaucracy and scientific management is a waste of resource.

He has a nugget of an idea here: bureaucracy, and the institutions that oppress us with this form of rule, are not humanistic. But, that's as far as he gets; the "becauses" are missing here. "...standardized bureaucracy and scientific management is a waste of resources[s]" BECAUSE, blah, blah, blah. Who needs to attend the U of C to find out that bureaucracy is oppressive and unresponsive? None of us. There is no meaningful So What here. Further, "MLK, Kant and Confucius" were not on the reading list. There are actual quotes from one reading for which he provided no citation. Because the essay was full of vague generalizations, and devoid of the required content, I gave it a 0. And while I did correct ESL issues, I didn't deduct anything from his grade for that, and this is reflected in my comments. I thought.

M was not having any of this. I explained what my comments meant, and told him again that while I corrected his errors, I did not grade down for them. "Well, why is my grade a 0?" Repeating for the third time to him what I've written above here, he responded to me, "I want to switch to a different teacher. I hear that A grades easier, and I want to go to her class if that's ok with you both. This is just degrading to me. I am not here to learn, I'm her for the degree, and I don't have time for all of this, and I don't like this."

This is the first time in 5 years of teaching that a student has directly rebuked me for insisting that he "think" instead of produce receipts. I asked him to explain his hostility to learning, and he said, "The American system of education is not about learning, it is about self-interest, and I am paying, and I just want the paper. In business [M's major] we don't need to write. I mean, if I write something, I don't need to put in who said it. I just need to be able to do business. I am not an English major, and I'm not a Sociology major, and I am just here pursuing my self-interest like you do in this country." He went on and gave an anecdotal example of one incompetent teacher here, and concluded that none of us are qualified to teach him, and even if we are he doesn't care. "I just want the paper."

I told him that if he doesn't give a shit about learning to communicate, I certainly don't either.

I am tempted to put his entire essay up here so you can see for yourself how one can produce three pages of text that say absolutely nothing. But, I suspect enough of you know what I'm talking about, and further examples will only make blood squirt from your eye sockets.

How did they come to ask for so little?


Blogger Miss Carousel said...

if his paper is way off the reading, you might want to check it (if you haven't already) for plagiarism. if he plagiarized (why else would he use 3 authors whom you didn't even read in clas?!?), then there's your problem solved.

rough times, my dear.

9:08 AM  
Blogger WDW said...

I actually think this student has effectively understood and analyzed our system of the university pretty well. I think he basically said what 90% of undergraduates think but are afraid to say! At least that has been my experience with students. 10% want to learn, 10% don't, and 80% just want the degree.

10:24 PM  
Blogger Herman said...

Well, business is as business does at your glorious institution. If it makes you feel better (maybe worse); they want out of CC because it is too hard and they do not want to do the work. Find me at the office.

5:22 AM  
Blogger this is the story of my life said...

i have my degree in business, i wrote plenty of papers (& too many presentations), so he's wrong about that too. still sad that he doesn't want the education though.

good for you for sticking to your guns!

4:33 AM  

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