Monday, March 27, 2006

Sorry Joey I'm Docking Your Grade Because You're An Asshole

I’ve never gotten a paper back from a professor that says, “your writing is exceptional, but I’ve heard of your obnoxious white-male patriarchal bullshit, so in light of that I’m giving you a C-.” My experiences have taught me that learning in college isn’t only about textbooks. On the contrary, there is a greater scope to college learning that includes developing and shaping personal character, which is why professors should care about their students’ character even though it’s not in their job description.
Character takes many variable forms. In general, certain traits or habits can be associated with “good” or “bad” character. People usually tend toward one side of the Character Spectrum. I believe, for the sake of argument, that a student with good character is also a scholarly one who’s studious, courteous, comes to class, participates in class, turns in assignments, asks questions, is receptive to criticism, and genuinely wants to learn. In contrast, a good indicator of character tending to the Bad Side is a kid that half-asses pretty much everything, walks into a 90-minute class 30 minutes late as if nothing is wrong, falls asleep in class consistently, gives more excuses than punctual work, and is the first out of the room even when they’re the furthest from the door. It’s troublesome for a professor to know if a student is doing certain things because they care more about learning or more about their grade. These various actions often sway the thoughts of a professor.
A professor’s character is equally hard to judge. I’ve found the best professors challenge their students intellectually, figure out ways to connect with them individually and have enough charisma that students rarely hit the Mute button. There's something in those great professors that makes the students want to excel. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few professors like this. I feel the need to give 100%, 100% of the time for their class. I want to impress them, show them I care, that they’re great at their job, and that I appreciate everything they do. Character is a funny thing because it’s extraordinarily subjective. I’ve had a couple professors whom I wanted to tell that they couldn’t teach their way out of a paper bag. Except, this assessment of their teaching isn’t a measure of whether they’re a good person. I’d like to think that the great professors are of great character, but what they’re like outside of the classroom goes mostly unknown.
Why does character matter? Does it matter? Do I wish all my professors were pot-smoking-drunks? Would it be entertaining? Would I learn how to make a beer can into a bong? Would we even have class? Would the term “class” be replaced with “chill time”? Should a professor care if a student is an asshole if they produce “A” work? Should a professor care if a student litters, speeds, swears, smokes, does drugs, and drinks? Should a student care if a professor does any of those things?
Where do grades and character cross? It’s entirely possible that a student is “book-smart” and does extremely well on their report card but is a complete jerk and doesn’t care about their course at all. In turn, there are plenty of students that slip on turning things in on time and don’t have a 3.87 GPA, but take enormous interest in their classes, and are some of the best individuals around. Grading shouldn’t be contingent on character, but shouldn’t a person with better character be rewarded somehow? I soothe my psyche by assuming a professor would rather have great kids in their classes who foster interesting conversation than a bunch of one-dimensional workaholics that can’t see beyond their GPA.
The problem with professors caring about students’ character is that something so subjective is dependant on their own character. Does being a professor automatically make them a perfect judge of character? I tend to doubt it, because everyone likes to think they’re the best judge of character this side of the heavenly gates. It’s the same for students though. Just because you can’t believe any institution of higher learning would tenure such an imbecile, doesn’t mean the professor goes home at night and downloads child porn. On the other hand, professors should care about their students’ character and set an example for them because it’s a reflection of not only themselves but also their institution.
Good or bad character isn’t taught, nor can it be changed overnight. There isn’t much a professor can do to build good character in their students besides setting a superior example. Their character affects my respect for them, in and out of the classroom. Likewise students should be free to explore personal growth and learning without the worry their next grade is going to reflect their character development. Overall, I care whether or not my professor is a sleezeball. I just do.

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