Re: How to implement a shitty public school system

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if you were going to fail a student you had to provide documentation for each time you had contacted their parents and each time you offered them help after school.

Dude. Swap in "student and his or her academic advisor" for "their parents" and "in office hours" for "after school, and you have Ivy League undergraduate education right there. I tried my damnedest to fail this one kid who stopped coming to class and turned a pittance of the missing classwork some three weeks after grades were due. Even with a HUGE paper trail of emails between me and the kid, me and the kid's advisor, the kid's advisor and the kid and all of that, the director of the program got last-minute cold feet and passed the kid.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:00 AM
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Really?! Crap, I fail kids with reckless abandon.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:03 AM
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That's kind of outrageous, unless public school teachers in Texas get paid for extra afterschool time that they spend tutoring.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:06 AM
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I've heard much more blatant. Mandatory 50% grade for a blank exam, another 10% for bringing pencils, etc.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:07 AM
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1: I taught a bit of Ivy undergrad, and failing a student wasn't even an option. The lowest grade you could give was a very-low-passing grade, the equivalent of a "D". (More like "C-", really.) I think there were ways to seek special administrative permission to fail a student, by going to the dean and filling out all sorts of special paperwork, but "Fail" wasn't an option on the standard grade-report forms.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:08 AM
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unless public school teachers in Texas get paid for extra afterschool time

HA! Ha-ha. heh. Oh, that's rich.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:08 AM
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1, 5: Seriously? I once taught at a reasonably well-regarded state university, and I could fail people with impunity.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:10 AM
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4 being for high school.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:11 AM
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On the other end of the spectrum, we can drop-fail a kid at any point in the semester if they stop coming to class. (You're supposed to put the number of absences that triggers your drop-fail policy in the syllabus, of course.)

If you drop-fail someone before the drop deadline, they have 5 days to formally drop the class, to avoid getting an F on their transcript.

I like how drop-fail is reminiscent of drop-kick a student.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:12 AM
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The Ivy grades seem to be part of some kind of shift from meritocracy to statuses for many career paths. It's like once you're an Ivy you're always an Ivy. It goes along with dress-for-success and various sorts of nepotism. Or so I believe.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:12 AM
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I just saw this noted somewhere -- that the possibility of failure is a huge difference between statusy colleges and the next tier down. Once you're in Yale, you have to work really, really hard to avoid graduating with a Yale degree. If you go to Penn State, you can have a bad semester or two and flunk out, no problem at all.

A whole lot of American class distinctions are about the endless second chances people in the upper middle class and above get, that they don't even notice, but that aren't available to everyone else.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:12 AM
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My honey adjuncted at a reasonably well-regarded private college last year, and unfortunately, he took the chair's boilerplate lecture about "academic standards" seriously and failed a bunch of kids. The chair did not respond to emails, and my honey wasn't invited back.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:14 AM
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I suspect that the distinction is gonna be between public and private. Private institutions are VERY aware of how much tuition costs. Each course costs about 4-6 thousand dollars, if you were to pay for them individually as older students often do.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:16 AM
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For introductory clourses at Last Chance U. many faculty plan to flunk about a third of their students at the beginning of every class.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:20 AM
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I knew people who went to top small private schools, and they failed all the time, but this was over ten years ago, so maybe it's all different now.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:20 AM
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1,5,7,11: Yes, absolutely. For a while I was one of those people selling their soul for $12/hr to re-write -- uh, I mean, "suggest edits to", "discuss revision options for", and "explore stylistic alternatives to" -- the term papers of semi-literate Ivy League legacy admits, certain athletes and other assorted airheads. Once you're in you may not be winning any prizes, but you will almost certainly graduate in 4 years as the school wants very much to keep its 98 percent rate and encourage as much class solidarity as possible for future alumni giving.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:21 AM
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I suspect that the distinction is gonna be between public and private.

Top tier private, though. There's none of this at the Last Chance U where I'm at.

There is a ton of academic support and structures to help catch these students and get them the tutoring, etc, whatever, but it definitely does not cross the line to discouraging faculty from failing a failtastic student.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:25 AM
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Thinking about this some more, I remember some amusing incidents from my very first run of being a TA and grading for what (I later came to understand was) a gut class by applying the anglonormative conventions of my education, where the highest grade anyone could possibly expect to receive in a humanities or social science subject was a high First, or about 74 percent. I was of course quickly re-educated by my students, who had previously only encountered numbers that low on their birthday cakes.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:26 AM
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I meant to say, and the ton of academic support is clearly with an eye on retention and $$.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:26 AM
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At Small, Well-Regarded Yet DFH Private College, any grade under a C- results in a "no entry," i.e., it doesn't show up on your transcript or get factored into your GPA. But you don't get the credits toward graduation, of course.

The policy isn't part of some scheme by the administration; it's one of a series of reforms students in the '70s were able to win. The theory behind credit/no entry is that it encourages students to experiment with classes they might not otherwise take, at which it seems to succeed.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:28 AM
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the highest grade anyone could possibly expect to receive in a humanities or social science subject was a high First, or about 74 percent

Why?


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:30 AM
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or about 74 percent. I was of course quickly re-educated by my students, who had previously only encountered numbers that low on their birthday cakes.

There is something to be said for keeping the number or letter associated with a good or bad grade roughly consistent throughout one's educational career. MIT exams were really disturbing that way; it was perfectly possible for an 18/40 to be one of the better grades in a class, a situation which left me cringing vaguely every time I got something back, even if I'd done fairly well.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:30 AM
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It is true that the graduation rates at Ivies and top-tier privates are scandalously high. And that merely fuels the absolutely insane competition to get into them. (They do in fact end up with the "deserving" super-top students, but for everyone else it is social and real capital deployed at maximum and damn the ethics.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:30 AM
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It's really an enforced national policy. Reed College held out against grade inflation and only 60-70% of entering freshman graduated from Reed. Primarily for that reason USN&WR ranked Reed lower than other comparable schools, including some which were unquestionably educationally inferior. In turn Reed stopped sending any info at all in to USN≀ their position was strong enough that they could do that and even get brownie points for doing it.

This is consistent with the idea that college compete to sell status to students and their parents, with education being an additional option.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:30 AM
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20: I think that's defensible in a way that an "everybody passes" policy is not. If someone passes a class, you are certifying that they learned something.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:31 AM
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20: Interesting incentives there. If you're unhappy about the "C" you're pullnig as your approach the final exam, do you study hard for the test or deliberately bomb it?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:32 AM
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In French universities, a grade of 16/20 is considered a smashing success. 18 or 19 would be evidence of collusion.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:32 AM
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There is something to be said for keeping the number or letter associated with a good or bad grade roughly consistent throughout one's educational career.

Presumably, this is your position with respect to the rest of the class, which can be explicitly stated with lower bound cut-offs like "no fewer than 5% As".


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:32 AM
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Well, yeah. It comes down to allowing students to drop up to the final, or after if they flunk.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:33 AM
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28: Oh, sure. But the straight percentage grades on exams were still hard to swallow --"I got fewer than half the points on that exam, and I did great!" was something I found emotionally difficult. It wouldn't have changed anything important, and I would have been happier, if everyone got fifty points on every exam for spelling their own name correctly.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:36 AM
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I had no problems failing classes and getting crappy grades in general at what I'm pretty sure is a well-regarded private college. I was in a technical major where the school was providing a directly useful education in addition to status, which may make a difference.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:37 AM
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It wouldn't have changed anything important, and I would have been happier

Self-contradictory. Smashing self-esteem is an important goal in academia.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:38 AM
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26: I did know one person who took that approach, but he ended up not getting enough credits to graduate. Courses were usually worth 3 or 4 credits and the workload was heavy enough that it was hard to make those up and still graduate on time.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:38 AM
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I remember people failing courses and leaving my Ivy League college for a semester or two or three for "academic" reasons.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:38 AM
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Smashing self-esteem is an important goal in academia.

Splendid, young lass! You've got smashing self-esteem!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:39 AM
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the highest grade anyone could possibly expect to receive in a humanities or social science subject was a high First, or about 74 percent

Why?

Oh just a matter of convention, I think, combined with the fact that universities don't (or didn't -- maybe it's changed) report GPAs. The convention itself might be the result of historical accident: perhaps the basic degree divisions (First Class, Second Class I, Second Class II, Third Class [sometimes], Pass) predate an association with percentage scores (70+, 65+, 60+, 55+, 40+). Subsequently it's become a source of snotty pride to some making the contrast with the U.S. case. But once it was established there wasn't much incentive, outside of subjects like Math or Physics, to award marks in the 80s or 90s, because schools don't report GPAs, just the class of degree you received.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:39 AM
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re: 21

That's just the convention. The remaining 25% of blank space was reserved in case ZombieWittgenstein turned up for class.

It's grading on a sort of weird logarithmic curve. Very occasionally students may get higher marks than that - I think I had one or two in my entire four year undergrad 'career' [and I was pretty definitely* in the top 1% or so of students in both my degree subjects].

There was an odd experiment in my 2nd year philosophy course where they decided to grade out of 100 and fully use the range. So I had one essay in my 2nd year where I got 98.5% or something. But that was discontinued within a term or two as it just didn't work.

* modesty aside.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:39 AM
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Comments like 33 make me realize how very, very different various schools are. I could have done without roughly half of my classes and still graduated on time.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:40 AM
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homework cannot be worth more than 10% of the grade, and you must accept late work

Presumably the intention is to be fair to students who lack parental support, or must work, etc.

That said, rules of the "you must" and "you mustn't" variety, when it comes to teaching, are the worst. Every teacher is different; for some, accepting late work is fine, and part of the pedagocial persona of someone who is understanding and doesn't sweat the small stuff; for others, being strict about deadlines is part of the pedagogy of teaching students that details matter. Both are fine, but nothing undermines pedagogy of whatever stripe like knowing that there are rules that the teachers "have to" do x, y, or z.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:41 AM
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The policy isn't part of some scheme by the administration; it's one of a series of reforms students in the '70s were able to win. The theory behind credit/no entry is that it encourages students to experiment with classes they might not otherwise take, at which it seems to succeed.

I would think this would also empower faculty to give non-passing grades somwhat more freely.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:41 AM
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Though I recovered from my train wreck freshman year (dropping out and working fast food for a year does wonders for focusing your attention on academics once you return) to finish up with a respectable GPA, I have plenty of friends who will attest that you can certainly fail out of UNC.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:41 AM
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Presumably the intention is to be fair to students who lack parental support, or must work, etc.

Not that you were advocating this by any means, but this is ludicrous. All it does is facilitate students skipping the homework and not learning the material, and being more likely then to fail the exams.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:44 AM
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I did fail out of my first undergraduate degree. They gave me once chance to resit some papers but I knew that I'd just never make it [I hated the place and hated the subject] so I didn't bother.

It was pretty easy to fail, I think. And Scottish universities have a thing where you need to get above a certain level to be admitted to Honours study at the end of your second year [basically you need roughly low 2:1 marks, iirc] and if you don't get that you do a shorter, lower class degree.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:45 AM
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we can drop-fail a kid at any point in the semester if they stop coming to class.

Oh my god, I am so envious.

I'm sure at least half my class won't turn in portfolios tomorrow, which means that half of them should fail. I know that at least half haven't done all the written assignments. But I suspect I can't *really* fail half the class. I intend to ask about this today at my evaluation meeting, which will probably cause *me* to fail.

I got in trouble my first semester of teaching grad courses because I actually gave people B's and in one case a C. I was literally told I had to raise everyone's grades.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:46 AM
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But I suspect I can't *really* fail half the class.

I know of at least one postgraduate degree [because I did it] where a 25% - 30% failure rate isn't unknown. That does seem silly, though.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:48 AM
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42: Well, on an *individual* level, with a student who is motivated and hard-working but has a full-time job and is raising his younger sister essentially alone, of *course* one accepts late work and lets the student off the hook if he doesn't complete every single homework assignment. But yes, as a *policy*, it's really counterproductive.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:48 AM
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20, 40: it's one of a series of reforms students in the '70s were able to win.

Revealing a bit more than I probably should, I think it was even easier in the 70s* than it was now there (take it from someone who utterly abused the system to barely graduate in 4 years, when I easily could have been done in 3 or 3 1/2 years). But it was quite hard to get a good grade there.

I have quite mixed feelings about it; from my one kid's experience at Big State U, I can see that I would have blown out sky high and maybe to my benefit.

*But there were still a lot of folks I knew who did not finish or got waylaid. Gaps in resumes seemed less threatening back then (whether they were or were not).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:52 AM
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46: Right, exactly.

(My two most heart-breaking kids at the moment:
1) I flippantly asked a kid why his grades had tanked, and he earnestly answered, "Well, my grandmother is trying to kick out me, my brother, and my mom. We all live together. My mom is disabled and can't work. My brother dropped out of school to work full time, but he lost his job a few weeks ago. So it's been stressful."

...I'm having deja vu that I wrote this out recently. Sorry....

2) The sophomore who said, "Yeah, my twin sister and I recently got custody of my six-year-old nephew. Our sister was declared an unfit parent."
)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:52 AM
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I've now TA'd at a top tier private school and a flagship state school. Much more leniency to give lower grades (C, D, occasional fail) at the state school, though there does seem to be much worse work done there on the whole (it's also hard gauge, because I'm in a state where a sizable minority will have issues with English, but I'm supposed to look past that in my grading for the most part). Basically, there was only one level of truly meritocratic competition at the private school--i.e., for the naked "A," which went to about 3 or 4 students in a class of 20-25. "C+" or "B-" might go to the same number of students, with the rest sandwiched in "B,","B+," and "A-" range.


Posted by: Byron the Bulb | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:53 AM
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That said, rules of the "you must" and "you mustn't" variety, when it comes to teaching, are the worst. Every teacher is different; for some, accepting late work is fine, and part of the pedagocial persona of someone who is understanding and doesn't sweat the small stuff; for others, being strict about deadlines is part of the pedagogy of teaching students that details matter.

Similarly, every doctor is different; for some, calm provision of the relevant research is sufficient to guide the patient to an informed assessment of the risks; for others, "put the pie down, fatty!" is part of the practice of teaching patients that obesity matters ...

I am now going to make a stand for "evidence-based teaching", in the hope of getting across my earlier points about "evidence based medicine", for and against. It's just my pedagogical personality.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:00 AM
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I am now going to make a stand for "evidence-based teaching", in the hope of getting across my earlier points about "evidence based medicine", for and against.

Please do. Any tiny effort to stem the tide of documenting the hell out of your teaching, which is the way everything is headed. (And I do see the positive benefits of this. We have some crappy teachers who are unaccountable at the moment. But there's no course reduction or anything to compensate for the insane amount of time it takes.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:04 AM
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The Direct Instruction folks are way ahead of you, D2.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:04 AM
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Good, at least a couple of quick studies. Anyway the point would be - there's a lot of evidence to the effect that direct study works. And it's good, solid statistical evidence, some of it from actual randomised double-blind trials. If someone set out to discover "what, on the basis of the best scientific evidence available to us today, is the most effective and efficient method of instructing students in X subject", then they'd almost certainly end up recommending DI.

I go some of the way with this (any time anyone really cares about learning a lot of stuff fast, like CFA exams[1] or driving tests, they end up re-inventing something like DI), but not all the way (IMO, anyone genuinely suggesting that the education system should be entirely reorganised along these lines would be obviously crazy).

What interests me is that quite a lot of people seem to think that education has absolutely nothing to learn from DI, but that medicine should very definitely make use of EBM whenever possible, and strive to expand the domain over which evidence-based approaches are used.

[1] And the CFA exam is proper knowledge, it's difficult and requires a lot of high-level abstract comments to be mastered, so no sweeping the evidence under the rug that way.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:10 AM
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Quite a lot of people are kind of stupid not systematic thinkers.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:14 AM
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"comments" in 53 should be "concepts", natcherally.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:19 AM
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I would have been thrilled by these rules in high school, but then even the proper incentives never got me to do my homework, and I always did well on tests anyhow, so.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:21 AM
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I just saw this noted somewhere -- that the possibility of failure is a huge difference between statusy colleges and the next tier down. Once you're in Yale, you have to work really, really hard to avoid graduating with a Yale degree.

Not the case in Blighty. Dropout rates seem to be a lot higher at higher-status universities; when I was at Jordan College the dropout rate was about 25%. (The death rate, incidentally, was also startlingly high; we'd have been safer in the infantry.)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:24 AM
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53: This is all complicated by the fact that different educational approaches have gotten very politicized in the US, like all the weird energy around 'phonics'. Direct Instruction actually looks fairly reasonable to me, but my impression is that it's being advocated by people I generally disapprove of, which gives rise to free-floating suspicion.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:26 AM
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I was able to exploit the grad school grade inflation my senior year of undergrad. Because of the very cool ability to cross register at the other colleges, including the grad school (Claremont's huge advantage, IMHO) I took a class at the business school and got an A. The same amount of work would have been a C in undergrad, or less from certain professors. And I get to check "some grad school" in those little boxes. Win- win!


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:29 AM
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So why is it better to fail lots more people, anyhow?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:30 AM
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You know what sucks? Inability to really make cheating a problem. My office-mate was TAing a course and discovered one guy cheating quite blatantly. There was a big to-do, and the honor-code-bound review board kicked him out for a term. While that may seem bad, the academic advisor took him on as staff for that period and now he's a grad student here.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:30 AM
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58 - The politicization of education in the US comes, I think, from two sources: There's the know-nothings who want to insert creationism and other 'moral values' issues into the curriculum, and there's people pitching educational approaches in order to make money (Channel One being one egregious example). Given that no educational system is going to be perfect for all students there will always be some failures these folks can point to in order to gin up support for their agenda.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:32 AM
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So why is it better to fail lots more people, anyhow?

It just feels weird to twirl my mustache and cackle about handing out Cs.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:32 AM
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62: Right, but some of it really is about educational approaches. I can be pretty sure that someone who's upset about the failure of reading teachers to rely on PHONICS exclusively is politically right of center. I don't know why that should be, exactly, and I don't honestly know anything about how to teach reading; I want to disagree with the Phonics obsessives because they seem to line up with people I conventionally disagree with, but on that particular issue I don't really have an opinion.

(Except that I have ghastly awful memories of being required to do endless phonics worksheets long after I was fluently literate. But that can't be a pedagogical approach anyone's advocating, it was just stupid.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:36 AM
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Seriously, though, everybody's talking about how the big problem is that we should be giving less second chances to people? That, if you don't do your homework, it should genuinely fuck up your life, hopefully permanently? It seems to me like the better solution to the problems in the post is that the process of finding outside help should be better funded, not that the life-altering consequences of failing to turn in your book report should be made more stark. Are y'all big fans of three strikes laws, too?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:37 AM
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It's because doctors are whiny little bitches that need to be cuffed around for their own good.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:38 AM
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I keep saying this, but a lot of the controversy in education comes from confusion or disagreement about purpose, who pays, and who benefits. This is probably more true the higher up you go (i.e., there's more consensus about first grad than there is about eleventh grade, to say nothing of college or grad school.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:38 AM
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65: No one's saying that there shouldn't be support systems or second chances. Just that it doesn't do a student any favors to award them a grade they didn't earn instead of a second-chance opportunity to go back and re-learn the material.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:39 AM
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Sifu, fwiw, I'm much more in favor of liberal discretion to fail at pampered elite private universities, which is what the first half of the thread focused on. Struggling high school kids? Eh, not so much.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:39 AM
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Christ, Sifu, how many more chances do you need?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:40 AM
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Well, there's second chances and there's fraud. The process at Sir Kraab's school sounds great to me. No damage done to the student, but their transcript doesn't record that they've done work that they really haven't. I hate the idea that an instructor, high school or college, is required to pass a kid who hasn't learned the material they're teaching.

In other words, the sort of second chances I like are "Take as long as you want, everyone does things at different life stages, you should be able to get a GED that's as statusy and credential-worthy as a high-school diploma after an on-time graduation." Letting a kid graduate on time who can't do the work? Less good.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:41 AM
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Just that it doesn't do a student any favors to award them a grade they didn't earn instead of a second-chance opportunity to go back and re-learn the material.

Of course, it doesn't exactly do them any favors to put a bright red "F" on their transcipt, either.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:41 AM
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64 - I wonder if perhaps some of the problem is related to the fact that DFHs in the 60s and 70s were at the forefront of alternate approaches to education. That's why we need the Pledge of Allegiance and Phonics.

Also, what Emerson said in 67.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:42 AM
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72: We put it on their foreheads.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:43 AM
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I submit that almost every student would rather recieve an undeserved passing grade than a deserved failing one. So moralizing about what's "better for them" is fairly paternalistic. Talk about the integrity of the system or whatever, but it's fairly clear what's better for them.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:44 AM
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75: Bullshit. If I pass a failing calc 1 student and they go on to fail calc II, they're now set back an extra semester. People do actually mature as they get older, and kids shouldn't eat candy 24/7 either.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:46 AM
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70: I'm sure I'll have it figured out in another decade or so.

68: well, but again, isn't the problem underfunded schools that have the choice to either fail everybody (because there isn't enough time to work with underprepared students -- who in any case can't afford to stay in high school for five or six years) or pass people who only vaguely grasp the material and hope they'll have some shot of picking it up in community college? It strikes me as a somewhat desperate but well intentioned effort to deal with the fact that they have way less resources than they need to unfuck students' lives.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:46 AM
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76; They're not kids, Heebie. They're adults.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:47 AM
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65: I say flunk Sifu and make him work in the shingle mill for the rest of his life. He's had his chances.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:48 AM
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71: but given that everybody knows GEDs don't work that way, and that a kid who's failing is (say) twice as likely to say fuck it and drop out, then what?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:48 AM
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77: Sure, I'm okay calling "passing failing students" a trivial symptom of a massively underfunded school system instead of the source of the problems.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:48 AM
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Do people fail classes at Chicago? It seems like I knew people who worried about failing classes, but I don't know if they actually did. There was some sort of attitude that grading was much tougher than at the Ivies but I have no way of judging if this was true.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:49 AM
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it doesn't exactly do them any favors to put a bright red "F" on their transcipt, either.

The kid I tried to fail (see comment 1) ended up getting a "D", which is a low as all hell passing grade. The program director told me that had the kid flunked, he would've been required to take the class again since it was a curricular requirement and that the second grade would replace the first, failing one. (Or that there would be an averaging, I forget which.) So he made the case to me that by giving the kid a shitty passing grade, we were actually doing more damage to the kid's permanent transcript.

I wasn't happy with that solution, but by that point I was SO OVER dealing with the fucking situation.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:50 AM
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Paternalism is appropriate to schools, I would think.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:51 AM
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82: I got a D in a Latin class I should have failed (didn't show up much), but that may have been conflict avoidance by the diffident grad student teaching it rather than policy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:53 AM
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In 1965 or 1966 male students who did poorly, including a guy I still see now and then, were drafted into the Army, shipped to Vietnam, and shot at. Fact.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:54 AM
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They're not kids, Heebie. They're adults.

Well, we're kind of blurring the high school/college cases up till now, but yes - I consider my students adults.

I still have a slightly in loco parentis position, where I'm expected to do things that are in their best interests, even if it doesn't align with their opinion. For example, the administration asks us to take roll and submit a student alert if a student isn't attending classes. For the two students in I described in 48, by filing a student alert I can get them some counseling/support for help dealing with enormous problems.

(I don't actually take roll. My opinion is that I don't want to teach anyone who didn't choose to be there of their own volition.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:54 AM
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80: Eh. We're talking about fixing the system. If you hold everything constant except who you pass and who you fail, then making it impossible to flunk out of high school is probably the kindest thing. But if we're redesigning the system from the ground up, I think there are better ways to hand out second chances.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:55 AM
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Were you going to practice litigation on the poor weenie?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 11:57 AM
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For example, the administration asks us to take roll and submit a student alert if a student isn't attending classes.

Egads, that's horrendous. Do they really think that giving your students any discretion is just giving them enough rope to hang themselves?


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:00 PM
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Roll-call was my bestest tool as a teacher. Both the institutions I taught at had a policy that students could be absent three times but after three your grade went down 1/3 a letter for every uneckused absence. Your religious holidays, cranky days, sick days, whatever all got shunted into that three. I LOVED being able to say, "sorry, folks, them's the rules." Like for the college freshman who was starting an ad agency and wanted me to forgive an absence: "you know, there are going to be some drawbacks to running a business while you're still a full-time student, and this is one of 'em."


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:00 PM
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The Ivy League asked us to issue "student-alerts" too (which really only means shooting a heads-up email to their advisor), but pretty much only for these intensive first-year courses where a lot of the acclimatisation problems first show up.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:02 PM
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90: We really do not have many Sifu type students who are learning the material on their own and breezing in to ace the exams. The A students are also type-A students, and the majority of the student body, as one adminitstraitor put it, "lacks a sense of urgency."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:04 PM
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Also, like in JMs case, this is primarily for first and a few second year students.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:06 PM
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88: well okay, yes, if you bring all education up to the standard of elite private schools, then point taken. But that's one hell of a precondition.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:07 PM
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In 1965 or 1966 male students who did poorly, including a guy I still see now and then, were drafted into the Army, shipped to Vietnam, and shot at. Fact.

One of the stories from my dad's HS reunion, a while back, was finding out that the brightest kid in class who had gone to Harvard ended up failing/dropping out (because of a Math professor who's accent he couldn't understand) and getting drafted.

It all turned out okay, but it sounded like a sobering story.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:07 PM
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87: the student alert sounds like a good system, removing the obligation from the prof to play counselor but trying to close the hole students call fall into.

(I don't actually take roll. My opinion is that I don't want to teach anyone who didn't choose to be there of their own volition.)

On the one hand, I agree---on the other hand, I feel that students who do put in the time to attend class and do the reading ought to be rewarded for that effort, and the only way is to penalize others for not putting out that effort. I suppose I could do a two-part grading---allow students to opt out of the participation grade and just use their essays toward the final grade. Hmm...

Upthread, re the UK First as a 74---when I did study-abroad in England through my college, all our grades transferred back sky-high because First-level work was an A+, Second-level work was a B+, etc. But on essays we got crazy grades like "alpha-beta plus minus slash beta-gamma plus plus" that no one understood.


Posted by: dance | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:07 PM
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Both the institutions I taught at had a policy that students could be absent three times but after three your grade went down 1/3 a letter for every uneckused absence.

For every class, or just beginning ones?

I would have hated that rule. There were classes I took in college that I only showed up for once or twice the whole quarter.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:08 PM
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We really do not have many Sifu type students who are learning the material on their own and breezing in to ace the exams.

They all comment at unfogged?


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:10 PM
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For every class, or just beginning ones?

At Ivy League U., I only taught freshman courses, although I TAed or sat in on upperclass courses. I think it was fairly standard, but that enforcement may have lagged in the higher-division classes. At public university in Germany, I was teaching a mid-level course in a language and literature dep't, and we were all supposed to enforce the attendence requirement. That's pretty important in language courses, mind you.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:14 PM
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Both the institutions I taught at had a policy that students could be absent three times but after three your grade went down 1/3 a letter for every uneckused absence.

I had a class taught at 8:30 three days a week by a professor who managed to get away with the policy that if you were tardy it was counted as an absence, and every absence beyond 3 knocked a whole letter grade off. I made a 96 on the final and failed.

It is not possible to teach or incentivize somebody to become a morning person if they're just not cut out for it, and all these years later I can say that I'm *still* not cut out for early mornings. I didn't need a professor with a harsh policy to teach me that, either.


Posted by: fedward | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:15 PM
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My high school Latin teacher gave D's out all the time--I don't think that that's technically failing. In fact, when the school went co-ed, 60/40 b/g, the girls were on average smarter than the boys, so he assumed that a girl deserved a 90 until she proved otherwise. Boys had to prove that they deserved more than a 60.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:16 PM
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You're out! Finished at Faber! Expelled! I want you off this campus Monday morning!

And I'm sure you'll be happy to know that I have notified your local draft boards and told them that you are now all eligible for military service.


Posted by: Dean Wormer | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:22 PM
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100: Sure, placing a high value on attendance seems crucial in language classes and important in any class that involves discussion. On the other hand, in math or physics classes, especially those that follow a textbook reasonably closely, it's pretty much irrelevant for students who are able to understand what they read. It seems like if there's going to be an official school policy, it should reflect this difference.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:23 PM
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Just addressing the elite undergrad school issue: there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The Ivies fail. So do most of the state schools. Some schools, like MIT, get it more or less right. You can fail students but not for arbitrary or bullshit reasons. I can appreciate the problem state schools face b/c they probably don't have the resources (or the kind of respect for the student body) required to take MIT's approach which is to bend over backwards in most cases to allow students to establish that have demonstrated proficiency in a subject matter. In general, attendance is not required but you have to do the work and take the tests. If there are legitimately good reasons as to why you are unable to do these things in the normally allocated time, exceptions can be made which allow you to do them late at little or no penalty. But at the end of the day, you still have to demonstrate proficiency in the material to pass! It's unclear to me why the Ivies don't take this type of approach, but I have to wonder if the lack of accountability is teaching our elites the wrong lessons about life.


Posted by: mpowell | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:23 PM
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104: I agree with this. On the attendance issue, you're already in a pretty pathetic place if you need to seriously penalize students for missing class as a mechanism to help them learn by forcing them to attend. A lecture hall is a pretty terrible way to learn and if a student can learn the material independently and do the assignments, there is no reason I can imagine for punishing them. The only justification I can imagine for requiring attendance when it's not a fundamental part of the evaluation or learning process is if you are stuck with a student body so poorly motivated that harsh penalties for missing class are the only reasonable mechanism for helping them to learn. My view is that the real motivation is a quick and easy way to fail underperforming students, something in high demand at a decent number of lower tier schools who want to preserve the integrity of their credentialing process without the fuss of actually doing a good job of evaluating student performance.. Of course, it's grossly unfair for the student for whom your lecture is mostly a waste of time or who has a lot of commitments such that attending lecture consistently is a difficult to afford luxury.


Posted by: mpowell | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:32 PM
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But on essays we got crazy grades like "alpha-beta plus minus slash beta-gamma plus plus" that no one understood.

Heh, I'm still convinced this is the only reason I got into a very good grad school despite nearly failing my last year of college. I'm pretty sure that my transcript from undergrad contained the II.i marks (first two years) and the III (last year), which should be understandable for most admissions officers, but they were swamped by the massive proliferation of raw marks, alphas & betas (roughly, a measure of how deep of knowledge/ability was shown in a given exam answer), their translation to merit marks, and finally total marks for every single subject in which I answered questions on the exams, which was probably in the neighborhood of 6-8 per year.

In the end, the poor American admissions staff just threw their hands up and said my GMATs and interview looked good.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:34 PM
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When I applied to Ivy League grad school, I was enrolled in a French university. Ivy League U. required a transcript from French U., an idea which appalled the French departmental secretary. "But we are a famous university," she said, "you just show them your student identification card, and that is all!" Eventually, she conceded that a letter on official departmental letterhead might do better, and she condescended so far as to allow me to dictate the content. "These American universities! I tell you, we have many relations with them, we are famous!"


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:43 PM
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an idea which appalled the French departmental secretary. "But we are a famous university," she said

Was it a grand ecole, or just putting on airs?


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:50 PM
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Do people fail classes at Chicago?
Yes.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 12:56 PM
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Putting on airs. Université de Paris-7 (Jussieu), a.k.a. Isengard.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:03 PM
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In terms of attendance and grades, I think the field really does matter. In history, I've never had a student score an A without also being a significant presence in class. They simply can't master the exams without having had the lectures, and someone who can't bother to come to class is invariably not going to do something like, say, bother to edit their essay. Of course, that's not to say that the A students don't occasionally miss class, but someone who never shows up to class (or does only once or twice a term) is also not going to be an A student. My university doesn't allow us to grade based on attendance (except for language courses, I think) but attendance still serves as a good marker of what a student's grade will be without actually being part of the grade.


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:07 PM
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I used to work with a guy who, when asked by a failing student if his parents could meet with the professor, told the student, "Only if my parents can be there too."

I keep hoping that some student will ask me to meet with the parents so I can use that line. So far hasn't happened.


Posted by: mistersmed | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:14 PM
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112: In history, I've never had a student score an A without also being a significant presence in class.

Also in history, I've had excellent students who never said anything, and whose essays don't particularly demonstrate having been in class. These are more discussion-based class meetings, and while I hope that discussion models putting together analytical arguments, I don't know that my experience proves it. I'm inclined to fear that the students who make good comments in class are just naturally good at history.


Posted by: dance | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:21 PM
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112: This is all well and good, but it says nothing about the appropriateness of using attendance as a method for grading a student in a history course. The importance of attendance varies substantially across disciplines, but even if it's important to the learning process it doesn't mean that it's important to the evaluation process.


Posted by: mpowell | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:23 PM
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112: Actually I liked the approach that one of my kid's profs at Big State U used. He took attendance but used it only for analysis. At the beginning of the term he gave the kids the stats from previous classes on final grade versus attendance. (I think with a brief admission that correlation is not causation, but go ahead and act like it is.) As I recall it showed a lot of correlation, but with outliers of course (those in the one direction being the essear's of the world).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:26 PM
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Mairena was -- notwithstanding his angelic appearance -- basically rather ill-tempered. From time to time he would receive a visit from some paterfamilias complaining, not about the fact that his son had been flunked, but about the casualness of Mairena's examination process. An angry scene, albeit a brief one, would inevitably occur:
"Is it enough for you just to look at a boy in order to flunk him?" the visitor would ask, throwing his arms wide in feigned astonishment.
Mairena would answer, red-faced and banging the floor with his cane, "I don't even have to do that much. I just have to look at his father!"
Antonio Machado, Juan de Mairena, XVII

Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:37 PM
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I've flunked people. It's rare, but it happens.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:46 PM
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@91

"you know, there are going to be some drawbacks to running a business while you're still a full-time student, and this is one of 'em."

Any time I'm tempted to be lenient on my students, I always come back to this position. We do people no favors when we teach them that there are no real consequences for their actions.

Interestingly, when it comes to excusing absences for personal reasons, our department does an interesting thing. The advisor has a long talk with them about how family is more important, and this is only school, after all, and then tells them that their absence will have consequences (ranging from postponement of grade to failure) but that those consequences may well be worth it to fix whatever personal problem they are having. Seems like the best way to look at the situation to me.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:48 PM
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Interestingly, when it comes to excusing absences for personal reasons, our department does an interesting thing. The advisor has a long talk with them about how family is more important, and this is only school, after all, and then tells them that their absence will have consequences (ranging from postponement of grade to failure) but that those consequences may well be worth it to fix whatever personal problem they are having. Seems like the best way to look at the situation to me.

Seems like an especially dickish way to handle the situation to me. "We're going to fail you if you visit your ailing family, but we'll consider you a bad person if you don't."


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:53 PM
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Bending the rules for them seems nice, but it won't help them the next time it happens and the consequence is "getting fired".


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:55 PM
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@120

You're reading a lot into that statement that wasn't there. Want to talk about it?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:56 PM
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BTW, can someone explain DI? I'm curious, but I can't for the life of me figure out what it is based on that website.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:59 PM
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106: I had a class as an undergrad that was so useless that people skipped, so the prof responded by making attendance 33% of the grade, with three excused absences. Oddly, the attendance requirement didn't make the class better.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 1:59 PM
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I did end up excusing some absences over the three limit. Sometimes a student who missed a boatload of classes ended up with a reduced grade but not AS reduced as it would have been had I applied the rule strictly. Sometimes I accepted a sickness excuse without a doctor's note. I felt inconsistent when I did so, but oh well.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:05 PM
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BTW, can someone explain DI?

She's recently divorced from UNG and out sowing her wild oats.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:05 PM
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Université de Paris-7 (Jussieu)

The poured concrete one? Addresses like tower 46? A great thing about that place was you could go up on the roof.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:06 PM
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I should note that the class I taught at Ivy League U. had strictly limited enrollment: 12 students per, and never any more than 14. Attendence becomes more important in such cases.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:07 PM
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125. Wow, JM, you exercised judgment. If only the HS teachers were allowed the same leeway. I swear 3/4 of the BS about public school is caused by zero tolerance rules and the administrators being more worried about lawsuits than students. All that is not mandatory is forbidden.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:10 PM
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? Addresses like tower 46?

People, this is a grim and sinister place. Architecturally, it's a cross between Isengard and the Panopticon. I spent a lot of time in the 19th-century library nestled at the foot of one of the towers, in the parking garage.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:10 PM
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129- me


Posted by: Tassled Loafered leech | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:10 PM
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Bending the rules for them seems nice, but it won't help them the next time it happens and the consequence is "getting fired".

When I have personal issues I have to attend to, I take a personal day off work. Every office job I've had allows its employees a certain number of personal days.


Posted by: alif sikkiin | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:11 PM
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It wouldn't have been so bad if the frequently-broken elevators had been doubled up, but there was one per tower. I have basically fond memories, though.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:13 PM
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I bet these crazy people even have zero-tolerance policies on commenting on blogs while in class!


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:14 PM
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Elevators? There were elevators?


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:15 PM
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@132

Right. There are rules and consequences. You have personal days. When your personal days are used up and you still want to take off, you can either not take off or be fired. Most classes have rules that are spelled out ahead of time (in the syllabus or student handbook) and when you violate those rules, you also face consequences. I never said this had to be zero tolerance, just that there are expectations and rules and clearly spelled out consequences when they are not met.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:15 PM
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What was weird about the class with the bizarre attendance requirement was that attendance was not taken all the time. So if you skipped and attendance hadn't been taken, well, then you still had your three excused absences. I swear I spent more energy gaming that system out of willful perversity....


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:21 PM
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When your personal days are used up and you still want to take off, you can either not take off or be fired.

That seems harsh. At least some workplaces allow other employees to donate sick leave days to someone who has a family emergency.

In the case of my job, I'm almost completely sure that I could take unpaid leave if needed and nobody would complain.

I think allowing some flexibility is good.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:22 PM
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136: Under the FMLA, an employee may not be fired for taking up to 12 workweeks of leave to take care of certain personal issues, including the care of a family member with a serious medical condition; foster care issues; and a couple of other circumstances.

So really, non-discretionary and draconian school attendance rules don't have that much pedagogical value as preparation for "real life."


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:22 PM
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I had to take attendance in the Welcome To Being At College class this semester, because we had sophomore aides, and it was one of their proscribed duties. I really have no idea if the class I delivered was a good use of their time or not.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:24 PM
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Civilized jobs would allow you to take days off to attend to emergency matters without eating into sick days, in part because civilized jobs wouldn't ration sick days.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:26 PM
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So really, non-discretionary and draconian school attendance rules don't have that much pedagogical value as preparation for "real life."

In fact, this was generally my experience in school: teachers and administrators would make draconian, arbitrary, and sometimes cruel rules, telling us that we would thank them for it when we reached the next stage of our education, because there things would be even stricter. And yet, somehow things got more lax at every stage. It seems like middle school was the worst for this.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:29 PM
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136: Most classes have rules that are spelled out ahead of time

I never took a class (in college or grad school, excepting language classes), or taught one, which had rules clearly spelled out ahead of time. Occasionally it was stated that attendance was mandatory, but no number of excused absences was mentioned, and no mention of any proportional weight given to attendance in computation of the grade was made: it was understood that if you were notably absent a lot, it might count against you in some way, but that was it. This would of course be a more significant problem in a small seminar, insofar as participation was encouraged, if not required.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:31 PM
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What's so draconian and unrealistic about having to put your head down on your table during lunch every time the lunch room gets loud? Middle school has been really useful for me, at least.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:32 PM
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You know the card game "Mao"?

That's how I run class.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:33 PM
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I wonder how class plays into this. There was a fairly large step between the middle school and high school I attended in the class of my typical fellow students (roughly lower-middle class to middle or upper-middle class), and I wonder if that affects how humane and forgiving the school policies are. Are draconian school policies more likely to affect working-class people? Does this then just lead naturally into employers who are unforgiving of taking personal time off, with the employees having been drilled into docility throughout school?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:35 PM
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Okay, then I'm wrong. This must be a new record for fewest posts to prove that.

I should add that if rules are not spelled out ahead of time, then the whole experience becomes arbitrary, unfair and useless. That's what the syllabus is for.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:35 PM
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Quick!

Someone mention Foucault!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:36 PM
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Part of being an adult is learning which deadlines/rules are real and which aren't, and learning how to negotiate the latter without whining.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:36 PM
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In fact, this was generally my experience in school: teachers and administrators would make draconian, arbitrary, and sometimes cruel rules, telling us that we would thank them for it when we reached the next stage of our education, because there things would be even stricter. And yet, somehow things got more lax at every stage.

You know, a lot of people get jobs with draconian, arbitrary, and cruel rules. Like every poor person on earth, for example.


Posted by: Cryptec nid | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:36 PM
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@119, 120, etc

You know, the whole point of going to college is so that you can get a good enough job that missing work for important family reasons, regardless of how many personal days you've taken, does not get you fired.

Sometimes there are unavoidable real world consequences for missing activities due to personal reasons (if you miss a big sales meeting, there are no second chances), but it makes zero sense to create unnecessary consequences as well. That's what makes it so dickish. Just because there are a lot of dicks out there, doesn't mean that you should be one too. There are plenty of ways to teach kids that actions have consequences in ways that are also fair and reasonable. If you don't study for the test and fail, that's a lesson to be learned. If your mom dies and you want to take it next week or an opportunity to retake the class with no academic penalty next semester? Failing them in that case just shows that you're a bunch of insensitive bastards. I guess you'll teach the student that the world sucks and is full of those, but I think most people learn that pretty well on their own.


Posted by: mpowell | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:36 PM
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If class were like "Mao", I'd have enjoyed it more. At least there were rules to be discovered.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:36 PM
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142: That approach is arguably an outgrowth of the view that children are unruly beasts whose intemperate urges must be tamed, tamed I say! lest civilization fail for lack of domestication.

Whether F is somehow subscribing to this view I can't say, but a lot of the alternative educational models that have cropped up over time have questioned exactly this. This is all kind of obvious.

I'm not sure how far the comparison between educational and work places can be pushed. Does a fast food franchise treat its employees like second graders?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:38 PM
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149: This is very true. Also, if you are the type of person who strictly enforces deadlines/rules which aren't actually real, you are missing the point.


Posted by: mpowell | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:40 PM
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I'm not sure how far the comparison between educational and work places can be pushed. Does a fast food franchise treat its employees like second graders?

Yes.


Posted by: Cryptec Nid | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:41 PM
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It's the Taylorized work force. Workers need to be maximally replaceable and ignorant so they have less bargaining power and are more predictable.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:42 PM
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I remember being taught that public schools were run the way they were to prepare kids for working in a factory. Hence, the bells and the great emphasis on attendance and punctuality.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:42 PM
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Are draconian school policies more likely to affect working-class people?

I think so.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:43 PM
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@153 Absolutely not. I'm aware of the theory that the western education system is based on the Prussian system which was specifically designed to make the proles into docile, obedient semi-slaves. I don't think the arbitrary introduction of rules helps at all. But when rules have been introduced for a valid reason, and consequences have been spelled out for breaking the rules, and an effort has been made to not have them be needlessly draconian, then I don't see what the big deal is about enforcing them consistently.

Honestly, most of the rules at Big State U are for purely practical purposes. It's really unreasonably complicated to deal with make-up exams for very large classes. For valid excuses, there are always ways to make up for it in some way, though not without somewhat of a price.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:44 PM
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154: Right. I have really low tolerance for administrative bullshit. The way this ends up cashing out for me when I'm teaching is that things like deadlines and grading percentages are fixed for good reasons, like fairness and managing the pace of the semester, but that means they are also overcome-able rules, given good reasons. E.g., I will take off whatever penalty I said I would for late work, but I'm likely to grant an extension if we discuss it in advance. And if there's an emergency (like my student whose sister was shot, or my student whose mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer), we can fucking deal with class later.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:48 PM
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Does a fast food franchise treat its employees like second graders?

Yup.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:51 PM
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I never took a class (in college or grad school, excepting language classes), or taught one, which had rules clearly spelled out ahead of time.

I think this has increased with time. The teachers' prep classes I have taken encourage handing out "contracts" to students at the beginning of the semester, which clearly delimit expectations on both sides (e.g., policies on late work, attendance; how fast students should expect to get their work back, what each letter grade represents).


Posted by: Byron the Bulb | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 2:58 PM
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146, 155: Yeah, the class thing. Poor/lower class people are as irresponsible as children, etc.

There is an important difference, though, between the educational and work settings: in the latter, the employee's contribution to the team (if you will) really does matter in some tasks, though not in all, while in the former, not so much at all. Unless you want to make out that student progress is for the good of the school at large, such that the student may be 'fired' for failure to perform.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:00 PM
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163 cont'd: which I take it is what's emerging.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:01 PM
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I can fail anyone in accordance to a policy I've given them clearly, though I suspect if the numbers got too high. I think I'd refuse to teach somewhere this wasn't so.

I had a colleague at previous U who ended up suing the school after a dean messed with his grading and the Senate was bulldozed on the issue. He won, which was a good thing. The school generally takes lecturer primacy in this seriously, and it's academic reputation along with it, but this was an odd case as the issue wasn't bad students but good students who were being lazy. At least the faculty pushed back on this.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:12 PM
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@159: I'm appreciative of the difficulties at Big State U with offering things like make up exams, but let's not pretend that the rules are there for some other reason. The reason is that the school is underfunded in comparison to a private school that does offer that kind of flexibility. In which case, you get what you pay for- that's real world for you!

Of course, I'm not even sure that's the whole answer. Boston University, for example, is run pretty much like a big state school, but it costs nearly as much as MIT. But you could easily get an exception for taking a make up final at MIT if you're mom died, whereas I'm pretty sure you'd just be screwed at BU. I think a lot more has to do with administrative emphasis and an assumption about how you need to treat the 'class' of students you're dealing with.


Posted by: mpowell | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:13 PM
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On a like note to 165, I don't think I'd teach a course where I couldn't give any student an incomplete and/or otherwise adjust their situation in their favor for reasonable (according to me) reasons. Overall consistency rules are fine if there is some flexibility.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:19 PM
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though I suspect if the numbers got too high

... it would raise eyebrows. sheesh. I need sleep.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:20 PM
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The emphasis in higher ed has really moved toward explicit contracts in the syllabus regarding attendance, late papers, plagiarism, etc. At my insitution, if it's not spelled out in the syllabus, you can't even fail anyone for blatant plagiarism. They have to know the rules ahead of time.

I also agree about the value of attendance. All my failing students have huge attendance problems. I have never had students who were doing the work and not coming to class. The students who were skipping were always, "what do you mean papers were due today?"

re: 106: The only justification I can imagine for requiring attendance when it's not a fundamental part of the evaluation or learning process is if you are stuck with a student body so poorly motivated that harsh penalties for missing class are the only reasonable mechanism for helping them to learn.

This pretty sums up the whole student body at my lower-level D-3 private college.


Posted by: Miranda | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:23 PM
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whereas I'm pretty sure you'd just be screwed at BU.

I'm not sure of that at all -- it's not the case at the much state-schoolier state school where I used to teach, anyhow.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:24 PM
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if it's not spelled out in the syllabus, you can't even fail anyone for blatant plagiarism. They have to know the rules ahead of time

That's not spelled out in a general student code somewhere?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:30 PM
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I've had just one occasion on which my grading decisions were messed with -- TAing a course in which the prof's policy, it emerged, was 'nothing lower than a C, ever, and it's a B if it's typed and of the required length, no matter what it says' -- and while I was only TAing, the pedagogic relationship was pretty lame thereafter.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:31 PM
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166: I am at a big public school and as far as I can tell, such decisions are largely left up to faculty and TAs. I've never met a prof who wouldn't delay a final due to a death in the family; I suspect there are a few petty tyrants out there (a la dsquared's rants) but I can't imagine that being the norm.

I think one thing that's missing from the discussion of the private/public school dichotomy and class is the burden of professors. Let's face it, if you're teaching 4 classes a term with 125 students each and you don't have significant grading help, you're going to be less likely to allow for things that take up more of your time and that generally means being more inflexible about missed deadlines and the like. But that doesn't mean that just because you're teaching the lower classes that all of your empathy for them as humans suddenly disappears and you won't allow them to go to their mom's funeral in hopes of teaching them discipline. (Then again, I may be misunderstanding the discussion here).


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:33 PM
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"...whereas I'm pretty sure you'd just be screwed at BU."

I believe that BU was somewhat famous for having an utter shit for a president, yes?

(Unless I'm confusing it with Boston College, but I don't think I am.)


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:43 PM
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means being more inflexible about missed deadlines and the like.

My father's grading policy (at a big state school) is explicitly based on this. On time is fine, late is okay if and only if he's not yet done grading that particular assignment. So you might be able to turn things in late - usually can, in fact - but it's a gamble and it's designed to minimize his extra work.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:50 PM
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@169: I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case at some schools and I guess you have to address the issue there. The concern I have is that some of the people attending schools like those will also be working a lot to support themselves financially and they may be relatively motivated students who simply can't make it to class all the time and a draconian attendance policy may be unfair to the students most deserving of sympathy. Also, we should recognize that this is a very undesirable kind of situation and should not be regarded as an ideal model of any kind.

@173: My only experience is as a student, so I don't have a substantial number of examples to draw from or the fairly detailed knowledge of policy a dean would have. I don't know how far gracious tolerance of these kinds of things is extended at BU, but based on what I've observed, I think it's less than what you would see at MIT. And as I said, the cost difference is not that great.


Posted by: mpowell | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 3:51 PM
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20. Sir Kraab, I hate to say this but I think they have eliminated the NE option. I recall seeing it in an alumni magazine or on the official website.

BTW, this same school that had NEs also had (when I was there) classes on Saturdays and classes on the days right after after Thanksgiving. Yes, Friday and Saturday of Thanksgiving week were not days off.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 4:08 PM
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I claim 177.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 4:17 PM
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I claim 177. For England.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 4:41 PM
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179 wins, as 178 does not have a flag.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 5:40 PM
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Do you have a flag?


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 5:44 PM
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||

There is a YouTube video of Charleton Heston explaining the philosophy of Hegel. Here.

|>


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 6:13 PM
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174: John Silber was the famously assoholic president of Boston University. I often used to wonder how it was that Massachusetts elected a Republican governor; I know now that his Democratic opponent was John Silber.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 6:47 PM
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When I was a head TF at H----rd (we're not assistants, we're Fellows!) we managed to fail one person who was about 4 standard deviations below the mean. Took a lot of paperwork. Almost as much work was drawing the A-/B+ line in the curve- the class was large enough that there was essentially a continuum of grades around the cutoff, so people thought it terribly unfair that missing 5 points on the first exam of the semester ended up costing them an A grade.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 7:17 PM
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If you're teaching, it's not your job to fail a student who doesn't understand the material. It's your job to help them succeed.

If 40% of a school's incoming 1st-year class fails to graduate within 8 years (as in the comment about Reed above), that's a sign that the school is either accepting unprepared students, or failing to educate students once they have arrived. I don't like the USN&WR rankings much at all, but a high failure rate is a failure of both student and institution.

(As an aside, I've been told that grade inflation in the US goes back to the Vietnam era, when profs didn't want to hand out failing grades because leaving college would make students draft-eligible, meaning a failing grade really could get someone killed.)


Posted by: Aaron Weber | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 7:37 PM
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Is a policy of finding out whether the students are capable of doing the work by letting people enroll fairly freely, and then flunking them if they can't, necessarily a 'failure'? It seems like it would be preferable from the point of view of a student with the ability to succeed but without a record sufficient to gain admission to a more selective school.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 7:40 PM
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At Reed, it was 60% graduated in 5 years. Most but not all dropouts graduates from somewhere eventually, and a certain proportion transferred to either their first choice school, or to a school which was stronger in their intended specialization.

Reed did accept unprepared students, and some of them did well and others not. They also accepted talented, flaky students with spotty records, and some of them did well and others not. In general I think this was good.

When I was there, I didn't like Reed's policy. It definitely had the merit of making people put up or shut up. My bad feeling now is about the intense grad-school orientation of the program.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 7:49 PM
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If you're teaching, it's not your job to fail a student who doesn't understand the material. It's your job to help them succeed.

While I totally 100% agree with this, sometimes they still fail. Plagiarism, failure to do assigned work under any timeline offered, failure to read or attend class? There's only so much I can do. I know there is a ha-ha-just-fail-'em jokeyness about some teachers, and I hate it, but I already feel pretty fucking bad about a student failing my class.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 7:55 PM
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During my hospital job we had a a student trainee who was part of a program there. She showed no interest in the work, was inconsiderate of everyone else in significant ways, and did consistently very poorly in everything. At some point the director called her in and asked her "Why are you in school here?" She answered "My Mom wanted me to go". She was rehabbing or being deprogrammed or something like that.

Some people don't want to be there at all, and want to flunk out.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:03 PM
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Attendance policies are just absolutely bullshit. If you do the work, you should get the grade. Busy work homework bugs the shit out of me, too. Assess me based on what I'm supposed to know. Also annoying: classes that assign vastly more reading than will ever be tested on. If you're going to make me read it, at least do me the favor of expecting me to know it.

The connection between class and pointless rules upthread is absolutely right. No job I've ever had has been as dickish about attendance as (certain of my) classes. The worse the student, and the less-elite the institution, the more pointless rules and pointless busywork. Correspondingly, the shittier the job, the more pointless restrictions on conduct. At the bottom of this heap is prison, and just above that is any social service office anywhere.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:14 PM
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As I've said, flunk Sifu and make him work in the shingle mill for the rest of his life. He's had his chances.

It's also true that in some cases the most-practical classes (leading to middle class jobs) are also the most rule-bound and restrictive. Part of it is just because they're teaching you to go with the program.

My English degree was loosey-goosie, but the job-oriented ESL program was incredibly petty. One led to an actual job, one didn't.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:19 PM
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The legitimate purpose of attendance policies is that many students are fuck-ups. Imposing some structure helps them fuck up less.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:25 PM
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190: I don't take attendance, but there are serious problems when you're running a small, very difficult seminar elective in historical literature and context and don't want to give bullshit exams and you have a student who has attended four class sessions and then writes saying she "read all the books, so I got pretty much all the material."


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:25 PM
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The legitimate purpose of attendance
incarceration policies is that many students of your "urban" type people are fuck-ups. Imposing some structure helps them fuck up less.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:27 PM
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192 is exactly right. I don't personally care if they miss class a certain number of times, but if they take not having an attendance "policy" as an excuse to literally never come to a lecture and discussion class, I'm just letting them hang themselves.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:27 PM
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194: I made a comment about paternalism upthread, but was hissed away.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:31 PM
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I'm just grumpy, really. I'm sure nobody here indulges in the kind of pettily fascistic policies that I dealt so poorly with for most of my academic career.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:31 PM
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I've never had the chance to, Sifu. I've been working in the shingle mill.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:33 PM
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Also annoying: classes that assign vastly more reading than will ever be tested on. If you're going to make me read it, at least do me the favor of expecting me to know it.

Hey now. This sort of thing can certainly get out of hand, but one might expect you to know something and also not (explicitly) test you on it, you know. What about classes that assign reading and then don't have any tests -- just problem sets and/or papers -- at all?


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:35 PM
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I've learned my lesson now, though! Spit-slicked hair and a letterman jacket, that's me.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:36 PM
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194: I bet now that you've learned the power of strikethrough you will never be able to complete another homework assignment. If a teacher had stopped you

You strike me as a smart guy who has pretty inner-directed intellectual interests, so I think it's hard for you to relate to the school experience of the run-of-the-mill student. (One of the difficulties in adjusting to teaching is that anyone who becomes a teacher is probably smart and has an inner-directed interest in the subject, which makes you radically unlike your average student.) In a quantitative class, professors should accommodate the small percentage of people who fuck around and crush the final, but the entire program should not be designed around such people.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:37 PM
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199: that's fine. As long as I get to use the material for something! It's when reading gets assigned and then there is no further call to ever use that reading in the context of the class that annoys me. I'd like to be tested on it!

Maybe a little iconoclastic, but I'm being a crank in this thread anyhow, so what the hey.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:39 PM
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You could ask for tests customized to your demands.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:41 PM
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In the future, retinal scan technology will be used to determine which material you haven't read, so that you can be tested on that.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:42 PM
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The best class I had in grad school had a reading list so exorbitantly enormous that I nearly passed out on the first day of class. Then the professor explained that it was just what, you know, you should read to really get smart on the topic of each week, and that she only expected each of us to really really know part of it (the part we chose was up to us). Then people were also encouraged to suggest additional readings for the week in which they were doing their seminar presentation, and things got extra super out of hand. It was great. I treasure all my old materials for that course, even though it was not on a subject that was actually anywhere near any of my areas of specialty. It was just incredibly awesome.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:43 PM
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As long as I get to use the material for something!

I'm just saying, sometimes, some bits, you are only going to get to use for getting more out of lecture/discussion. Is that too annoying?


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:44 PM
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I took a philosophy class in community college where the entire grading for the course was these seven "response papers", which were essentially utter bullshit. If you handed in 250 words of utter bullshit once a week, you would get an A. Needless to say I handed in about four of them, and was on pace to fail the class until I convinced the teacher to let me take a test on the actual course material and -- if I aced it -- give me a B.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:47 PM
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206: not if that's made clear.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:48 PM
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I'm exactly the kind of instructor Sifu would want, I now realize, in that I assign minimal readings, do a lot of the contextualizing work in class, and have no attendance or hard due-date policies. And for a student who really cares about the class, that's a perfect way to run it. If they ask for more on a particular topic, I make recommendations.

My friends tend to be the opposite. One friend assigns so much reading, and is so obsessive about attendance policies and due dates, that I regularly get emails from our shared students saying "BH is such a hard-ass I have to ask for another extension!" or "I couldn't come to your class today because I was trying to keep up with the reading for BH's class!" etc. It's really frustrating, because whoever is the most "demanding" teacher is the one who controls the schedule of the semester for everyone else. It blows.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:50 PM
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Assigning students a shitload of things to read about, and then telling them that they'll only be tested on the details of a few small areas -- BUT YOU DON'T KNOW EXACTLY WHAT -- is a really effective way for professors to inspire pure terror. That's how many law school classes and the bar exam work, which is why law students are often so delightfully freaked out.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:52 PM
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209: eh, I'd probably still blow it off. The worst mistake any teacher can make is thinking they know what'll help me do well.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:52 PM
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a reading list so exorbitantly enormous

A lot of classes I took for my IR major had ridiculously long reading lists. History classes, too. Part of the point, I gathered, was to use these readings as sources in your papers, even when the readings didn't come up in class. Kind of a nudge towards independent research.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:55 PM
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Really, though, lots of reading isn't the problem. I also hate discussion classes, because people are idiots.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:55 PM
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I like it how all the evening threads (Pacific Time) are either about helping Sifu with his homework, or meta-threads about his homework.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:55 PM
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And for a student who really cares about the class, that's a perfect way to run it.

Is it? I really cared about the grad school class I mentioned above. Classes with truly minimal reading seemed skimpy and withholding or condescending to me. That said, I certainly don't like to assign crazy amounts of reading just for show; I'd rather cover a manageable amount of material properly, and the priority imbalance you cite is indeed frustrating.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:56 PM
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211: So you need an individualized syllabus for every class? That's frustrating, and seems like a lot more work for you and the instructor.

What I always say to students who insist that they pass my course, despite not meeting any of the objectives on the syllabus, is that they have to negotiate with me an alternate syllabus, since they find mine so incapable of measuring their excellence in learning. Sometimes the ideas they then come up with are weird bribes, or else "Instead of writing an analytical paper on 17th-c poetry, I'll write a poem about my boyfriend, and it will show you how much I understand poetry!!" No one has yet come up with an alternate syllabus that didn't either require (a) absurd amounts of extra labor from me ("I'll meet with you in your office for five hours every day for the rest of the semester!") or (b) an insane breach of any kind of contractual relationship about what my job as teacher and their job as student is.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:58 PM
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214: there are other things to talk about? Maybe next week I'll know what they are.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 8:58 PM
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211: So you need an individualized syllabus for every class? That's frustrating, and seems like a lot more work for you and the instructor.

No, I need to shut up and do my homework. The problem is not the instructor, by and large. Although I suspect gratuitous hand-holding would have worked at certain points in my life.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 9:00 PM
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215: I should qualify. I do that with a mid-level survey class I teach because no one on earth wants to take it and I think my job is to teach very small, very difficult works that suggest good research projects they do on their own time. With my electives, I demand a lot of reading, but that's because, hey, you're not taking 18c Brit Satire because you don't want to read a ton of way-difficult stuff.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 9:00 PM
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My first quarter of college, I was sort of overwhelmed by how quickly we were supposed to read Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Didn't that professor know I had other classes? Eventually I realized that after the bit on the syllabus that said "read volume 2" (or whatever the divisions in the book were called), there were page numbers in parentheses, which in fact corresponded to only, like, one-tenth of volume 2. Then I felt stupid.

I don't think this anecdote has a point.

The history grad students I've known all seem to have to read terrifying amounts of text, but they also seem to mean something different by "read" than I do. It's more like "skim enough to get the gist of the argument, and to know where to look for the details when you need them later".

From a different point of view, I read a lot of work in my field, but the stuff I need to really understand, I have to not just read but spend hours doing calculations in order to really "get" it. In fact sometimes for that stuff I don't really "read" at all, more like skim to get the idea and then work it out on my own to understand it.

Um, I don't know if that had a point either. I'm still recovering from some good Italian wine, which I didn't catch the name of.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 9:04 PM
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The history grad students I've known all seem to have to read terrifying amounts of text, but they also seem to mean something different by "read" than I do.

I have also found this to be true. Most of them say they read the intro to the book assigned and call it a day. They know where it is on the shelf.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 9:10 PM
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221: I don't know. I read pretty much everything assigned in my history undergrad classes (and I took enough of them for a minor, but the U wouldn't let you have two minors, alas).

I guess I was also a bit of a sucker for reading everything as an undergrad, which might change if I ever go to grad school. It was the end of the first year before I realized lots of people weren't reading everything and doing just fine.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 9:21 PM
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Oh man, my freshman year was the opposite. By the end of it I had finally realized that if I actually read any of the texts, I would get As no problem.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 9:24 PM
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Yeah see I think 223 is what bugs me about the over-assigned reading. If I read the text, and then am tested on the text, great. If I actually don't need to read 70 or 80 percent of the text, but instead need to know the specific pieces of it that get discussed in boring-ass class, I get frustrated.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 9:27 PM
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Undergraduate history=if you read the books and try to understand them, you will do well.

Graduate school history=if you read the books and try to do anything more than understand the author's main thesis, historiographical position, and a few key facts, you will drive yourself insane and get lost in a fuckload of detail about wheat prices in 16th century Bavaria, or whatever.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 9:28 PM
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One frustrating thing I've encountered reading Unfogged vs. talking to real-life professors I know, is that the RL professors are always so encouraging about going to grad school, whereas everyone here almost always seems to hold up a big STOP sign.

(N.B., not specifically directed at Halford in 225; just a general comment.)


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 9:40 PM
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226: don't believe real life!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 9:42 PM
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226: It's like that joke where the Devil says before you were a customer, but now you're a client. Before you go to grad school, it's all marketing. Once you're in, it's all about disabusing you of the notion that anyone cares what you think. Tim Burke comes right and says it in his grad school advice, without any awareness of how psychotic it is.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 9:48 PM
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Hey, I actually read everything that was assigned in my history grad courses. But yeah, I was an aberration. Halford is right, though - if you try to keep up with the details, you get lost. I suppose that even if you are reading each page you are doing a certain amount of knowledge filing that's different from what someone in essear's field is doing when they're reading.

And, one of my professors spent the better part of the year discouraging me from going to grad school. Her mistake, though, was telling me that I could certainly get in and succeed, but since it was such a monetarily unrewarding field that I should go to law school. After that, I wasn't going to listen to her constant harping on how bad the job market was, etc., even if she was clearly right. She should have just told me there was no way I'd get in.


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:02 PM
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the RL professors are always so encouraging about going to grad school, whereas everyone here almost always seems to hold up a big STOP sign.

The RL professrs are impressed by you and want you to be a colleague. As do we all. But knowing that the likelihood of your ending up in *our* departments is basically zero, we have no personal motivation to encourage you.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:26 PM
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Don't go to grad school, Stanley. Unless you think that school's fun/you want to read and write a lot. In other words, going because you think it will lead to a job in the academy is a bad idea. That said, if you get a job in the academy, in a place that you want to live, you win.

What the fuck do I know?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:41 PM
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230-1: Pretty much bookends the spectrum of advice I get. Meh. But, you know, thanks.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12- 9-08 10:58 PM
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BTW, here is a pretty good site with some actual grade inflation data, some of it going back to the '60s (goes through 2002). Worth a look, shows a differentiation between public and private schools, a rapid increase in the late 60s/early 70s followed by a leveling until the mid-80s and then renewed inflation. He also has a graph summarizing the data from a number of specific schools, your favorite institution may well be on there.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 3:18 AM
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This seems to be strikingly on topic.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 5:17 AM
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I think there are people for whom grad school is a good option. If you have a masochistic streak, or came from and have now rejected a religion that insisted your reward was in heaven, grad school is good. (I'm not being flip there, either. The latter is intrinsic to my self-image, even now that I don't practice anymore.) If you are either extremely motivated by projects that only you seem to care about, or if you have a very long attention span for doing projects you think may benefit society one day but not for several years, if ever, grad school is good. If you can handle an environment in which praise is rarely given, and usually for things you don't think were very difficult or meaningful, grad school is good. If you manage anxiety and depression well, and have a meaningful personal life already, grad school is good. If you really love and believe in education for undergrads, or if you can do work that is thankless and low-paying for several years without loving it, grad school is good. If you are a creature of calm habit and productivity, grad school is good.

If you are gratified by recognition, applause, popularity, financial reward, kindness and intimacy, or closely-directed tasks, or if you relish competition as a sign of actual success, or if you are prone to bouts of suicidal loneliness and paranoia, you will not be happy in grad school.

Most of the above potential problems are not so bad if you're independently wealthy or extremely well sponsored. I am in certain ways very well suited to this environment, but in others, I can be extremely vulnerable to it. (I don't need a lot of praise, for example, but I cannot stand being chastised for things I think I do very well, nor can I stand being praised for things I suck at. The system of reward and criticism is really deeply fucked up.)


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 5:43 AM
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I heard a story second-hand about a guy who basically spending law school reading Plutarch and went to one of the history/Classics professors (with the terrifying first name of Ernst, and he was terrifyingly intense in person, though I never spoke with him) to ask for a recommendation for grad school.

The professor wouldn't write it unless he finished law school first. He said that a law degree from a good school could help him get a job. The Ph.D. market was not so good.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 6:39 AM
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235 is good. In the sciences at least, a degree of aggressiveness is also helpful. Competition for grants is actual competition and sheer awesomeness might work for the top 1%, but face it, that's not the crew spending time in these here comments. Learning to work the politics is vital if you want to have a career as opposed to merely some letters after your name, and the place to do that is before you graduate.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 7:36 AM
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you're teaching, it's not your job to fail a student who doesn't understand the material. It's your job to help them succeed.

I know this is a dead thread, but wanted to pick up on above. Of course it's not our job to fail people. You do what you practically can (and sometimes impractically) to help every student. Depending on the course and campus, the amount that is practical varies. However, it's a two way street. They have to put the effort in too.

Passing people who have not learned the material isn't doing them or your program any favors, and if people realize they won't fail regardless of how little effort they put in makes them less likely to try. I'm not happy about failing anyone. Any time I have failed a student I've been convinced they have no real understanding at all of the core material of the course, and would be unable to apply it. So this definitely represents a failure on my part as well --- but removing it as an option is hopeless.

Most of the grading issues I've seen have been at the other end of the scale --- pressure to help `star' students maintain a high gpa even if they don't deserve a top grade. At the end of the day, though, this stuff must be left to instructor discretion on particular grades. Broad policies are a different issue.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 9:50 AM
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whereas everyone here almost always seems to hold up a big STOP sign.

We're right. Look, your profs encourage because you are bright and they think you'd be good at it. That's their job. But the hardest thing to get through a prospective grad student's head is that it's not just like undergrad. There are no gold stars, the work doesn't come in easily definable chunks, and it's entirely possible to love the subject matter and hate the discipline. And there are a lot of people who go into grad school because they don't know what else to do with themselves.

So what I'm saying is that talent and enjoyment of the subject isn't sufficient. AND then the market might collapse on you.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:10 AM
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I know this is a dead thread, but wanted to pick up on above. Of course it's not our job to fail people. You do what you practically can (and sometimes impractically) to help every student. Depending on the course and campus, the amount that is practical varies. However, it's a two way street. They have to put the effort in too.

I want to second this.

Instructors are also just people doing a job. They are not saints. There are quite reasonable limits on how far they should be expected to go.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:11 AM
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There is totally a culture here that our success is, at least partially, measured by how many students we send to graduate school. We really put it on a pedestal, in a way that makes me uncomfortable.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:15 AM
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And not just for our own vanity, but the community belief is that we've done our students a service if we send them off to grad school, much the way a high school can sigh with relief if their problem student ends up at college.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:16 AM
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AND then the market might collapse on you.

yeah, this is fun, really.

Have you got a plan B lined up for next year, Cala? I've got an extension option to my fellowship I can exercise... not exactly what I planned on but better than many options I guess.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:20 AM
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heebie-geebie: wow. that's really, really crazy.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:20 AM
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There is totally a culture here that our success is, at least partially, measured by how many students we send to graduate school. We really put it on a pedestal, in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

Both Chicago and Reed make much in their promotional literature of the proportion of their students who go to grad school.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:22 AM
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Still catching up:

It's really frustrating, because whoever is the most "demanding" teacher is the one who controls the schedule of the semester for everyone else. It blows.

It's interesting for me that you would say that because I remember recommending Experiment At Evergreen (and writing something very much like this) on your blog a couple of years ago and your response at the time was that it didn't sound like a problem that you recognized from your experience.

I suspect I wasn't as clear at explaining the idea at that point, but it makes me feel better that my perception, from your descriptions of your teaching style, was somewhat accurate.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:34 AM
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Both Chicago and Reed make much in their promotional literature of the proportion of their students who go to grad school. have a goodly proportion of incoming undergraduates who have planned on going to grad school since 6th grade.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:38 AM
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241 and 242 make me sad.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:48 AM
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Don't you make like 80K a year on your fellowship, soup?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:51 AM
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not anymore (different fellowship) although I'm not going to complain about my salary at all, it's about par for junior faculty these days.

The problem is the t-t market sucks this year (I mean more than usual) and this temporary position is getting a bit long. I was trying to say I have an option that doesn't suck, but I'd far rather be relocating to a theoretically permanent position next year.

I'd hate to be in the position of not knowing what would happen if I don't get a position.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:55 AM
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You do what you practically can (and sometimes impractically) to help every student. Depending on the course and campus, the amount that is practical varies. However, it's a two way street. They have to put the effort in too.

Someone tell the administrators at my college that, would you? Kthx.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:59 AM
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251: In that situation, I honestly don't know how you do it, B. I mean that as a comment on my inflexibility, btw.

which is part of the reason that my job search is constrained enough I probably won't find a place. ah well.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:01 AM
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Reed's habit of squeezing out 40% or so of the entering freshman is in part a way of increasing the proportion of their graduates who go to grad school.

There's a real conflict of interest sometimes when a prof encourages someone to go to grad school. If colege grads started looking at grad school more realistically, half of the grad departments would have to close down (especially the ones like English that prepared you mostly for college teaching), and at that point, there would be fewer good jobs for the students in the remaining grad schools upon their graduation. The low-ranking schools hire the graduates of the higher-ranking schools. A PhD from the #50 ranked grad school isn't worth much.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:02 AM
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AND then the market might collapse on you.

The thing is, the market has already collapsed. There are enough people who "get lucky" that we can still sometimes hold out hope that it'll turn out okay for this or that individual. But even then, really, getting lucky isn't turning out okay, is it? It isn't a reward for hard work; it's luck of the draw that a job happened to turn up for you. That sucks even if you have the job.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:04 AM
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Yeah, I'm sure the poor people getting hired at Princeton are crying into their beer.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:05 AM
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255: probably champagne.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:07 AM
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252: I think I may have just decided not to keep doing it, actually.

There's a real conflict of interest sometimes when a prof encourages someone to go to grad school.

You know, having done this, I think that's not true. A false consciousness, yes. After all, a prof is, by definition, someone who won the lottery and therefore has an inflated idea of the odds. But I don't think that the desire to perpetuate graduate school is behind it, at all.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:07 AM
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255: I'm sure they aren't. But that's part of the problem: anyone who gets a job is going to believe, on some level, that they merited it, no matter how much they consciously think that it was luck of the draw.

Anyway, I can think of at least two people I know who are great academics but got turned down for tenure. And others who have decided to be happy in jobs that are *clearly* not where they thought they'd end up.

I know a couple of cheerful-by-nature people, Heebie among them, who I think are genuinely happy with their academic jobs. But I suspect that that's more a function of their personalities, and that they'd be happy with whatever work they were doing.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:12 AM
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re 253: It's a vicious cycle. I think that there actually is a role for more ph.d's explicitly aimed at jobs outside of academics. Departments actually have to change the programs though; it will take a good faith joint effort in this direction (which is happening some places) to improve the relationship, but I think it's the only fair position to take if you are going to accept large numbers of students with no possibility of hiring them later in the system.

The government of Canada has a graduate scholarship system for sciences and engineering that includes a specific industrial graduate scholarship, where students spend something like 20% of their time at a sponsoring company, which costs the company next to nothing (maybe $5000/year, iirc). The utilization rate of this available money was about 18% last I heard. The fault lies on both sides of the issue, but I think the first steps need to be taken by university departments.

The further away you get from immediately applicable disciplines like engineering, the harder this is, but I suspect there are things that can work for most areas.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:12 AM
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Reed's habit of squeezing out 40% or so of the entering freshman

Reed's freshman retention rate is over 85%. Its 6-year graduation rate is at about 75%. They have gotten better, or softer—take your pick, since John was there.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:12 AM
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260: this shift has happened pretty much everywhere, I think. Over-enrollment as policy is frowned on (for different reasons) by most people involved these days, I think.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:14 AM
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At worst, grad school is the worst of two worlds. On the one hand, it isn't economically practical, and on the other hand, it's abusive and unpleasant. Someone for whom money and debt weren't an issue wouldn't need to worry about the practical part, but why would they accept the abuse? (Masochism, according to AWB).

I don't claim that the worst is typical or universal, but it's actual and common. The best -- a non-abusive program leading to a good job -- is also actual, but pretty rare, I'd guess.

For me the stumbling block was the imposition of methodologies. Based on my present understanding, what I should have done was major in history, which is eclectic by nature. I even did, for a year, but my faculty adviser and I found each other insufferable.) I often see things written by historians of my era which are about what I would have liked to write.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:16 AM
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I think that there actually is a role for more ph.d's explicitly aimed at jobs outside of academics

Word.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:17 AM
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One of the sick things is that, as more and more jobs are professionalized, PhDs have fewer and fewer fall-back jobs. HS teaching and journalism usually require additional training. A PhD friend of mine with a linguistics background enrolled in an ESL masters program with the vague idea that he could test out of some of the required courses (the linguistics and "cultural studies"), but the program director very stiffly denied his request. There were dollars in question, of course.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:26 AM
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263: In the sciences and engineering, sure. I don't see that happening for English or any of the languages, really. Or classics. Or philosophy.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:32 AM
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It's not too hard (prior to recession) for mathematician PhDs to find jobs in industry, and I always cheer when I hear about a fellow grad student who went that route because to me it means they bucked tons of people saying "Once you leave academics, you can never come back" in favor of doing what they would like to do.

I got tons of pressure to try a post-doc after grad school just to make extra extra sure I didn't want to try for a research position, instead of applying straight out for tenure-track teaching positions. Now I've got a shadow-Heebie who would be totally screwed right now, had I gone that route because a) I really do not want to do research, so b) my post-doc probably would not have gone well, and c) I'd be back on the job market during a recession. All of which make me thank my lucky stars.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:33 AM
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265: I agree.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:33 AM
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Mathematicians can always get jobs as quants helping finance destroy Western Civilization and bring on the new Dark Ages. If they happen to be heavy metal / shooter / Road Warrior types, they win double.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:35 AM
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Maybe this is just confirmation bias resulting from the hospital and research industries that dominate this area, but my non-scientific survey says that if you want a graduate degree that's highly marketable and portable, a Masters of Public Health is hard to beat.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:39 AM
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a) I really do not want to do research.

Your amphetamine level is probably low.

A friend of mine who was a support person in a psych research department was told by the department shrink that something like 2/3 of the research PhDs had amphetamine prescriptions.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:39 AM
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257: I don't think that the desire to perpetuate graduate school is behind it, at all.

Mere anecdata, of course, and I wouldn't want to overstate it, but I've encountered this. My graduate program was obscenely large given the discipline and the state it was in. Lots of the faculty admitted this, and a few even pushed hard to scale back enrollment when things got really crazy. But because we were one of the more distinguished humanities depts at the school, we got funding well out of proportion to our (very low) undergrad course enrollment, and nobody wanted to give any of that up. So we eased our consciences by being increasingly frank with prospective grad students about job prospects, etc., knowing full well how effective that would be.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:42 AM
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Library Science was a good trade last I checked, though since then someone has said that it's declined.

It's tremendously useful because you learn to do all kinds of research.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:42 AM
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270: as well they should!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:43 AM
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271: Oh, I taught at a place that had just started a *new graduate program in English*. So I know what you mean. But still.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:47 AM
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Sifu would like us to switch from a system where we enforce discipline by punishment to a system where we enforce discipline by pharmacology. The prisons and workhouses of the future will be contented, placid places.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:50 AM
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275: don't knock it 'til you've tried it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:52 AM
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What makes you think I'm not trying prison right now?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:53 AM
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a system where we enforce discipline by pharmacology

I could be talked into this.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:54 AM
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273: I basically agree. We've had this discuss at length here though, as I remember.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:55 AM
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265: yeah, this is a difficult aspect, and I'm really not sure what to do there. In some areas there seems to be less direct connections, pools pulled into policy or civil service work etc. but I don't know the mechanism to connect them or how much it makes sense to tailor coursework/seminars etc. to that goal.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:56 AM
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279: we have, but that's before I had an article in Nature on my side.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:56 AM
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we enforce discipline by pharmacology

Like giving ritalin to eight year old boys who won't sit still in class?


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:00 PM
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Mathematicians can always get jobs as quants

This is a common perception, but it's really not true. It's a very specific set of skill that the quant industry is looking for. People with a theoretical physics background or a specific type of applied maths background fit the bill. Many mathematicians don't do anything remotely close to these areas, and lack implementation (i.e. numerical algorithms) skills too. Wall street isn't interested in them, mostly.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:00 PM
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283: But there still seems to be plenty of random industry jobs, apart from Wall Street, available to mathematicians. Esp. if the mathematician is choosing to leave academics, and has had a year or so to take a relevant course or something.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:04 PM
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I knew math people with no relevant background who became quants, so it's not impossible. (Or it wasn't.)

I have nothing against recreational drug use, but I don't see how you can complain about a society that is set up to manufacture people as tools and then endorse the use of drugs that turn people into better tools.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:05 PM
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Only the quants can help usher in the new Dark Ages, though.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:06 PM
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Then I'll bone up on my stochastic calculus and buy a gun.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:09 PM
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285: Oh sure, there are lots and lots of options. Mathematicians are in no ways in the same boat as random humanities that way, and some of the options might surprise (e.g. I know a low-dimensional topologist who is working on building next-generation supercomputers now).

Of course, a lot of the jobs are also defense related or NSA type things too....

But my point was that while those walk out of grad school into a $250k/year wall street job stories seem common, it's actually pretty rare (and rarer now, I'd bet!) and only applicable to a small slice of mathies and a larger group of physicists anyway.

Typical opportunities aren't like the quant jobs.

Even then, if what you really want is a high pay long hours job in financial industry, you have better/surer paths than leaving your PDEs work for a quant job. For example, transfer into an actuarial program.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:10 PM
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I have nothing against recreational drug use, but I don't see how you can complain about a society that is set up to manufacture people as tools and then endorse the use of drugs that turn people into better tools.

Well, read the article. The idea is that we shouldn't be demonizing people who use these drugs, we should instead figure out when and where they genuinely should be called for, rather than relying on forced ignorance creating a system where people feel obligated to use them illicitly.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:10 PM
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Read the article? Will I be graded on it?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:11 PM
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I knew math people with no relevant background who became quants, so it's not impossible. (Or it wasn't.)

Yeah, it's possible. Just not common. Afaict, most of them come from the same narrow background, or something near enough to it (so not exactly `no relevant background'). I suspect demand has dried up a bit these days....


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:11 PM
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290: YOU'LL BE FAILED ON IT!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:12 PM
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I know a low-dimensional topologist

Works mostly on points?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:13 PM
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293 is funny.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:16 PM
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Works mostly on points?

really teeny tiny ones.

or was it things like orientable 3-manifolds? I can never remember.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:16 PM
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I always thought somebody should make a 3-d game like Descent, but set it inside different 3-manifolds.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:24 PM
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Any good set of rules would need to distinguish today's allowed cognitive enhancements, from *private tutors* to double espressos, from the newer methods, if they are to be banned.

So now people *are* the drugs (and expensive ones at that).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:29 PM
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A friend from gradschool got his PhD in General Relativity and went straight to wall street. He's exactly the kind of guy who drives the High End Girlfriend Index, too. I bet he's a millionaire by now, despite having been shellacked these past few months.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:29 PM
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Hmmm. I don't know whether to say "give me fucking break" or "holy shit" (but am inclined toward the former).


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 12:56 PM
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298: yeah, as I noted the jump is much smaller for lots of physicists and/or physics related maths.


299: In a way it's the schools with huge endowments who are getting hit first, particularly if they were irrationally confident in continuing particular rates of endowment return in their budgeting process. If you don't have any of that sort of income, your funds may already be allocated and committed for the academic year (depending where, etc.) and you may not be getting hammered by this until next summer. Expect squirreling away at all levels then, but not the same thing as vaporized funds.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:03 PM
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WTF? It's not like they're not still richer than many countries.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:03 PM
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301: Kobe retroactively says see 300.last .. .it may just be bad budgeting.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:05 PM
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had lost at least $8-billion

They lost about 7x our total endowment. Bet they feel stupid!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:06 PM
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Oh, right, there are 9 zeros behind the 8 for 8 billion. They actually lost well over 100x our endowment. My bad.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:09 PM
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The real story here is that the Chronicle's style guide mandates a hyphen between the numerical and the multiplier portions of dollar figures. "$8-billion"? WTF?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:10 PM
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How do you confuse million with billion, and thus end up confusing 7 with 100?


Posted by: Cryptec Nid | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:18 PM
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300.2: I had read an article mentioning that Harvard's operating budget relied on relatively high level of funding from its endowment. Here:

A decade ago, distributions from Harvard's endowment accounted for just 35 percent of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences operating budget, compared with 56 percent today.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:21 PM
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Leave Heemie-Jeemie alone, Nid.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:22 PM
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She's a mathematician, Ned. It's too compicated to explain.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:23 PM
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307: right. And it is absolutely inane to assume you're going to be able to keep historically unlikely return rates year-to-year indefinitely. If your budgeting process doesn't recognize this, you fail.

CN: rather a lot of numbers are `well over 100x' , don't you think?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:24 PM
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The dumb thread was looking forward to talking to her new friend, heebie.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:25 PM
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Heebie does all calculations modulo 73.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:25 PM
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It's too compicatedempirical to explain.

People often irrationally assume we're good at arithmetic.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:26 PM
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Illions are hard.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:27 PM
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The dumb thread was looking forward to talking to her new friend, heebie.

The dumb thread! With the torn couch.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:28 PM
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Doesn't help that the US uses the wrong billion, too.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:29 PM
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People often irrationally assume we're good at arithmetic.

I once quipped to my mom, "I'm a mathematician, not an arithmatician," because I knew she'd find it absurdly hilarious. Now, all the time in front of people, she'll say, "Oh! Tell everyone the joke about how you're not an arithmatician, you're a mathematician!" leaving me to fumble and have nothing to say except "I rue the day I told you that dumb joke."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:31 PM
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A rat in the house may attack the ice cream.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:42 PM
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317: It's like an extension of the 'oh, I was always bad at (high school) math' conversation that seems to be unavoidable.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:45 PM
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The anecdote in comment 317 has been posted here before.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:46 PM
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320: Thus proving the truth of the Poincare Recurrence Theorem. We have all been here before. We have all been here before.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:46 PM
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From the link in 299:

instructional faculty members would be hired only to fulfill "essential curricular needs,"

Who wants to do temp crap at Harvard? Anyone? Anyone?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:47 PM
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Hmm. A good chunk of our funding comes from a private biomedical research foundation. This funding is up for competitive renewal next year. Annual report of said foundation says that, unsurprisingly, the bulk of its funding comes from its endowment. Maybe they had much cleverer money managers than did Harvard, but I'll be surprised if there's not a lowering of renewal rates


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:49 PM
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The anecdote in comment 317 has been posted here before.

You do care! You really do!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:50 PM
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Who wants to do temp crap at Harvard? Anyone? Anyone?

Elitist. There are entire families of Mexicans who walk through the desert for days in hopes of fulfilling essential curricular needs at Harvard.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:50 PM
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324: no, I don't care, I just feel cheated when I am forced to read the same comments over and over again.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:54 PM
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323: This is the sort of thing that had me noting the other shoe hasn't dropped yet, earlier. Schools whose immediate budget was relying on endowment returns may be scaling back today, next year or so it's going to hit a lot more places though, less directly.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:54 PM
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I'm a big-picture guy, and I don't understand why people make such a big deal about an order of magnitude or two.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 1:56 PM
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323: If the Gates Foundation is affected, it's a pretty good bet the non-profits are all affected. So basically state budgets are fucked, endowments are fucked, and private extramural funding is fucked. That better be one hell of a stimulus package.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:09 PM
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that's sort of why it's called a recession, no?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:10 PM
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Be sure to get some fries with that order of magnitude, JE. Supersizing is the only way to get the economy back on track.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:14 PM
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327: Indeed. This foundation's FY ends 8/31, so the annual report gives endowment return figures as of then, which was back when the Dow was still at 11,500. So we don't really know how far the shoe has dropped.

My adviser decided it would be a waste of time to even try to renew one of our NIH grants this year, given the low probability of success. Fortunately we are doing well enough right now that we have the luxury of this option. (There are storm clouds on the horizon but I must admit this lab could be in a much worse position.) He tells this joke whenever he discusses his strategy in tough funding climates.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:16 PM
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332: There is a lot of that going on. You can bet the politiking around NIH and NSF grants will ramp up even more than usual (hardly to imagine as that may be)


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:18 PM
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So basically state budgets are fucked, endowments are fucked, and private extramural funding is fucked.

So these days everyone is getting fucked, and yet I'm still not having much luck with the ladies? Not fair.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:19 PM
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334: UR DOIN IT RONG


Posted by: OPINION8TD GRAMMA | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:21 PM
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330: I call it "Mr. Recession" in hopes of better treatment.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:23 PM
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The recession laughs at your politeness and sharpens its teeth, dreaming of the day you'll call it "Mr. Depression"


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:26 PM
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336 to 334?


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:26 PM
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I would just like to take this moment to thank my lucky stars that Mr. B. works for the DoD.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:27 PM
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339: because any sensible restructuring of so-called defense spending is so unlikely that his job is pretty safe?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:30 PM
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Did a bit of searching and it appears that many universities seems to draw from 4-6% of their endowment to contribute to their operating budget. For the sample of schools I could see data for that generally translated into 10-20% of operating budget from endowment (for many schools, especially state universities this would be much less). Harvard's is a much larger percentage of operating budget because of the monstro size of the endowment not because they drew down at a greater rate.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:30 PM
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296: Video games in Nil and Sol manifolds would be awesomeconfusing as hell.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:33 PM
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341: And according to NACUBO (National Association of College and University Business Officers), endowments returned ~8.6% over the prior ten years, so the drawdown was not a problem.

For an idea of size NACUBO reported on $411B in endowments last year (they cover almost every college in the US). Harvard had ~8.5% of that total last year.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:38 PM
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340: Because you just know that the DoD is gonna be about as safe an industry to work for as can be.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:40 PM
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344: yup; somewhat depressing, but true. Locally good for you though, especially if things are shaky in your new job.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:45 PM
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And if things ever calm down too much B can just start committing acts of terrorism to ratchet up the fear quotient again.

|| My Sunday. (recommend you open that in a new window so your back button is not broken) |>


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:48 PM
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the DoD is gonna be about as safe an industry to work for as can be

But I kept reading during the campaign that Obama was a defeatnik terrorist sympathizer who would gut the Pentagon so that he could install sharia law in his second term. I guess his mind control powers got you too.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 2:51 PM
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I'll pay you $50/hour to do temp crap at Harvard, my friends. You know what? You can't do it. The whole school year, not just one day. You can't do it, my friends.
The salary freeze sucks, I'll probably be affected, although not directly. On the other hand, even with said freeze I'm still making about $50k/yr more than I would be without the science PhD (assuming the same field) so I have to vote in favor of grad school. Also limited opportunities for promotion without a PhD in this field.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 3:08 PM
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I'll pay you $50/hour to do temp crap at Harvard, my friends. You know what? You can't do it

???


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 3:12 PM
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Did I need a </McCain> tag?


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 3:15 PM
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349: Reference.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 3:16 PM
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Also following from 325, to make it completely obvious.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 3:16 PM
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ah, me slowly catches up.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 3:18 PM
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This is selfish of me, but I have to say as someone who is experiencing high uncertainty because of the economic crisis (my wife is still looking for a job, I'm looking for a either a higher-paying job or a second job in case my wife doesn't find one), hearing yet again how you are recession-proof because Mr. B works for the DoD is not happiness inducing.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 3:18 PM
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Well, geez, Walt, if you'd had the foresight to devote your career to the manufacture of weapons you wouldn't be in this situation. You brought it on yourself!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 3:22 PM
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Mr. B is Cala's father?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 3:23 PM
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346: Hey, my friend ran that marathon too! (At least, I suspect its the same one, being on the same day and in Northern California, and really, how many marathons can there be on one day in a relatively small geographical location? Wait, no, don't answer that, my non-running heart quavers at the thought). Are you trying to qualify to get into one of the big marathons, or just having fun?


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 7:35 PM
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354: I hear ya. It's not a lot of fun hearing people go on about how awesome heightening the contradictions will be when a) I will likely be unemployed and b) shiv has already taken a 20% paycut. I will endeavor not to type "fuck off" more than once a day.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 7:38 PM
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357: There were in fact four US marathons on Sunday, but only one in NorCal, yes, so your friend probably did run the same one. The calendar shows that there are about that many marathons every Sunday, in case you are curious.

As for the "why" of it all, it's rather complicated, I'm afraid. Probably too much to go into here.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:36 PM
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359: But think how many there would be if the animals ran them as well.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:52 PM
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Every person I've known who has devoted his or her life to trying to convince animals to run marathons willingly has been damaged in some way, usually as a result of some childhood trauma.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 10:58 PM
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359: My god. Please don't take offense, as I love my marathon-running friends dearly, but I had no idea there were that many crazy people in this country. Four every week? And without the animals?

And the only reason I asked about the motivation was because he was trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon with his time. Poor guy missed it by a minute.


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:00 PM
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Please don't take offense, as I love my marathon-running friends dearly, but I had no idea there were that many crazy people in this country.

There are marathon runners that take offense at being called crazy? I never realized.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:05 PM
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It's even worse! There were 6,000 marathoners at CIM on Sunday, and that's only a medium-sized race.

But I don't quite have Boston in my sights yet. For my cohort 3:10 is required, and I came in at 3:38:09. I was plenty happy though, as this was 20 min faster than my previous (and first) marathon.

CIM is known to be fast is thus a popular course for a "BQ" attempt. My sympathies to your friend.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:09 PM
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361: Every person I've known who has devoted his or her life to trying to convince animals to run marathons willingly has been damaged in some way, usually as a result of some childhood trauma being mauled by beasts.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:09 PM
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363: Indeed. A failure to recognize the foolishness of the endeavor would be evidence of a profound lack of self-awareness. Yet I already feel compelled to do it again.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:12 PM
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As for the "why" of it all, it's rather complicated, I'm afraid. Probably too much to go into here.

Because of a girl?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:18 PM
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Wow. I clearly know very little about the culture of marathon running; to be honest the marathon-running friend is one from high school - you know, when your friends were far more likely to be diverse and perhaps even grow up to be marathon-running Republicans, whereas as a somewhat fully-formed adult most of my friends are a bit lazy. Or tend more towards the extreme back country activities.

Congrats on your time, though - that seems very impressive for a second go around.


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:21 PM
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Wow. I clearly know very little about the culture of marathon running; to be honest the marathon-running friend is one from high school - you know, when your friends were far more likely to be diverse and perhaps even grow up to be marathon-running Republicans, whereas as a somewhat fully-formed adult most of my friends are a bit lazy. Or tend more towards the extreme back country activities.

Congrats on your time, though - that seems very impressive for a second go around.


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:21 PM
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Grr. Well, Otto deserves multiple congratulations, I suppose.

Because of a girl?

Or lack thereof?


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:23 PM
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366: Yet I already feel compelled to do it again.

... the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further... And one fine morning -
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:24 PM
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3:10 is required

Cripes. That's fast.

366: that's what all the cutters say.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:24 PM
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Yet I already feel compelled to do it again.

I experienced a much shorter cycle submerging myself in the Tuolumne: "This is really cold ... ok I'll just jump in ... hey, it's not so AHHHH COLD GET OUT ... actually that wasn't that cold, I'll do it again!"


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:26 PM
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that's what all the cutters say.

As they're taping their feet to the pedals.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:28 PM
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I never got up to marathons, but back when I ran and triatheleted, I'd occupy myself while plodding along by mentally composing my book, On Being a Thunder Lizard in an Age of Gazelles.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-10-08 11:33 PM
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