Monday, April 27, 2015

Failure fail

In my last semester as an undergraduate, I took a required media law course for the third time (I had made a D the first two times at the hands of a particularly tough professor, despite rigorous studying and liking the guy, and I needed a C or better for it to count). This time, I took it with a different instructor — an adjunct who was a practicing attorney in New Orleans and a had been a teacher at Harvard. 

He insisted on calling everyone by a title and last name (so I was "Mr. McGibboney") and also encouraged us to address each other this way. (This led to a weird and funny finals cramming session where nobody knew anyone else's first names.) His M.O. was to start class with a random question — "Mr. McGibboney, what is a precedent?" — and pepper his lectures with similar questions throughout the session. I sat in the middle of the front row, paid attention, enjoyed the class, made good grades on assignments and tests and was called on almost daily.

That last part wound up saving my skin.

Shortly after the semester ended (with B firmly in hand), I randomly met the mother of one of my classmates. That classmate was a friend and I knew she had worked diligently to earn a good grade. But the instructor had failed her (or had given her a D, with identical implications). When the girl asked why, he allegedly had sent her a terse email saying he didn't remember her. The mom also told me that this exchange apparently happened with many of the students.

That's when I realized how lucky I'd been — the instructor, who drove nearly all of the discussion and input, generally favored a handful of students when soliciting answers, and I was one of them. And I had suspected that he chose people for his questions based on, among other things, memorable last names. (There were few opportunities for open discussion.)

But I shouldn't have needed to be lucky. I shouldn't have been at risk of staying in school an extra semester over one class because the teacher passed or flunked based on some arbitrary factor. I hope everyone who got cheated appealed; I don't know how that went down. (I do know the instructor died just three months later after a freak illness.)

College grading can involve lots of politics. Because every class is different, and because people prove their mastery in different ways, there has to be a certain degree of leeway in determining who deserves a passing grade. The downside to this is that some instructors flunk students who should pass just because they can.

A lot of people are cheering the professor mentioned in the linked article because he really stuck it to the entitled generation or whatever. But if even one student he failed didn't have it coming (the professor said "a few" hadn't), then he deserves no praise. What lesson are the good students learning, exactly? That working hard and following the rules mean nothing if there are bad apples? That's some Full Metal Jacket stuff right there, minus the camaraderie.

Many college students do grovel for good grades, appeal to their parents, etc., seeking an out after not doing the course material. That is genuinely insulting to good students and deserves all the resistance.  Sticking it to them despite pressures is admirable. Punishing diligent students is not.

I wouldn't call this professor "psycho" as Gawker does, but neither is he a hero.

A handwritten blog


Reminded of me of two things I've been told:

1) That neat handwriting (typically meaning legible print) is unprofessional.
2) That creative people are, by definition, extraordinarily messy.

I scoff at both of those, because they're way too absolute. Personally, I have what I think is fairly neat handwriting, and I prefer organization to clutter. (I'm assuming that I am somewhat intelligent and creative despite such, so play along with that.)

Having handwriting that rivals the busiest doctor's and keeping a workspace straight out of Hoarders aren't gauges of intelligence any more than owning a typewriter and having a beard make someone Ernest Hemingway. It's the work that matters.

The rest of this blog is handwritten for your edification.

Though, to be fair, I find this messy.

Friday, April 24, 2015

All the lonely people, where do they all go so soon?

After suffering a severe concussion many years ago, I heard a friend tell my mom in the ER:

"He doesn't drink or smoke pot, and he killed all his brain cells anyway."

Apparently, this is how life is. If you're lonely, your health suffers worse than if you have severe health problems. If you don't have pets or children, you die earlier. If your life isn't a never-ending parade of hugs and love and mobs of social mobbery, you will not last long on this cold, cruel Earth.

Which leaves the prospect that you can work out, abstain from cigarettes and other vices and still kill yourself through lone-besity and antisocial smoking. Even if it's largely beyond your control and you're not so unhappy about it.


I understand as well as anyone the crippling effect of loneliness (which isn't necessarily a function of place or lack of support). It messes with your head in sometimes very subtle ways. You may feel the need to reach out to your fellow human, but you also trust strangers less. You may seek out those with whom you share interests, but not bond with them. You want a break from your personal routine, but you tolerate others' quirks less and less. Possibly worst of all, you do lash out more (whether alone or with others) than you might if you felt more like part of society. You get caught up more in your own thoughts and criticisms, which can be mentally destructive if there isn't anyone around to check them.  If your circumstances don't easily allow for you to attend events or meet anyone, that can lead to a lingering depression. It's not a stretch to see how all that could lead to a shorter lifespan.

On the other hand, not everyone can easily obtain, or is cut out for, the kind of life that supposedly keeps people alive longer. Who's to say that handling a brood of children and creatures wouldn't drop me into the ground? To quote Ned Ryerson, "It's all just a big crapshoot anyhoo."

I know what's shortening my lifespan — reading about all the ways being yourself kills you.