Coddling goes to college

Writing In defense of the F-word in K-16 education, J. Martin Rochester, a political science professor at University of Missouri in St. Louis, shares an e-mail from a student who failed his course. It was her first F ever, she wrote.

” I complied with the paper and the two tests, and you mean to tell me I did not get anything from the class. I will appeal this because who is the failure? You are the teacher whom I relied upon to teach me about a subject matter that I had no familiarity with, so in all actuality I have been disserviced, and I do expect my money back from the course, you did not give me any warning that I was failing! You should be embarrassed to give a student an F.”

The student didn’t buy the textbook and came to class only sporadically, Rochester writes. Despite receiving an “elaborate study guide” before each exam and writing tips, she flunked the midterm and the final and earned a D on the term paper.

. . . where my student is coming from, evidently, it is no longer sufficient to hold a student by the hand. You must now literally hand them a diploma.

From kindergarten to college, the F-word (“failure”) is verboten, Rochester complains. Teachers are told that “failure is not an option.” Their never-failed students show up in college “not only lacking basic academic skills and knowledge but also the most rudimentary understanding of what it takes to become an ‘educated’ person. ”

Thus, on my campus and many others, “retention” centers are proliferating along with “early alert” warning systems designed to help students by sending them regular reminders to come to class, turn in work by the due dates, and perform other basic obligations that can be gleaned if they simply read the syllabus.

Coddling has gone to college, Rochester writes.

Professors who resist the decline in expectations face “equity” pressures — and pressure from  “cash-strapped colleges wanting to retain tuition-paying students.”

Ricki’s Special Snowflake has graduated. No more whining!


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  1. I once had a student miss most of the semester. She called the week before the final and asked how she could pass the class. I told her that I give a cumulative final, and that I’d be willing to record the grade on the final as her semester grade. She responded that she couldn’t pass the final. I asked what she wanted me to base her grade on if she had neither done the work nor learned the material. She seemed stunned.

  2. We’ve got the early warning system at my CC as well. I don’t know how effective it is, but you have to figure there’s something terribly wrong with a system that takes supposed adults and continues to treat them like incompetent children. When, exactly, are they expected to grow up? If they do manage to complete their classes, graduate, and land a job, they’ll be in for a very rude awakening if they expect their bosses to hold their hand, too.

  3. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    You should be embarrassed to give a student an F.

    “Oh, I am. I’m embarrassed that I’m working at a school that would let someone like you in. I’m embarrassed that I’m not brave enough to tell you out loud what you can do with your supposed outrage. I’m embarrassed that my generation has raised creatures like you. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t see this coming and was silly enough to let you into my office to waste me time. And finally, I’m embarrassed that I so badly misjudged my students’ abilities that when I watered down my class so that a chromosomal-deficient monkey couldn’t possibly fail it, I apparently overestimated your resolve.”

    • I’m embarrassed that I didn’t see this coming and was silly enough to let you into my office to waste me time.

      If this was only Talk Like A Pirate Day, that comment would be Threadwinner!

  4. The solution is to be frank and upfront with the student. Keep calm and be professional, but be steadfast in explaining how she has no one else but herself to blame. The key is to have an adminstration that backs up the teacher. If admin folds, then the teacher is undermined and alone. Then the teacher decides that “F’s” are more trouble than they are worth and thus the cycle continues. Yet another reason we are doomed.

    • Thankfully, my administration is good about supporting their faculty, at least in the math/science department. I’ve had students who complained when they didn’t get a “C” (needed to fulfill prerequisites), but as long as I demonstrate with grade records and grading policy as indicated in the syllabus, etc, that the student in fact got the grade that they deserved, then the dean upholds the final grade that I had assigned.

  5. How common is it for high schools to offer both? My older kids’ schools, and similar schools nearby, offered only BC. My youngest’s school, and the others in the small city, offered only AB. Are those situations unusual?

    • Sorry – I meant to post on the Honors track.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      My local public high school offers both AB and BC.

      The high school I attended 20+ years ago also offered both AB and BC.

      Broadly speaking, AB seems to be differential calculus and BC seems to be differential *and* integral calculus.

      The three quarter calculus sequence at the college I attended also included a quarter of infinite series. I can’t tell if BC does that also.

    • The OCD organizer / everything has to make logical sense, etc. part of me has to ask this question: Why don’t they just call it “Calculus I” and “Calculus II”? Or “Calculus Part 1” and “Calculus Part 2”? Or “Derivative Calculus” and “Integral Calculus”? Why the “AB” and “BC”? If nothing else, why not just call it “A” and “B”??

  6. Every school I know offers both.

  7. If coddling has become socially acceptable at the college level across the whole nation, then we’re doomed as a nation. Period.