Buy the Book

Posted: February 12th, 2015  |  No Comments  | 

This piece from the Chronicle’s Vitae struck a nerve with me. I get that at some point college faculty likely become exasperated by the fact that there are going to be a certain percentage of students in their classrooms that are not adequately engaging the material in the various ways that students can neglect the material. And I get that humor, particularly in its snarkiest form, not only can convey the brutal ironies of situations in a colorful manner, but can be therapeutic for the writer of said snark. But after letting all of that settle in, I wonder, how does this really play out?

I picture the first (or second) generation college student who’s literally trying to be and do all things at once. They want to blend in on campus but they feel unprepared and out-of-place. They want to be grown but are woefully 18 and still have a ways to go (despite what they believe). They want to do well; they want to impress their professors and make their parents and high school teachers and counselors proud, but they don’t know what they’re doing. They also want to be cool and give the appearance to their peers, fellow first-years and upperclassmen alike, that they got this. They think that they have magically overcome all of the things they did wrong their first semester. They haven’t.

The syllabus states, as any responsible syllabus would, to get the books and come to class prepared for each session. But when that junior who took the class a few semesters ago tells you that they didn’t get any of the books, skipped a few classes, and liked a whole lot of stuff on the ‘gram most of the other times in class, that tends to cloud good intentions. Yeah, the professor said come to office hours to discuss any situations, including problems accessing the materials, but you don’t know that professor, nor do you want your business out there (the business about you being intimidated by them, the class, the entire campus, and that whole thing about you not having enough money for your ticket to get back home at the end of the semester so you definitely don’t know how you’re paying for all of your books).

Yes, there will be students with adequate funds – or well beyond – who choose not to get the books, for whatever reasons. There will be other students who get the materials and don’t read them, or don’t invest themselves enough. Sometimes it can be because, no matter how clear the syllabus may seem to the creator, the student may not fully understand how to navigate the expectations. This may factor in some challenging life circumstances or may simply be a product of not knowing how to do well in college. This could be true for a first year student just as it could be for a senior taking their first course in a particular area. We want students to challenge themselves, to grow and expand, and sometimes that comes through hard lessons and tough love. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m careful with how I dole out tough love. I typically know a student extremely well first, so that they indeed know that I care about them before I go in on their life. Otherwise, the message comes off more like a one-sided and general dismissal that fails to consider their position, their vulnerability, and quite frankly, their needs. In a climate where students are questioning whether or not they are truly wanted in or belong at their institutions, we can and should be more cautious about how we challenge them to be excellent. Because, after all, we do want them to be excellent, right? Or do we just want them to have the books because we said so?

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