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Treating college students like school children

? How journalists face the evolutionary test of lice |


| John Edwards has gone dark on Twitter ?

March 12, 2007

Treating college students like school children

Stephen Baker

For students to find out who they are, parents have to let go. I now hear from my son, a phd student, that he has to mark attendance for students who come to his classes. That's right, attendance. College students are being monitored. It's not enough that they have their parents on the other end of the cell phone. Now they get docked, at least in some places, if they miss a class. I'm betting that parents, terrified that they might not be getting their money's worth, are behind this.

Is that screwed up, or what? Mandatory attendance reinforces the notion that students can advance simply by showing up. Today's students will increasingly be measured and rewarded by how they perform and what they create, not whether they keep a seat warm at some meeting they'd rather skip.

06:59 PM


I can't tell you how much I disagree with an attendance policy for college students. Myself, ending my sophomore year in college soon, and others must adhere to such policies or face the dreaded consequence of being "kicked" from the class thereby not receiving any credit.

It is ludicrous to me that as an adult, who lives on his own- pays rent- pays bills- funds school- all with money earned while working part-time and going to school, to be told that if I miss more than 6 classes I will be taken off the roster. Granted it is up to the professor to adhere to this policy or not, the policy itself is put into writing by the administration. Who is to say that I won't gain as much from a few less classes attended than the student who attends all classes and plays on their laptop, cell phone, pda, mp3 player, etc. during class.

Being treated like children indeed!

Posted by: Kris Patel at March 12, 2007 10:46 PM

isn't attendance mandatory in the "adult" world too? i would love the idea of only showing up for work only when my brain is at it's best, or when i'm otherwise not doing cultural research at home watching tv or surfing the internet. i too can argue that i do a better job than my coworkers who goof off during the day. i should be allowed to show up when i want to. (the cell phones, mp3s and blackberries are another matter still here in the adult world, also about being "present") yes, there is work out there where i could work by myself and it might not matter, but i think most people work with others in some form or other. i work in a collaborative environment with people that expect me to be present. if i can't master the basic skill of being where i've promised to be, my genius is no good to the team. i don't think that makes me a child.

Posted by: schadenfreudisch at March 13, 2007 10:43 AM

Schaden, I agree that attendance is important for team activities, and perhaps for small discussion groups and labs. But not for the lectures. The great thing about university is that it's the one time in life when people are free to pursue their educations in a frankly selfish way. We should let them pick and choose.

When I was a student in Spain many years ago, I had the most incredibly boring history class. The professor just sat up there and read from our book. I would have dropped the course, but I was a history major and I needed it. The next room over was a Latin American lit class, where people were reading Garcia Marquez, Borges, Fuentes, and a host of other really exciting writers. I couldn't take that course, because I had to be in history. Than I realized that I was free to skip the history, audit the Latin American lit, and do the reading for both. I could take control of my own education. It gave me a sense of freedom and self-determination--one I wouldn't have if the history prof had insisted on taking attendance.

Many of those Latin American books are still sitting in privileged places on my book shelves.

Posted by: steve baker at March 13, 2007 01:59 PM

I just posted on the topic of helicopter parents in college after reading an amazing piece in Duke Magazine (my alma mater):

Posted by: Bob G at March 18, 2007 08:57 PM

It seems to me that people's views depend on what they think students are doing with their time when not in lectures.

Schadenfreudisch thinks students skip lectures to watch TV, and thinks attendance is good; Baker thinks they skip lectures to learn about important works of literature.

When I was in college, I knew three people who skipped a lot of lectures because they were starting their own business - nonetheless all three of them graduated with good results.

I, too, skipped lectures. In one instance I was working in a lab, got engrossed in what I was doing, and completely forgot the lecture. Another lecture I missed as I was going to a relative's funeral.

On the other hand, my peer group contained fairly smart people, and was not a stratified sample of a real student population. It's possible my friends and I were an exception, and most people who skipped lectures were nursing hangovers and sleeping late.

I guess the questions are: (1) what is the ratio of people skipping due to lazyness to people skipping to do something non-lazy, and (2) Would it be wise to penalise a small number of non-lazy people to punish a larger lazy group?

Posted by: Miiiii at March 19, 2007 05:42 AM

you've almost convinced me, but not quite. i reread that your son is a phd candidate. oh, but he's teaching the class. well, i have taught a few studio classes in the past and i had to set some rules. like attendance being mandatory (or at least important). but i also tried to teach them that rules are made to be broken. so late in the semester when they got together and told me they wanted to cancel a class, i was touched. i am of the opinion that you have to master the rules before you can break them. you figured that out in spain. the karate kid figured it out. your son may end up complicit in breaking a few rules too.

Posted by: schadenfreudisch at March 19, 2007 11:23 AM

Taking attendance is good. It lets students know that a large part of success depends on showing up.Most students really can't do well without attending and in the public colleges, you and I as taxpayers are paying for them.So insist on attendance.

If they don't want to attend, let them take an online course.

Posted by: Prof. J. Garcia at April 2, 2007 01:15 PM

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