Would I Have Done This? Would You?

Y’know, sometimes I look at what my students do, often out of simple self-defense in a world fraught with absurd bureaucratic demands, and wonder if I would have done the same thing as a freshman.

Would I refuse to buy the textbook for a college course I was paying to take? If I did buy it, would I refuse to read it? Would I turn in a paper that was copied whole cloth from the Internet (or, in my day, from a magazine or book)? Would I beg for an exception from the no-late-papers rule because I had a full-time job and was taking 18 credits? Would I need to be taught how to acknowledge a source in-text?

Well, off-hand the answers would be No, Probably not, No, Not a chance, and No.

BUT…on reflection…

The truth is, there’s really no comparison between today’s student’s experience and my college experience a half-century ago.

In the first place, I did not take English 101 and 102, the two-semester iteration of the high-school English that apparently does not “take” for most Arizona kids. I didn’t go to school in Arizona, thank all the Gods and Goddesses that be: California schools, even the lesser schools of southern California where my parents moved after three years in San Francisco, went so far as to teach basic literacy and basic expository writing. My SAT scores got me into a one-semester substitute for the advanced dumbbell English most students had to take, and that was a course in modern literature — it wasn’t a composition course at all. So it should be noted that there really was no comparison. With that in mind, let us consider:

Would I refuse to buy the textbook for a college course I was paying to take?

No, certainly not. In the first place textbook publishers did not gouge students upwards of $80 for what really are nothing more than $20 trade paperbacks. So buying a semester’s textbooks did not mean I’d have to skip paying the rent that month.

And in the second place, it never even occurred to me not to buy a required textbook — or even one of the optional texts. Of course you bought the text. What would be the point of taking the course at all if you didn’t buy the books?

I remember being absolutely shocked when a third-year student bragged, in the moments before a particularly boring history class convened, that he  hadn’t bought the course textbook and that in fact he had never purchased a textbook for any class in his major, and he had a B+/A– average.

Tellingly, he was an education major.

Speaking of that history course…

Would I refuse to read a textbook that I’d bought?

That history course was taught by a dry, monotone professor who required a heavy, thick, equally dry and monotone textbook. It’s hard to make history boring, but this guy did it. That book was the most tedious piece of published anything I’ve ever read this side of a journal article in higher mathematics.  It was almost unreadable.

I didn’t refuse to read it — I tried to read it. But if he’d sat me down and asked me what I’d read, he’d probably have concluded the answer was “nothing.”

These comp textbooks are similarly boring and tendentious. They’re excruciating to read, and I know the subject matter. No. I live the subject matter. And I find them perfectly awful.

I would not have read it because, at the age of 17, when I entered college, I knew all this stuff. I had been writing sourced (i.e., cited and documented) expository papers since the seventh grade. By the time I left high school, a textbook like the ones we require for today’s freshman comp courses would have nothing to offer me. I certainly could have passed a 2015 freshman comp course without ever looking at the text.

Being the little doobie that I was, I probably would have looked at assigned readings. But I wouldn’t have studied them carefully, because I would have considered it a waste of time.

However…it must be remembered that for today’s students, the material is not a waste of time. Many, many high-school graduates entering your comp courses will tell you that they have never written any researched paper in all the 13 years they spent in Arizona’s K-12 schools! Some will tell you they’ve never written a piece of exposition at all. Any piece of exposition, like “what I did on my summer vacation.” They do not know how to find research sources. They do not know how to distinguish, in terms of credibility, between something they read on Faux News and something on the same subject that emanated from the New England Journal of Medicine. They cannot recognize when they’re indulging in a fallacy. Some of them don’t know what the word “fallacy” means. As many as a quarter of them do not write in coherent paragraphs — they can’t organize their thinking in rational blocks of copy.  About a third to a half habitually write in fragments and fused sentences.

Although the average American high-school kid did not score in the 99th percentile on the SAT’s verbal section, nevertheless a good 80 percent of them were capable of writing a coherent paper without a lot of basic grammar and logical thinking errors.

So: not a fair comparison. Quite.

Would I turn in a paper that was copied whole cloth from the Internet (or, in my day, from a magazine or book)?

No. I was too scared to pull a stunt like that. Nor did I need to: I knew how to find information and how to synthesize it from several sources into a single coherent argument. I left high school knowing how to do that — it was as natural as breathing.

Over the decades, a sea change in attitudes toward honesty has taken place. People in general — including young people — have discovered that it’s very easy to get away with things. Keep a straight face and no one is likely to question you, first because most people are too busy to be bothered and second because few instructors want to go through the hassle of flunking you out of their course for plagiarizing.

That’s a function, I think, of the number of bureaucratic rules that now afflict us all. We have restraints and demands coming at us from all directions. And one of the things people have figured out is that nothing much happens if you quietly neglect to obey. Or that the chances that you’ll be caught out and hassled are relatively low.

I knew a young woman who indulged in a fair amount of insurance fraud. She’d become expert in navigating insurance claims and would even offer to help her friends maximize collections. A couple of times, her scams were pretty damned transparent. But you know what happened? Nothing. She collected. She got not one but two houses completely rebuilt (questionable whether the fire that burned down the second house was actually a fraud or a genuine attempt on the part of her psychotic husband to murder her — probably the latter, IMHO, but that was never proven). Neither of these people — the crooked wife or the equally unethical demented husband — have ever had to account for their scams in any meaningful way.

Young people aren’t fools. Students can see this stuff going on. And when they attempt their own small frauds, they learn the same thing: getting caught is a very, very long shot.

If I’d been functioning in this environment, who knows what I would have done? It’s a different social ethic altogether.

Would I beg for an exception from the no-late-papers rule because I had a full-time job and was taking 18 credits?

Never would’ve entered my mind. You did not challenge your teachers. Or your parents. Or a cop. Or a principal. Or the IRS dude. Or anyone else.

The kid who asked to turn in a major paper three days late did so not once but twice — she actually came back after I said “no” and tried to change my mind.

But once again one has to ask: is there really a comparison here?

Except for reading texts to a blind student once or twice a week, I didn’t hold a job during the entire four years of my undergraduate training. People didn’t. No one expected kids to go to school full-time and also go to work. For a student, your job was to study. That’s what you did. You didn’t go out and sell furniture or wait tables. The very idea would have been frowned upon.

And sign up for 18 credits? Are you kidding? Sixteen units was considered a heavy load. I doubt if the university would have allowed me to take 18 credit hours in a single semester. I would have had to get some kind of special permission to pull it off, and you can bet that if an adviser had a clue that I was working on the side, no such permission would have been forthcoming.

Tuition at public universities was almost free. Families did not have to damn near bankrupt themselves to send a kid to college, and students were not saddled with a lifetime of debt to get a degree that is now considered indispensable for white-collar employment.

Blue-collar jobs that would support a family existed in those days, so a college degree wasn’t regarded as non-negotiable for entrée to the middle class. For that matter, the middle class still existed, too…

So again, there’s really no comparison. College kids were not subjected to unreasonable demands or exploited mercilessly. They didn’t have to work as wage slaves while they were trying to take classes, and so they didn’t have to beg dispensation to turn in assignments late. And instructors were full-time faculty on the tenure track, not wretched part-timers juggling two, three, or four mini-gigs to put food on the table. So they could afford to fit an occasional late paper into their workload.

Would I need to be taught how to acknowledge a source in-text?

Sure. We used footnotes back in the Dark Ages.

But the principle driving the practice was the same. And I’d been using footnotes since the seventh grade. No one needed to take my little hand and sit me down and explain to me what sources to cite, when, where, or why. Today’s  poor little things haven’t a clue.

How’z about you? Would you refuse to buy the textbook for a college course you were paying to take? If you did buy it, would you refuse to read it? Would you turn in a paper that was copied whole cloth from the Internet (or from a magazine or book)? Would you beg for an exception from the no-late-papers rule because you had a full-time job and were taking 18 credits? Would you need to be taught how to acknowledge a source in-text?

19 thoughts on “Would I Have Done This? Would You?”

  1. Funny About Money

    I believe that you have become hypercritical of and a bit naive about your students. I wish I could do a line-by-line rebuttal of some of your comments.
    You and I have been Funny-About-Money friends for a while now and I agree and laugh with you most of the time. Because I am a not-quite-as-old a fuddy duddy as you are, I, too, was appalled at what I saw, frequently, when I taught high school and full-time (residential) at GCC.

    The high schools that fed into GCC were among the high schools in the district for which I taught (Glendale Union High School District), so when I had students from those schools telling me they never wrote an expository paper or a research paper, I knew better. I know the English teachers at these schools, I know the assessments the students must take every year, and I know the curriculum, and I have taught for 28 years in Arizona public schools (GUHSD). It is a bald-faced lie.
    They write a lot (and often) and they are being asked to write more and more (not sure I agree with that, the lover of literature I am). I cannot believe that the curriculum of the GUHSD is so superior to all the other districts in Phoenix. They write all types of essays and write at least two to three research papers (maybe more) during their high school years. These research papers are fully documented after a very intensive program of the research process and citation methods. When I taught high school, I blamed the elementary school teachers for students’ lack of basic writing and grammar skills. However, many of my friends were elementary school teachers and they showed me their curriculum and some showed me their lesson plans. They reminded me of my education in upstate New York at a parochial grade school run by nuns and an all-girls’, uniforms included, Catholic high school run by the Sisters of Mercy. Both were very strict, taught the essentials (and then some), and gave me an exceptional, though expensive, education. So I do not believe that high school teachers in Arizona have dropped the ball. However, I believe I can write because I read constantly–all types of books–and there is where the cause of poor writers lies. Students of today do not read much more than text messages (even email is becoming an unconventional communication tool). Education cannot be the scapegoat for every problem.

    My husband was also educated in a parochial elementary school and an all-boys high school run by brothers, Chaminade High School. He, too, received an excellent college prep education.

    My three childre, on the other hand, were educated in Arizona public schools K-12 and were avid readers. All three graduated from ASU with full rides for all four years. Two were National Merit Scholars, one was a recipient of the ASU Merit Scholarship (full-ride for all four years), all graduated in four years, and all are happy and successful. Scholarship offers for college, all academic scholarships, totaled more than half a million dollars for all three and came from a number of schools, including eastern ivy leagues, Stanford, Notre Dame, Duke, and others. I speak of this as a proud mother, yes, but mainly to illustrate that an education is as good as the teacher you have that year and the willingness of the student to learn, regardless of whether it’s in southern California, New York or Arizona.
    When you spoke of textbook prices, why not speak of highest rather than lowest (upwards of 80 dollars). One of my student’s Biology books, including Internet materials, was over 300 dollars( and she told me that her other books ran in the 100s). This was for a community college class. I taught as a residential faculty member at GCC for years and at ASU West as adjunct for multiple semesters and I had very few students not buy a textbook. When I found any that hadn’t, I spoke with them personally. Within two weeks, all my students have their textbooks. I questioned a number of them about whey they didn’t and though financial need was a reason, another was they were waiting to see if I really used it in assignments and class. Many of their instructors never used the assigned text nor did they assign readings or work from it. Some tested only on their lecture materials and not anything from supplemental readings assigned from the textbook.

    Today’s students were raised in a world in which teaching and learning is not respected. Parents are more likely to agree with their child than the teacher if there is ever a problem. Teachers are not respected and public school teachers can no longer teach what they think is important, rather they teach what governmental officials and school boards and parents think is important. The teachers you and I had (I presume you’re 70 and know that I am 67) were not governed the same way nor were they trained like the teachers of today are. So many theories, so little practical training. If a nun at any of the schools I attended said anything to my mother about my grades, behavior, or attitude, my mother believed the nun and took swift action. That does not happen that much anymore–trust me. The relationship between student and teacher, because of the disrespect of teachers by society in general, motivations of parents to interfere, and, as you brought up, “social ethics”, is very different.
    I agree with most of everything else you said (I had three 18-hour semesters, though, and managed fine). I do agree that times have changed. Once, I would’ve thought that the person saying that was just too old to change, but I really do see it. Any teacher who says kids are kids, never taught in the old days when students really were respected and looked to as authority figures that could influence students’ lives. Today, I’m afraid, teachers have more responsibilities than merely teaching. I was a counselor, a parent, sometimes a nurse, often a confidante to my high school students because I had to be–I would’ve chosen a profession in any of those fields if I wanted to be a counselor or nurse.
    I retired from GCC when I got sick of minority students using the minority card time and time again. Although my administrators and English department chair always stood behind me, my standards were too high and my energy in fighting these battles was too low. It was time to go.
    Ten years with McGraw-Hill and I eventually got sick of working for people who knew less than I did about what I was doing, yet they had so much to tell me about how to do it.
    I wrote this not as a rebuttal. I hope I did change your mind about a few things–especially about your idea that when a student tells you he or she didn’t write in high school.
    As someone who was a student had exclusive schools in NY who was married to a guy who is well-educated, a mother of three successful public-school-going kids, a high school teacher, a residential community college faculty member, and an ASU adjunct instructor, I felt there was information you might need to have.
    Casey Furlong

    The teachers of today are boxed in by local standards, state standards, and CORE standards. I remember my first two years of high school teaching–we had no curriculum; I could teach anything I wanted from the TEXTBOOK or develop my own materials. I don’t think the teachers of today, trained as they are in current education programs, could make good decisions about curriculum in today’s classroom.

    Regarding your parenthetical comment about the education major: Education majors, by the way (I was an English major), take all the same required classes as any other college graduate. Therefore, the student you recalled bragging about never buying a textbook and having a B+/A- average was either lying or was a very bright student who had teachers who tested only on class lecture information. My guess is the former. You often use anecdotal evidence to prove a point–that’s okay, I guess, as long as you understand that it really doesn’t. I think that sometimes you are merely naive and you tend to believe anything a student tells you (I never had to write, I never bought a textbook . . .)

    • Wow! It’s a magnum opus! 🙂 Let’s see if we can make WordPress let us do some back & forth here.

      The high schools that fed into GCC were among the high schools in the district for which I taught (Glendale Union High School District), so when I had students from those schools telling me they never wrote an expository paper or a research paper, I knew better. I know the English teachers at these schools, I know the assessments the students must take every year, and I know the curriculum, and I have taught for 28 years in Arizona public schools (GUHSD). It is a bald-faced lie.

      While you’re certainly right that we can’t believe everything a student says, why would they lie about this? Why would so MANY of them lie?

      The first time a kid told me this, I was a TA at ASU; I was teaching what was then labeled Eng. 104, the one-semester advanced freshman comp course. Don’t know if they still have that one: students who scored high enough on the SAT were enrolled in Eng. 104 instead of 101/102, and the 104 course taught the academic research paper. This was SO far back in prehistory that MLA was still using footnotes, so I was blithely blathering on about the same. One young woman raised her hand and asked, altogether without irony, “What’s a footnote?”

      Yipe! So I had to backtrack a bit and explain what footnotes were and how you could use them.

      After class, she came up to me and said “I’m sorry if I asked a stupid question.” She was a VERY bright person, very lively and an absurdly conscientious student. I said, emitting the “no such thing as a stupid question” cliche, “If you needed to ask that question, it meant five or ten other people in the room did, too, but were afraid to ask.” Gaining confidence, she then said she’d never written a research paper.

      I was astonished. I asked her how she could have taken all-AP courses and graduated with honors (as she did) without writing any research papers. She said in her AP English courses, she wrote journals, short stories, and poems, and that none of her other courses required sourced papers.

      She had no problem learning the stuff. But she insisted the techniques were new to her.

      I cannot believe that the curriculum of the GUHSD is so superior to all the other districts in Phoenix. They write all types of essays and write at least two to three research papers (maybe more) during their high school years. These research papers are fully documented after a very intensive program of the research process and citation methods.

      I’m glad to hear this, and I sincerely do hope it remains true. I wonder if it depends on the demographic. Is this happening in lower SES schools as well as those that are fed by the middle class and by the area around Arrowhead, which at one time had the highest per-capita number of millionaires in the state? My experience has suggested that, at the college level, an important predictor of need for remediation is SES — Heavenly Gardens has quite a few young men and women who come from lower-income families. But often students from middle-income backgrounds either aren’t working at full capacity (!) or in fact are lacking in skills and educational experience.

      So I do not believe that high school teachers in Arizona have dropped the ball. However, I believe I can write because I read constantly–all types of books–and there is where the cause of poor writers lies. Students of today do not read much more than text messages (even email is becoming an unconventional communication tool). Education cannot be the scapegoat for every problem.

      True. I do not believe for a minute that you can blame teachers for the difficulties this particular set of students are experiencing. Too many other factors are at work. One of them, in Arizona, is woeful underfunding of schools. When you have 100 to 200 students coming into your classrooms every day, there’s no way you can give them the individual attention and training they need to learn what complex skills in reading and writing.

      Another, as you observe, is based in the large social and intellectual shifts that have changed the landscape for young people. Yes, short-form messaging and information gathering have replaced forms of communication that required more attention and more patience to accomplish. That certainly changes the individual’s expectations and her or his ability to perform in an academic environment. Does it suggest “learning” has fallen behind the times, or that the times have caused our young people to fall behind the demands of sophisticated thinking and learning? I don’t know. We may be asking them to do things that they cannot and should not be expected to do, given their present environment.

      Teachers are not respected and public school teachers can no longer teach what they think is important, rather they teach what governmental officials and school boards and parents think is important.

      I’m afraid that NO ONE is respected much anymore. Teachers are certainly not treated as professionals. Public opinion and valuation of people who do teach is reflected in teachers’ pay. In America’s culture, we express the degree to which we value people by the salary we pay them. My salary (for example) comes to less than minimum wage by the time you figure in course prep time, grading time, and the unpaid faculty meetings and training sessions I’m asked to attend. By the hour, I could in theory earn more working at Walmart. That should (and, I argue, DOES) tell you something.

      But consider a police officer — just for example. Consider the outrage with which an officer’s attempts to enforce speeding laws or drunk driving laws is greeted. Consider how much police officers earn and how vociferously the public wants to eliminate pension systems for the men and women who risk their lives to keep the peace on our roads and in our neighborhoods.

      These are only two f’r-instances of trades whose members enjoy little or no respect. The attitude is widespread, and it applies to any number of categories, from journalists and politicians to doctors and priests. About the only bunch who get any respect seems to be professional athletes — and there, too, their social value is measured by their pay rate.

      My three children, on the other hand, were educated in Arizona public schools K-12 and were avid readers. All three graduated from ASU with full rides for all four years. Two were National Merit Scholars, one was a recipient of the ASU Merit Scholarship (full-ride for all four years), all graduated in four years, and all are happy and successful. Scholarship offers for college, all academic scholarships, totaled more than half a million dollars for all three and came from a number of schools, including eastern ivy leagues, Stanford, Notre Dame, Duke, and others. I speak of this as a proud mother, yes, but mainly to illustrate that an education is as good as the teacher you have that year and the willingness of the student to learn, regardless of whether it’s in southern California, New York or Arizona.

      This is another issue I should have dragged into the mix — and it’s one of my favorite hobbyhorses. Videlicet: A child’s education is only as good as his or her parent’s involvement in that education. I think we all know this. But…here, too, we undervalue a key part in the equation, to the enormous disadvantage of our children. I would suggest that it’s difficult, and for many couples impossible, for parents to become fully engaged in their child’s education when both of them have to work full-time to keep a roof over the family’s head.

      One of the huge changes that has occurred since I was learning to write research papers in a California seventh-grade classroom is that mothers have had to go to work. Fathers have never stopped having to go to work. And one of the job descriptions that has always been undervalued is “mother.” We relegate our kids to all-day institutionalization, and then we’re surprised because they don’t read, write, do math, and think critically with the skill of generations who were raised with a parent in the home. What’s wrong with that picture?

      One could speculate that this aspect of the issue is a function of the demise of the middle class. I doubt it, though; my colleagues have been bellyaching about freshman competencies since the late 1960s, when I came on the academic scene — and in fact, I’d venture that my students’ skills today are better than they were during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

      When you spoke of textbook prices, why not speak of highest rather than lowest (upwards of 80 dollars). One of my student’s Biology books, including Internet materials, was over 300 dollars( and she told me that her other books ran in the 100s).

      Yup. When I said upwards, I meant to cite that as the LOW end. Textbook prices are obscene, simply inexcusable. And many of textbooks now are tied to websites that present testing and other pedagogical material in such a way that you can’t get into the site without a code that comes with a NEW textbook. When we speak of exploitation of students, we do not exaggerate.

      (I had three 18-hour semesters, though, and managed fine). But were you also working 40 hours a week? This kid claimed (n.b.) to have put in 39 hours during the week she was trying to beg off turning in a paper on time.

      Of course, we have no way of proving or disproving that. But let’s assume it’s true. For. heaven’s. SAKE! No matter how much I dumb down my course, I can’t even begin to imagine how a young person could come home after an eight- or ten-hour day, dig up a half-dozen credible sources, plow her way through them, take intelligible notes, organize and synthesize the data, and use them to build a convincing causal analysis (the assignment in question). Something is terribly wrong when we expect kids to go to school full-time and work full-time and pay for the privilege of doing so.

      Regarding your parenthetical comment about the education major: Education majors, by the way (I was an English major), take all the same required classes as any other college graduate. Therefore, the student you recalled bragging about never buying a textbook and having a B+/A- average was either lying or was a very bright student who had teachers who tested only on class lecture information. My guess is the former.

      This incident occurred at the University of Arizona during the 1960s. My roommate chose to major in education, because, said she, “it’s the easiest major.” The guy in question was not the brightest rhinestone on the cowboy vest, and I kind of doubt he was lying.

      My boyfriend finished a bachelor’s degree in public administration during this period, a year before I graduated. At that time, it was still possible to stay out of Vietnam by remaining enrolled in college, and it was very much in one’s interest to stay out of Vietnam. So he he cooked up the idea of pursuing a master’s degree in elementary education. This would, he proposed, have two advantages: it would keep him out of the draft and it would make him employable. He figured that with the bachelor’s in public administration, it would set him up to become a school principal; in those days as in ours, school administrators earned significantly more than teachers did.

      The first semester Paul was in the master’s of elementary ed program, he signed up for a required course: bulletin-board making.

      It was exactly as its title suggests: how to put colored pieces of paper on cork bulletin boards. He did quite well in it.

      Yes. The man got THREE UNITS OF GRADUATE CREDIT for STICKING PIECES OF COLORED PAPER ON BULLETIN BOARDS.

      So yeah. I personally lean toward believing the guy who said he never bought a textbook for any of his COE courses…

      Again, though: look at how people are valued, when they go into primary and secondary education. When I was teaching at ASU West in the early 2000s, SDXB wanted to leave the Valley. He was always saying we should go here, we should go there, we should go the other place. I was willing to move to Prescott, a nice little burg that’s a pleasant place to live and that provides the outdoorsy lifestyle SDXB favored.

      However, university and college jobs are, as we know, not easy to come by. I could not afford to take on some adjunct position — I needed a full-time job, preferably on the tenure track. Prescott has a junior college (any time an opening is advertised, as many as 300 qualified applicants surface — and that doesn’t count the truck drivers) and Embry-Riddle, a proprietary school that teaches people to fly airplanes.

      By way of trying to get us to Prescott, I looked into getting a teaching certificate, which would allow me to get work just about anyplace in the state. To do so I would have to

      a) take three undergraduate courses that I happened to be teaching at the time — the fact that I TAUGHT THE DAMN COURSES did not change the fact that I would have to accrue credit for them from some other faculty member;

      b) take a year’s worth of education courses.

      c) spend an unpaid semester as a student teacher; and

      d) accept starting pay of less than $24,000.

      That 24 grand, a little more than half of what I was earning at ASUW, was ONLY for jobs in the Phoenix area. In the outlying towns, I was told, pay was significantly less.

      Think of that. I should go to school for a year, work for free for another semester, and then get a job for something between $18,000 and $24,000? Really????

      I retired from GCC when I got sick of minority students using the minority card time and time again. Although my administrators and English department chair always stood behind me, my standards were too high and my energy in fighting these battles was too low. It was time to go.

      The burnout rate for teaching at any level is startling. And K-12 instructors are expected to put up with a nonstop torrent of bureaucratic BS.

      My empathy tends to be with minority students, since most of them come from low SES backgrounds and so many do have a long uphill climb to the middle class. However, that’s not an excuse for hiring discrimination and for other forms of rule-bending that work against classmates (and employees…) of any description. Two wrongs have yet to make a right. ALL of our young people deserve and must have every opportunity to succeed…but they’ve got to reach out and grab the brass ring. As much as we want them to have it, can’t just hand it to them.

  2. I admit that some of the assigned reading for my undergrad and graduate classes was dry and uninteresting, I never skipped buying the textbooks or reading (well, at least scanning) the assignments. I never, ever tried to plagiarize work,. I remember being personally enraged and discouraged when I found someone blatantly cheating and the professor declined to fail the person. I was a TA for that class and had to walk the room with the other TAs to proctor the exam. This cheater was copying from an exam given a few years earlier that happened to use one of the same essay questions. Professor thought it would be better to just give the person a D. !!!???!!! That’s another reason I knew I wasn’t suited to be continue my graduate studies at that school.

    I actually have a bit of the opposite problem. I just don’t know when to give up my undergraduate and graduate textbooks. I finally got rid of most of the undergraduate ones before packing up and moving across the country, but I still have some of my graduate school books. I likely won’t need Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Second Edition ever again, so why am I hanging on to it? Also, is there any reason for me to keep the 6th edition of Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations? What does one do with out of date textbooks?

    • LOL! But the things are so DECORATIVE! What would you fill up the living-room wall with if you got rid of all your beloved ancient textbooks?

      And who knows…maybe someday they’ll be collector’s items and your kids will be able to sell them for enough to send their kids to e-college. 🙂

      One of the surprises you encounter when you join a university faculty is that many of your colleagues are not especially bothered by plagiarism. When the liberal arts faculty proposed, in the faculty senate, that ASUW institute a campus-wide rule discouraging plagiarism and making it potential grounds for suspension, faculty in other colleges shouted them down, arguing that plagiarism just wasn’t that big a deal.

      And some faculty don’t want to deal with the hassles involved in failing a student, especially if the student (and his parents, and his lawyer) come back to the chair or the dean with a challenge. In the first place, if for ANY reason you give a student an F, you’re likely to have him or her resurface in your class in a subsequent semester, something that does nothing to make your job fun. And in the second place, being put on the defensive by an aggressive student, by enraged parents, or by an ass-covering dean does nothing to enhance your job satisfaction.

      Once burned, twice shy — chances are you were seeing the result of some earlier experience with cheating students.

  3. Funny About Money

    I believe that you have become hypercritical of and a bit naive about your students. I wish I could do a line-by-line rebuttal of some of your comments.
    You and I have been Funny-About-Money friends for a while now and I agree and laugh with you most of the time. Because I am a not-quite-as-old a fuddy duddy as you are, I, too, was appalled at what I saw, frequently, when I taught high school and full-time (residential) at GCC.

    The high schools that fed into GCC were among the high schools in the district for which I taught (Glendale Union High School District), so when I had students from those schools telling me they never wrote an expository paper or a research paper, I knew better. I know the English teachers at these schools, I know the assessments the students must take every year, and I know the curriculum, and I have taught for 28 years in Arizona public schools (GUHSD). It is a bald-faced lie.
    They write a lot (and often) and they are being asked to write more and more (not sure I agree with that, the lover of literature I am). I cannot believe that the curriculum of the GUHSD is so superior to all the other districts in Phoenix. They write all types of essays and write at least two to three research papers (maybe more) during their high school years. These research papers are fully documented after a very intensive program of the research process and citation methods. When I taught high school, I blamed the elementary school teachers for students’ lack of basic writing and grammar skills. However, many of my friends were elementary school teachers and they showed me their curriculum and some showed me their lesson plans. They reminded me of my education in upstate New York at a parochial grade school run by nuns and an all-girls’, uniforms included, Catholic high school run by the Sisters of Mercy. Both were very strict, taught the essentials (and then some), and gave me an exceptional, though expensive, education. So I do not believe that high school teachers in Arizona have dropped the ball. However, I believe I can write because I read constantly–all types of books–and there is where the cause of poor writers lies. Students of today do not read much more than text messages (even email is becoming an unconventional communication tool). Education cannot be the scapegoat for every problem.

    My husband was also educated in a parochial elementary school and an all-boys high school run by brothers, Chaminade High School. He, too, received an excellent college prep education.

    My three childre, on the other hand, were educated in Arizona public schools K-12 and were avid readers. All three graduated from ASU with full rides for all four years. Two were National Merit Scholars, one was a recipient of the ASU Merit Scholarship (full-ride for all four years), all graduated in four years, and all are happy and successful. Scholarship offers for college, all academic scholarships, totaled more than half a million dollars for all three and came from a number of schools, including eastern ivy leagues, Stanford, Notre Dame, Duke, and others. I speak of this as a proud mother, yes, but mainly to illustrate that an education is as good as the teacher you have that year and the willingness of the student to learn, regardless of whether it’s in southern California, New York or Arizona.
    When you spoke of textbook prices, why not speak of highest rather than lowest (upwards of 80 dollars). One of my student’s Biology books, including Internet materials, was over 300 dollars( and she told me that her other books ran in the 100s). This was for a community college class. I taught as a residential faculty member at GCC for years and at ASU West as adjunct for multiple semesters and I had very few students not buy a textbook. When I found any that hadn’t, I spoke with them personally. Within two weeks, all my students have their textbooks. I questioned a number of them about whey they didn’t and though financial need was a reason, another was they were waiting to see if I really used it in assignments and class. Many of their instructors never used the assigned text nor did they assign readings or work from it. Some tested only on their lecture materials and not anything from supplemental readings assigned from the textbook.

    Today’s students were raised in a world in which teaching and learning is not respected. Parents are more likely to agree with their child than the teacher if there is ever a problem. Teachers are not respected and public school teachers can no longer teach what they think is important, rather they teach what governmental officials and school boards and parents think is important. The teachers you and I had (I presume you’re 70 and know that I am 67) were not governed the same way nor were they trained like the teachers of today are. So many theories, so little practical training. If a nun at any of the schools I attended said anything to my mother about my grades, behavior, or attitude, my mother believed the nun and took swift action. That does not happen that much anymore–trust me. The relationship between student and teacher, because of the disrespect of teachers by society in general, motivations of parents to interfere, and, as you brought up, “social ethics”, is very different.
    I agree with most of everything else you said (I had three 18-hour semesters, though, and managed fine). I do agree that times have changed. Once, I would’ve thought that the person saying that was just too old to change, but I really do see it. Any teacher who says kids are kids, never taught in the old days when students really were respected and looked to as authority figures that could influence students’ lives. Today, I’m afraid, teachers have more responsibilities than merely teaching. I was a counselor, a parent, sometimes a nurse, often a confidante to my high school students because I had to be–I would’ve chosen a profession in any of those fields if I wanted to be a counselor or nurse.
    I retired from GCC when I got sick of minority students using the minority card time and time again. Although my administrators and English department chair always stood behind me, my standards were too high and my energy in fighting these battles was too low. It was time to go.
    Ten years with McGraw-Hill and I eventually got sick of working for people who knew less than I did about what I was doing, yet they had so much to tell me about how to do it.
    I wrote this not as a rebuttal. I hope I did change your mind about a few things–especially about your idea that when a student tells you he or she didn’t write in high school.
    As someone who was a student in exclusive schools in NY married to a guy who is well-educated, a mother of three successful public-school-going kids, a high school teacher, a residential community college faculty member, and an ASU adjunct instructor, I felt there was information you might need to have.
    Casey Furlong

    The teachers of today are boxed in by local standards, state standards, and CORE standards. I remember my first two years of high school teaching–we had no curriculum; I could teach anything I wanted from the TEXTBOOK or develop my own materials. I don’t think the teachers of today, trained as they are in current education programs, could make good decisions about curriculum in today’s classroom.

    Regarding your parenthetical comment about the education major: Education majors, by the way (I was an English major), take all the same required classes as any other college graduate. Therefore, the student you recalled bragging about never buying a textbook and having a B+/A- average was either lying or was a very bright student who had teachers who tested only on class lecture information. My guess is the former. You often use anecdotal evidence to prove a point–that’s okay, I guess, as long as you understand that it really doesn’t. I think that sometimes you are merely naive and you tend to believe anything a student tells you (I never had to write, I never bought a textbook . . .)

  4. I went to a small college many decades ago and we luckily had a wonderful woman who refused to buy expensive secondary texts for the professors who somehow thought $50 for a 2 page article for their class was necessary. She also recommended buying used text books and for some students, many married vets, she suggested sharing text books if would work for them. Many if not most of the students loved her. For the most part I had decent professors.

    I worked in college, but mostly part-time, but I knew some who worked full-time and they worked like dogs to get their papers in. I did get flunked by one professor because that semester I spent the first 1/2 of the semester in the hospital with mono – only one prof failed me, all the others allowed me to make up any work I missed. Not like back then you had a laptop in the hospital to do research. And no plagiarizing got you an f at both my high school and college.

    Given that grade schools no longer teach time, change, penmanship, or sentence structure and a teacher I know said she just doesn’t have time to teach students those unnecessary subjects, And some schools have stated they are not interest in teaching ethics at any level. I am not surprised that research papers are a thing of the past.

    • At ASU faculty selected texts for their courses. At the community college, you have to use the text chosen by the department — which is OK by me, given that exploring and comparing available textbooks would amount to still more unpaid course prep time.

      We are not allowed to use the Amazon Word in front of students, when discussing the required texts. We’re supposed to tell them to buy the textbooks at the campus bookstore.

      When you try to teach ethics, you run into static from parents (and on the college level, from students) who hold doctrinaire religious views and resent having their children exposed to ideas that don’t coincide with those views. Most of us don’t have to be told by our superiors not to discuss controversial issues (and ethics falls into that category); but you can be sure that at some point a chair or a dean will tell you to avoid discussing topics that could be taken as controversial.

  5. Sadly I only can compare my lowly education at the Community College that was attained on my dime. Even back then books weren’t cheap, but I would have not even considered not buying the book. I wanted to do well and after all at $15 per credit hour … a three credit course was costing me $45… quite the investment.
    I was always troubled by folks that didn’t give proper credit to a source…and one of my English teachers….Ms. Trifon…was an expert at “sniffing out someone stealing another’s work” and did not take kindly to the practice. How blessed we were to have such dedicated teacher at that level…
    And for the record DD1, who went to college on her Dad’s dime, still has many of her text books from college….she is in her 30’s…and has no intention of giving them up.

    • The community colleges represent one of the most powerful assets this country has. They’re enormously under-appreciated. Unlike, say, Arizona State, they do not staff vast public-relations engines — they tend to work out of the limelight, and so we tend not to realize exactly what they do.

      These institutions serve not only students who can’t afford four years on a university campus, they provide stepping-stones for low SES students out of poverty, special training for kids who graduate from high schools with inadequate training, English training for native speakers of other languages, accelerated classes for high-school kids who are ready for college-level work, an enormous array of two-year (and shorter) vocational programs, and any number of amazing and fun life-long learning courses for active adults.

  6. “Given that grade schools no longer teach time, change, penmanship, or sentence structure and a teacher I know said she just doesn’t have time to teach students those unnecessary subjects,”….
    Given that I am a teacher in MN, I disagree with the above statement. They do teach time, penmanship (cursive handwriting), and sentence structure at the elementary level. My own children learned this in elementary school. I teach in middle school and my students did learn this in elementary. That’s basic elementary ed, even today.

    • In at least some AZ schools, they no longer teach cursive. I’ve already seen students in my classes who print; they don’t write.

      BTW, when you teach writing-intensive upper-division courses here, you can actually tell which kids went to school in the Midwest by the quality of their work. There’s a noticeable difference: young adults whose elementary and secondary schooling took place in Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio function at a different level than the average graduate of Arizona schools. Obviously, those states also have school districts that suffer; but overall, a middle-class public high-school graduate from the Midwest has stronger writing and critical thinking skills than one from the Southwest.

  7. Forgot to mention that when I went to college, both the first time and subsequent times, for those who could not afford or chose not to buy the textbooks, one could use them from the library (but couldn’t check them out). I remember going to the library specifically to do this.

  8. Hmm, I went to university in Canada from 94-98 –

    Would you refuse to buy the textbook for a college course you were paying to take?

    Nope, because all the courses I ever took, the exams were based on the book as well as the lectures – and I wanted to pass the course. That being said, one semester, I actually bought a *photocopy* of the book off of a student that had taken the time to borrow the book from the library the semester before, and copy the entire thing – he said it cost him $30 to copy the whole thing, and sold it to me for $20 – instead of the $120 the damn book cost in the bookstore (used!)

    If you did buy it, would you refuse to read it?

    Well, if I wasn’t going to read it, I wouldn’t have spent the money on it 🙂

    Would you turn in a paper that was copied whole cloth from the Internet (or from a magazine or book)?

    This wasn’t a thing when I was in school – the internet was still very new. But I will say that as part of my coop work placement, one of the annoying requirements was to submit some sort of “report” at the end of your work term. So while you were working full time, you were expected to write some sort of paper – there were zero guidelines, other than it was to be “useful” in some way. So, one work term, I took the report that a previous work placement person had written – which was actually a job manual for my position – and spent a few days updating it to reflect the current procedures – and turned that in. I felt vaguely guilty, until I realized that nobody read these reports

    Would you beg for an exception from the no-late-papers rule because you had a full-time job and were taking 18 credits?

    I wasn’t ever in that position – when I was working full time, I was at most taking 1 or 2 courses – and that was only a couple of terms. The term when I worked full time and took 2 courses, just about killed me. When I was in school full time (15 units – 3 units per course) I didn’t work. My friend, on the other hand, who was taking 15 units and not working, had ZERO shame about going up to her English lit (male) professors and asking for extensions on papers, because “I had really bad cramps this month” – she said EVERY one of them would immediately turn pale and make freaked out noises at the thought that she might provide additional gory details about her “female troubles” and were quick to reassure here that yes, of course she could have additional time. I …really hated that she did that.

    Would you need to be taught how to acknowledge a source in-text?

    No, we learned how to do this at least in a rudimentary way, in Grade 5 – I had a teacher who decided that we would spin out research papers at least once a month in that class. He required that you have at least 3 sources for each paper, and *additionally* every kid in the class had to prepare an oral presentation on their paper and give it in front of the class. PLUS he insisted that every week we prepare and memorize a 3 minute research presentation in front of the class. The 3 minute speeches we did every year from Grade 5 I think. Oh, and this was all done in French, because we were in French Immersion. The speeches were done in English and French. (I remember in Grade 9, I didn’t FEEL like writing 2 research papers to use for my speeches, so I translated the French speech into English for my other class)

    Needless to say, writing papers and speaking in front of people in my native English, doesn’t panic me in the least at this point 🙂

    • Ahem… You’ve heard of “junior year abroad”? Any chance Canada would consider, oh, say, 13 years abroad? For, oh…maybe about six million kids from south of the border? 🙂

  9. I’m largely a product of the Arizona public school system, but don’t identify with any of the traits that you’re ascribing to your students. I think the earliest I learned about citations and footnotes was in middle school or before (the earliest might have been science fair projects that had a list of references in elementary school, though official MLA/APA formatting was probably high school), plagiarism was unacceptable, and we certainly wrote research papers in addition to shorter “journal-type” entries for our English and other courses.
    I bought the books for every class (and of course read them – a waste of money otherwise!), and it was only this fall that I got rid of a large pile that I had been keeping around as reference books since I left my formal education years in 2006. My best friend and former college roommate was inspired by my clean sweep and decided to get rid of some of the books she had been keeping around for the same length of time. While other friends were known to mark the end of a particularly brutal class by burning the textbook, I can’t recall anyone ever flat-out not purchasing the textbook for a course, though I do know of some that shared or borrowed among roommates or dorm-mates and I even assisted there loaning out my books as needed to friends taking the course in later semesters before the textbook changed.
    My take – either you’re getting the bottom of the barrel students or things have changed drastically in the last decade. Or both?

    • Welp, the cream rises to the top. And every barrel does have its bottom. Chances are your friends in college were the same conscientious, straight-arrow types that you are. It may simply be that you didn’t hang around with folks who don’t bother to buy the textbooks.

      I’m all for students sharing their books, renting, them, or to the extent possible using the library’s copies — textbooks are such a rip these days that any practical alternative to buying them should be pursued. However, the kid needs to be able to get ACCESS to the shared/rented/borrowed books at times and in places that fit her schedule and her course’s demands. Community college libraries aren’t open 24/7.

      It’s possible that students are exposed to different approaches to exposition depending on the school or the district where they happen to end up. Our K-12 system here leaves a lot to be desired, but districts with more affluent families are pressured to do a lot better job than are low SES districts. And to a degree, the faculty in districts dominated by upper-middle-income parents have to do less custodial work with the students: more of their students come prepared to learn and fewer are likely than to be distracted by hunger, untreated ailments, violence and drug use in the home or neighborhood, fighting parents, and social mores that discourage academic progress.

  10. My own sons currently attending college are renting textbooks online and it’s much cheaper than even buying used books. I am sure you have already suggested this to your students? In terms of good school districts, I was under the impression that the northeast part of the country had the top public K12 schools? They sure pay their teachers top dollar.

    • If you google public school rankings, a number of sites come up. Yeah, New Jersey is way up there; Vermont schools are good, and interestingly, several midwesterly states are very high ranked. Arizona I think moved up from 48th to 43rd this year.

      We’re allowed to tell students they can rent the texts from the campus bookstore (which doesn’t actually make ALL the textbooks available that way…), but we’re not supposed to tell them to go out and look online for rentals.

      If I’m physically in the classroom, I’ll say something about “a certain large South American river,” but I certainly would get in trouble if that got outside the classroom doors…

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