Search This Blog

Ahh, Those Freshmen

Satire is a dying art form. Not because there are few who can do it, but because there are fewer and fewer who can recognize and appreciate it. I feel it is part of my responsibility to challenge my students to think critically, and not just in my field (chemistry), but to apply those skills also to other areas. Therefore, with this in mind, I try to bring current events and outside things into class, usually at the beginning, and apply it in some way to chemistry, or vice versa. Thus, the day after Saddam was convicted, I brought it up at the beginning of class, saying I was glad he’d been convicted, and explained that I had been a civilian technical contractor in Baghdad when he’d been caught. I opened the floor of the class for a few minutes to any questions about the situation and about my personal experience over there, and I felt it was reasonably productive and informative for them.

So, the day after the 2006 Congressional Elections and the turn over of the House and Senate to the Democrats, I had an inspiration. I announced the following to my 275 freshmen in General Chemistry:

“In honor of the election results yesterday, I am considering a major policy shift in this class. I am considering proposing grade reform, in the form of GPA welfare. If, at the end of the semester, you are making an ‘A’ in this course, you will ‘donate’ 7 points to the class. If you have a ‘B’, it will be 5 points, a ‘C+’, 3 points. Then, everyone making ‘D’s’ or ‘F’s’ will automatically receive a ‘C.’ If there are surplus points, I will retain them as administrative overhead, but if there are too few points, we will engage in deficit point spending. Of course, if I really wanted to be fair, I would eliminate all tests and homeworks, and just give everyone a ‘C.’ Chemistry learning would decrease, but everyone would feel better about it. How does that sound?”

During my spiel, the class as a whole were laughing and cheering, so I thought they were with me, and upon my final question, they erupted in support. Beginning to be concerned, I then asked, “Ok, those of you currently making ‘As’ and ‘Bs’, how does this sound?” Of course, they, a smaller fraction of the class, were strongly against the proposition. I then made a couple of comments that I thought strengthened the idea that I was not being serious.

After class, as normal, a group of students clustered around to ask some questions. One asked about a grading issue regarding the final, a normal reasonable question (although a month early). The guy behind him chimed in with, “So we are still guaranteed a ‘C’ even if we are failing?” I laughed and said, “Of course not.” The disappointment on his face was real, and at least one other person behind him sighed/groaned with disappointment.

SO, on the next class day, I made a statement of clarification. I introduced it with a definition of satire. I then explained that this is how welfare and other entitlement programs actually work, and this is how the income tax system is based. It may not be general chemistry, but some things are more important than molecules. And the sooner they understand how the real world works, the better for them. Then I moved on to the different kinds of solids that exist and why they have the structures they do as a result of their chemical and physical properties.


No comments:

Post a Comment