Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Free Education

“You’re a hardass, Prof,” my dad used to tell me. He would always flash that evil Cheshire Cat grin when he said it, because it meant that I was like him.

Truth is, I’m not. I’m the M&M of my profession. Gooey on the inside.

I don’t fail students or ever “give” an F. Students fail themselves – by not attending class, skipping assignments or blowing off tests. In my classes, if you show up regularly, turn in everything and work hard, you will not fail. 

I strongly believe in passing on God’s grace and will do anything I can to help a student who is drowning in personal problems. Life’s complications come in many forms: work stress, chronic illness, divorce, family strife, death of a loved one, financial crises. And that’s just a snippet from my personal list.

But a student who develops a pattern of excuses for why he/she cannot attend class or complete assignments will – well, tumble out of my good graces. I’ve been teaching for a long time, and I can tell the difference between someone who is entangled in an urgent, traumatic crisis and someone who makes up some weak excuse about not coming to class because it’s raining. I have an internal BS meter. I recognize it when I hear it. (I did get that from my dad.) Just so you know, I prefer the truth. Don’t make an excuse; tell me that you overslept and then accept the consequences. I will respect you more.

So when I read the news about students demanding tuition-free college, I get angry. Millions of people before them attended college because of parental sacrifice/savings, loans, grants, scholarships and work-study. Countless students in my classes are working more than one job to pay for school. You are not entitled to a “free” education. Do you think you would appreciate it more if you didn’t earn it? And do I have to explain that anything that shows up on my tax bill is not free?

Yes, of course, you have the right to protest, march, demand, question authority. But use your youthful energy and emotions to attack issues that matter. 

A few years ago, a student fighting an aggressive cancer still managed to miss only a few of our class sessions. By the end of the semester, she was using a wheelchair and could only move one arm. Her dad would attend class with her. She finished all those InDesign assignments, painstakingly moving the mouse with her nondominant hand.

She died just months after our class ended. I still look to the back of the classroom where she sat and think about her. A lot.

You’re not a victim. You’re not entitled to any more than the person next you. A lot of things will happen in your life that could crush you. Don’t let them. Get up and fight for respect and dignity. Put down your damn phone. Work hard, study hard, volunteer.

Be a hardass.