Personal responsibility in the classroom

April 25, 2010

In this article in today’s The Washington Post regarding students who pay more attention to various electronic devices in class than to the class itself,  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/24/AR2010042402830.html, Rutgers accounting lecturer J.P. Krahel states that he considers himself responsible for his students’ grades:

“The thing is, I’m responsible for these kids’ grades,” he said. “So it reflects badly on me if they fail. And I’m not going to pull punches; I’m not going to deliberately inflate their grades. But I’m not going to give them the opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot.”

How charming. A professor who ostensibly cares about his students. No, really. It is very nice. Presumably a good quality to have when Krahel finishes his doctorate and enters the tenure track somewhere. I have a better idea: How about teaching them a little personal responsibility?

I had a colleague at one of the universities at which I worked whose favorite shibboleth was, “If the student fails to learn, it’s because the teacher failed to teach.” I always respectfully disagreed with him, and I still do. The degree the student earns stands for knowledge the student possesses. The diploma goes to the student, not to the professor (and also not, parenthetically, to the parents who paid the tuition, which the article implies are also stakeholders in the student’s education). If I go into a, say, tax office and I see the accountant I’m working with has a B.S. or B.B.A. in accounting from Rutgers, I expect the accountant to possess a certain amount of knowledge, not the teacher who taught him. The student is the one who must take responsibility for the task of learning, analyzing, and, ultimately, knowing.

So, to Mr. Krahel, soon to be Dr. Krahel: Go ahead and give your kids a few Fs. They’ll get the idea—quick.

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