Ask any professor, from a community college to an Ivy League institution, if many students treat their education as a consumer experience, I promise you, most, if not all, will say YES. While students have always paid for a higher education, only recently, perhaps in the last ten to fifteen years, do some students treat their professors as shopkeepers. These students (let me stress… SOME and NOT all) view their education as a product they are purchasing rather than degree they are earning. The prevailing attitude among this set is “I bought this class, I can do whatever I want.” Many do not seem to care if they are being disrespectful of their professors or of their fellow students.
Therefore, when this letter from an NYU professor to a student who decided to literally “shop” his class showed up online, many of us, who have experienced this sort of treatment, cheered. What is almost as heartening as the professor’s response to the student is the support other students have shown for the professor’s argument. You can read those replies here.
The professor made his email available to everyone in his classes (considerately crossing out the student’s name). Here is the email from the “shopping” student and the professor’s reply. While there is a good deal of snark in the professor’s response, there is also some very sound advice.
The Original Email:
I would like to discuss a matter with you that bothered me. Yesterday evening I entered your 6pm Brand Strategy class approximately 1 hour late. As I entered the room, you quickly dismissed me, saying that I would need to leave and come back to the next class. After speaking with several students who are taking your class, they explained that you have a policy stating that students who arrive more than 15 minutes late will not be admitted to class.
As of yesterday evening, I was interested in three different Monday night classes that all occurred simultaneously. In order to decide which class to select, my plan for the evening was to sample all three and see which one I like most. Since I had never taken your class, I was unaware of your class policy. I was disappointed that you dismissed me from class considering (1) there is no way I could have been aware of your policy and (2) considering that it was the first day of evening classes and I arrived 1 hour late (not a few minutes), it was more probable that my tardiness was due to my desire to sample different classes rather than sheer complacency.
I have already registered for another class but I just wanted to be open and provide my opinion on the matter.
MBA 2010 Candidate
NYU Stern School of Business
Subject: Re: Brand Strategy Feedback
Thanks for the feedback. I, too, would like to offer some feedback.
Just so I’ve got this straight…you started in one class, left 15-20 minutes into it (stood up, walked out mid-lecture), went to another class (walked in 20 minutes late), left that class (again, presumably, in the middle of the lecture), and then came to my class. At that point (walking in an hour late) I asked you to come to the next class which “bothered” you.
You state that, having not taken my class, it would be impossible to know our policy of not allowing people to walk in an hour late. Most risk analysis offers that in the face of substantial uncertainty, you opt for the more conservative path or hedge your bet (e.g., do not show up an hour late until you know the professor has an explicit policy for tolerating disrespectful behavior, check with the TA before class, etc.). I hope the lottery winner that is your recently crowned Monday evening Professor is teaching Judgement and Decision Making or Critical Thinking.
In addition, your logic effectively means you cannot be held accountable for any code of conduct before taking a class. For the record, we also have no stated policy against bursting into show tunes in the middle of class, urinating on desks or taking that revolutionary hair removal system for a spin. However, xxxx, there is a baseline level of decorum (i.e., manners) that we expect of grown men and women who the admissions department have deemed tomorrow’s business leaders.
xxxx, let me be more serious for a moment. I do not know you, will not know you and have no real affinity or animosity for you. You are an anonymous student who is now regretting the send button on his laptop. It’s with this context I hope you register pause…REAL pause xxxx and take to heart what I am about to tell you:
xxxx, get your shit together.
Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance…these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility…these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It’s not too late xxxx…
Again, thanks for the feedback.
What do you think? Was the professor in the right? The student? Have you had similar things happen to you as a professor, teacher, or student? We’d love to hear your opinions and experiences.
Since its invention in 1965, booksellers have depended on the ISBN system used internationally to facilitate the distribution of books and to track sales. However, the digital revolution is changing even this long-standing publishing tradition. eBooks do not need, and mostly do not have, ISBN numbers (the cost of acquiring an ISBN ranges from $25 to $250). In a world that has become increasingly less analog, the perceived need to have a universal system is rapidly diminishing. Instead of one global identification system, there are now many. According to The Economist,
“Amazon has introduced the Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN). Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) tag articles in academic journals. Walmart… has a Universal Product Code (UPC) for everything it stocks—including books. Humans are also getting labels: the Open Researcher and Contributor ID system (ORCID) identifies academics by codes, not their names. And ISBNs are not mandatory at Google Books.”
This breaking up of the system has resulted in less-than-reliable numbers when it comes to tracking the growth of self-publishing. “Self-published writers are booming; sales of their books increased by a third in America in 2011,” the article continues. “Digital self-publishing was up by 129%. This ends the distinction between publisher, distributor and bookshop, making ISBNs less necessary.”
However, as Porter Anderson points out in Publishing Perspectives, that number estimating eBook growth at 129% is simply a guess. No actually knows the true number due to the anonymity that foregoing ISBNs affords. Anderson also points out that “boom” in self-publishing does not always equate in success for authors. There’s more writing out there, yes, but just how fruitful is self-publishing for writers? Without hard data, it is impossible to say for sure.
Should we be concerned about this or not? I think the question Anderson poses is a good one: “[I]s there something inherently wrong — or somehow too determinedly journalistic — in wanting to be able to quantify, categorize, and track the progress of the industry through the “tagging” of its output?”
What do you think? Is time to end ISBNs?
WARNING: your writing may be headed for a coronary.
No, this is not an indictment of your eating habits. (Believe me–these days I can hardly put fingers to keyboard without a sugary coffee and half a bag of Cadbury’s mini eggs in me. I am intimately familiar with the ailment that is “writer’s bum.” Ergo, I am NOT the person to school anyone on the deviousness that occurs between hand and mouth.)
I am, however, qualified to speak on the trimness of your writing itself.
Back when I tutored students for the SAT and ACT writing exams, “eloquence” was a prominent focus of the grading rubric. And while eloquence to me, as a Literature and Creative Writing major in university, harkens back to the masters of language–Dickens, Bronte, Austen–“eloquence” (dubious quotation marks and all) to the standardized testing officials actually means quite the opposite; sentences should be devoid of descriptive words, lean to the point of dullness, about as tasty and filling as a leaf of lettuce. It was soul-crushing to teach, though perhaps a necessity when it comes to teaching high school students how to write effectively.
That’s why I found The Writer’s Diet, a new tool that objectively assesses the “leanness” of a writing sample, so interesting. Could it be a helpful tool for students? A measure of eloquence? To find out, I gave it a whirl with one of the best opening paragraphs in the history of the English novel.
Oh my dickens! Look at that lovely paragraph splattered with ugly neon highlighter. What’s even more injurious to the eyes? The Writer’s Diet test’s fitness rating, which breaks down on a smug little bar graph the faults of A Tale of Two Cities.
Alright, so I get it that this test is a totally algorithm-based assessment, and that I chose one of the most flowery writing samples in existence to try it out. But to say that Dickens is beyond flabby is frankly insulting. The only way the WD test could redeem itself now was by casting its harsh neon criticism across the greatest assault to English literature I know of… Fifty Shades of Grey.
So yeah, turns out that the passage about the girl feeling adventurous because she borrowed her boyfriend’s toothbrush is officially “Fit & trim.” Nice one, Writer’s Diet.
As it turns out, there is no objective assessment for good writing, because no algorithm can calculate style. And what I didn’t mention before is that style is the one factor of the SAT/ACT grading rubric that separates a mediocre essay from a great one. It’s one thing to be able to simply state a message, and another to instill it in your reader. So before you forsake all commas, dependent clauses, adjectives and adverbs, take some time to become a master of the English language. Scratch that–become an apprentice of the English language. Even a small infusion of style will take you further than you think.
After all, would you rather chomp into a low-fat, gluten free cracker or a dripping, succulent guacamole bacon burger?
Yeah, I think I know your answer to that already.
This weekend, NPR’s This American Life featured stories on “Kid Logic.” Over the course of the hour, Ira Glass introduced stories of children who tried to make sense of the many puzzles of the adult world. In one story, a little girl’s best friend discovers that her father “is the Easter Bunny.” Rather than putting two-and-two together, both little girls decide that the dad IS actually the Easter Bunny. Their parents go along with the ruse.
But how would a child know? Do you assume that your parents are playing an elaborate prank on you? Especially when your whole culture is in on the joke?
The story made me think of my own leaps of logic. As you might have guessed from the picture above, every time I heard “guerrilla warfare” on the news, I thought Planet of the Apes was at hand.
While I have many of my own embarrassing stories, I also asked my friends to contribute their own “kid logic confessions.” Here are some of my favorite. Please let us hear your stories as well!
“Ms. Tubman to Platform 9 3/4s!”
A friend tells me that she thought the slaves used an actual, literal, “underground railroad” to make their escapes. How they constructed something so elaborate without being detected remains a mystery…
What’s all the fuss about Watergate?
“I thought Watergate referred to a dam of some sort. I can still see the same image in my mind.”
“Who wants a nightcap?”
“All those 70s shows when they would invite someone to “stay for a nightcap.” I thought they were giving them an actual hat. In my head it looked like a Scrooge-style long “nightcap.”
On “Parting Gifts” at the end of game shows:
“I thought they ALL got turtle wax. I wanted some of that! Only, I didn’t have a turtle.”
“Bay of Pigs? How many pigs fit in the Bay of Pigs? If the pigs could swim, the water must be really dirty.”
I wonder if Haverty’s has a showroom…
“I struggled with the term deathbed…and considered that the bed was specifically bought for a person to lay down and die on. That creeped me out, and still does..such that I never bought a used bed.”
Who’s That Girl?
“My mom loves to tell the story of me, around 7 or 8 years old, asking her, “Who is this Polly Esther person, and why are you talking about her?”
I Still Wish I Was Right About This…
“I was told by a friends older sister that there would be a “Cake Walk” at my first-ever school carnival. I thought it would be a GIANT FOAM CAKE with a line across the middle. The game was to walk the line. If you diverged, you’d fall into a pile of foam (like egg-crate foam) in the middle. If you made it all the way across, you won a real cake.
I was SO disappointed to discover what it really was.”
“I thought when a business was founded…. that they had found it somewhere.”
Don’t forget! We would love to hear your own tales of kid logic!
Last week I caught a live show called “The Moth.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s a little like a live version of This American Life–ordinary people (some aspiring writers and performers, many not) headline a show in which they each have five minutes to tell a true story on a theme. On the night I was lucky to spectate, the theme was simply “The Deep End.” Performer after performer came to the stage to relay their amazing true tales, which could at once be heartwarming, thrilling, bitter, hilarious, somber, you name it. The stories ranged everywhere from a woman’s return from rehab, to a honeymooning couple’s view from a Nepali mountaintop, to a wife’s desperate plea to stop her husband from taking a bullet for the sake of his Native ancestry. There wasn’t a badly told story amongst them, which meant that what I took from this show was the understanding that everybody has a great story to tell. What most of us need is the guts to tell it, of course, but also the right medium through which to tell it.
For you that may be The Moth (which accepts applications to appear on its main stage year-round, by the way) or it may be by leaving a piece of your art out on the street, waiting to be discovered. It may be through Twitter, WordPress, or Instagram. The important thing is that sharing art is as creative an endeavor as making it.
And if you’re studying the arts, that’s an important lesson to take away. Don’t involve yourself merely in the admiration of others’ art. Be involved in the creation of it. You’ll find a whole new respect for the arts that you study.
Check out this calendar for a Moth show in an area near you. Who knows? Maybe you’ll have the guts to get up and tell that story that’s burning inside of you.
And if you’re in LA, I’ll see you at the Moth on the West Side this Tuesday!