How did we become so blissfully or willingly ignorant?

Hello from Starbucks in the Andruss Library,

I have spent the great majority of my week either here or at the Fog and Flame and grading. I have made good progress, but my mind needs a break from reading papers and trying to understand how some of my students seem to be listening in class, but when I get their work I am wondering if they are harder of hearing than I am at 60. I have made very good progress on the end of the semester onslaught, but there is still work to do. It is Friday and I had hoped to be done by about three hours from now. That is not going to happen. I have two classes complete, but waiting on one straggler in one class. I have a couple of things needed from a couple of students in my Rhetoric and Professional Writing class. If I had merely said you did not do it and “too bad,” some individual grades would be in serious jeopardy (and that is not a game). Before the day is out I do expect to have three of the four sections completed except for the minor things just noted. . . So it is about 10 days and graduation has passed and grades are done more work is been done in the yard, but the “to do list”never seems to stop. 😱 The amount of planting and landscaping in the yard was somewhat expensive again this spring; however, good progress has been made in the yard is looking quite manicured and professional. I think my father would be proud. The end of the semester and grades are always an interesting thing. I had a student or we can a half late ask to still turn things in; I had a complaint about a grade for failing a student, but it was an issue because it will keep the student from graduating. Some other minor questions, but for the most part no big problems.

As I work on this blog and must admit a failing. I was less than totally candid in a situation because I did not want to try to explain a ridiculous schedule and s’more more health issues. However by not doing so, I created another dilemma. It is more difficult than some might imagine to share the extent of, and by extension, the consequences of my Crohn’s Disease. In addition it seems the Crohn’s has started to create more problems. One issue, while to some extent expectable, intuitively I believe the other issue, which is more neurological, could also be a consequence of this insidious and painful, literally and figuratively, disease. Disease is to sickness, sort of like county prison is the county jail. One just sounds more tragic and painful. It is hard to believe I have actively fought this thing for over half of my life. I must admit I am working on two posts at the moment. I need to finish this one, which is really about school, education, our general willingness to think beyond the surface, or unwillingness as the case may be, and why, in my personal opinion (and I realize it is mine to be accountable for), why European students are so much better at challenging classes than many of their American counter-parts. Even when I was in seminary, we had German students and they walked circles around me in systematics and language classes. I was pretty decent in my language classes, but not as capable in systematics. I have since learned that I might have been better than I realized, but I certainly felt inadequate. I still remember the first time I was in Dr. Juel’s Galatians class and he wrote on my final paper, “it is my sincere hope that you learned more in this class than you have exhibited in this paper.” Ouch!! Unfortunately, he was correct. I had a lot yet to learn.one of the best things I have ever done was go and speak with him. I certainly do not want to bash public school teachers; I know some excellent ones. However, the push to pass standardized tests, which has precipitated this teaching to the test, is garbage. I realize this is the consequence of funding, parents, state and federal mandates and Lord knows what else, but the result is merely jumping through hoops to get them through. So it begs the question: what is required? I see in my own first year writing classes and beyond a typical student who depends on Google for their scholarly work. I see students who cannot integrate from one class to the next. Everything is compartmentalizations. How does that prepared one to think critically, analyze carefully, or synthesize wholistically? 

I remember the first thing one of the Polish professors told our students in the Winter term: I want you to think critically. This requires that students pay close attention and learn to take careful and thorough notes. It requires students to read outside of class and to review what they did in class. It means that school is, indeed, a full-time job. That too is complicated because too many students need to work more than one part time job, but then their studies suffer if they do not know how to be disciplined and prioritize their tasks. I am always astounded by students who believe merely sitting in a desk means they have done what is necessary, and necessary means I deserve an A. In the words of Sherman T. Potter, “Horse Hockey!” There is a show I still miss. It was a show that used humor and life to make us think. Another such show was Northern Exposure. While I find it unbelievably depressing that Janine Turner is a conservative talk show personality, Maggie was extraordinarily beautiful. And debating her about issues could be interesting. It is only in arguing (and I do not find spirited, but informed argument to be a problem, as long as it is respectful) that facts become known and mutual growth and benefit can occur. The eclectic group from Cicely, Alaska not only grew on the Jewish doctor exiled to them, they grew on anyone who watched the show. What was so amazing was the topics and issues that they took on long before people were going to think about them. The social issues that were at the core of the show caused anyone who watched and was willing to think a need for pause. I believe any show or movie worth the time it takes to watch it should do this. This is not to say there are not moments or shows that can be 90% entertainment. I enjoy mindless once in a while. However, when life becomes sound-bytes and most of our response it pathos- generated, not surpassingly (and etymologically apparent), we become societally pathetic.

All of this, for me, is depressing. For the first time in all of my time teaching, I failed a student in the final semester.  While my chair backed me when the student complained, it was made apparent that somewhere that might be a difficult one to get through.  Regardless that the failing grade was well justified, it was determined that somewhere I would probably lose the argument for this terminal decision. Indeed, the student would have to return in the fall. I knew when I assigned this earned grade that I would be probably facing some stiff resistance. My intuition was correct. Let me say a couple of things concerning the situation. As I have noted before I take no pride when someone fails my course. I have always felt that way. Even if it is apparent that the failing grade was more because of what the student did, or didn’t do, I am prompted to wonder what I might’ve done differently and thereby help the student pass my class.  I know the arguments of they did it to themselves; I know the arguments of a grade earned. And yet I want students to succeed. Particularly when a college education is so expensive. sometimes I’m not sure if it is a lack of maturity or lack of intellectual ability.  It is not always apparent witat, or who, the culprit is, and more than likely it is some of both. It is one thing to come to class; it is quite another thing to actually learn while you’re in that class. I am actually stunned at the amount of money spent on books never read and glasses never attended. And I do not believe this is merely naïveté nor simply idealism. I think it is a consequence of our believing that everyone needs to win. It is our desire to protect people growing up from the consequence of their choices. It is in requiring the school to do what used to be the parents’ job and then blaming the same school teachers for not doing theirs. I would write about this for hours, but suffice it to say, ignorance is not an innate human trait. It is allowed. It is perpetuated. It is something with which we have come to be accepting as reasonable. It is time to stop and it is time to once again value thinking, analyzing, and synthesizing.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

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