E-mail from da Whiteman

I wrote the post below some time ago. I thought – and think – the student was being manipulative and out of line in general. I still do but I also wonder sometimes in these situations: who is behaving towards her as she is behaving towards me?


WM: I missed my oral presentation last week, because I was sick. Can I make it up?

PZ: No. There is an alternative assignment for people in your situation. The instructions are in the website, at the following address.

Another week passes, and WM still does not come to class. Two days before the alternative assignment is due, he resurfaces by e-mail.

WM: I think it is terribly unfair that I cannot make up my oral presentation. I had created a presentation I really loved and I have not been allowed to give it.

PZ: Yes, these things happen. That is why there was a contingency plan. Had you been in touch before class the day the presentations were given, saying you were ill and asking whether you could reschedule your presentation, we might have been able to make arrangements. But you did not get in touch until almost a week after the presentation day. Now I have not seen you in two weeks, and it was my understanding you were working on the alternative assignment.

WM: It is unfair. I am a hard worker and a sincere person…

PZ (aside): Why is it that in two semesters I have not yet seen evidence of this?

WM: …and your class is already so difficult for me, because I am a visual learner, and yet you expect me also to listen and to speak.

PZ: The alternative assignment is, as you know, a written one.

WM: You are so mean, and so unfair! I pay tuition, you know. Without me, you would have no job!

PZ: And part of my job is to insist on responsibility, and to hold all students to the same standard. I have had you in class for two semesters, and I assure you that if you spent the kind of time studying that you do trying to negotiate on due dates, content of assignments, and grades, you could easily make a B or even an A.


16 thoughts on “E-mail from da Whiteman

  1. So,

    This “visual learner” stuff — that is what they are feeding the children these days.

    Multiple Intelligences — A very PC way of validating all ways of learning . . .

    I understand that, but learning by having a student write something then testing their ideas within the realm of logical sequence of thought, facts, validity of arguements and logic itself is taking a back seat.

    Poor kid.

    He needs to get a grip.

  2. J – I’m actually willing to respect the “sincere person” idea more than I am to accept the attempt to manipulation in which she tries to suggest / convince that she has not had multiple chances and that I am somehow unfair no matter what I do.

    Unbeached – Wow – you’re back!!! 🙂 I don’t think I fully understand this part of your middle sentence, though – “…and logic itself is taking a back seat.” ?

  3. Oh, I think this is my favorite part:

    and yet you expect me also to listen and to speak!

    How dare you expect someone to listen, of all things. It’s just cruel.

  4. Yes, but the “sincere person” is supposed to blindside you to the other stuff. This is what I am saying about a strong tendency for the Western starting point of logic to be “what is someone’s identity?” and then, secondly, “What stems from that?”

    So, you know, if my identity is EVIL (which, to many, it always will be) then, obviously nothing good can stem from my actions or behaviour, no matter how intelligent or righteous they “seem” to be. Similarly — as you would have had experience — the same logic works for gender. So, we know now that whatever many women actually do, or how well they manage their lives, if a male happens to upset their applecart, then they are always the “hysterical” one. Why? Well it has nothing to do with their behaviour or anything very empirical. It has to do with an a priori preconceptualisation of their identity. And in exactly a parallel way, “I am asserting that I am sincere” is a claim to an identity which is supposed to sweep empirical reality under the carpet. So some gain, some lose, by their identities. But it is particularly clever to nominate a functional identity for oneself and claim it in all situations, independently of whether one has been good or bad.

  5. Hi Alfina! And Unbeached – HIII! (I don’t think I quite understand the long sentence in the middle of your comment, but NICE TO SEE YOU BACK!)

    Jennifer – there was a systems error, it seems, and it ate a comment of yours and one of mine that were here just a moment ago. I guess more people are like this than I realize (judging everyone by assigned identities) … although in the end it is acts that count, even in the good/bad old USA. They do try to force things into identity boxes, as it were, I’ll admit.


    I had an argument IRL with a friend this evening, I think it was about this. He thinks I was overreacting to a remark he made in general conversation but the remark was part of a larger political conversation … too many right wing type suppositions and I had finally had it. It was upsetting because I hadn’t realized how angry I actually was … it felt poisonous. It was also interesting, because I almost said “But everyone has already gone over this point with a fine tooth comb, on the blogs!” But of course he’s not in blog-land.

  6. I’ve noticed that there are among university faculty those who go around making presentations both at conferences and in-house seminars urging other faculty to make distinctions between visual and audial learners. I have never, and do not intend to make such a distinctions, ever, because I do not want to at some advanced age be sitting across the desk from, say, a health care provider, lawyer, accountant, etc, who tells me, “Oh, that mistake happened, see, because *I* am a visual learner, and…” Good grief.

  7. A.F. – yes. When I was in elementary school they diagnosed learning disabilities and so on and they also let you figure out which were the ways you best learned. None of this was to get you out of learning, or out of performing in certain ways … it was about self knowledge so you *could* perform well (not about making excuses). !!!

  8. I’m with you 100%. It’s good information for the student to have in order to learn how to become better acclimatized (sp) to any learning environment.

  9. … although in the end it is acts that count, even in the good/bad old USA.

    Well that is nice to know — but for a long time I had no such experience of even a hint of equitability. In pratical and objective terms, it was a case of being hit again and again because I was “down”. First it was because I genuinely could not grasp the nuances of this culture — and as I’ve just said, a lot of it had to do with the orientation of treating things in terms of reified categories of identity. Since I didn’t realise that this is what the game was, until recently, I couldn’t defend myself. But not just being a migrant — being a pariah migrant, and as well as this, being a female — these were all factors in my not getting a hearing. For 20 years.

    And the fact is that I am very stoical (by culture) and unhysterical. (Actually somehow very far on the matrix towards a masculine stereotyped characteristics), but you would be surprised how many hysterical males chose me as their fall guy (actually, primarily, two — but significantly so).

    So I’m of the opinion that there is little attention paid to actual behaviour.

  10. J – I think you were also in a no rights situation (this was that clerical job situation, right?).

    It’s late, I should go to sleep but I have been buzzing because of this strange argument I had with that friend. I think what you’re talking about has to do somehow with modern mechanization, a person as a type of unit, not as an individual.

    (Of course, by ‘individual’ I don’t mean special snowflake-ness, like my student.)

  11. We should talk more on the topic some time Zero. I’ve fully digested it, so it is not painful as such any more. But I think that I have been in a no rights situation for, as I said, more than 20 years (until now).

  12. Good grief! You must have my office bugged. I have some version of this email/conversation at least once every couple of weeks. Or even more often. What I particularly hate is when the student adds groveling to the mix in a last ditch effort to manipulate you into capitulating. I had one student miss an exam, email me a week later (about having been ill, of course), reschedule to take the exam days later, and then email me again two hours before she was to take the re-scheduled exam to request putting it off another week — which would have been AFTER the next exam. I fired back an “absolutely not” and she blew off the exam a second time. Oh, well. It’s all part of the fun apparently.

  13. No one has pulled the “visual learner” thing on me yet, but I now have to send out “cinch notices” to about 1/3 of my upper-division class, to remind them that a certain assignment is worth 40% of their grade, and if they haven’t been doing it, they will indeed get no credit for it. Do they not think I mean it? Do they not read the syllabus? the multiple email reminders? Oh, never mind.

  14. This is not a defense of students, but some kind of observation based on my experiences: I have the impression that my current students in the U.S. are very much socialized into the idea that every scholastic event (homework, exam, presentation) must be a “best effort” event. (They have been taught this by their parents, and by the increasing prevalence of testing systems that put the entire premium of a year’s instruction on a very limited-spectrum testing event.) Of course, this attitude militates against the sort of thing any grading system that requires regular participation or contribution rewards, namely doing as best you can in the situation you are in regularly. Instead the students are being socialized into a weird sort of perfectionism that they can’t attain which means for them that they shouldn’t even try. What this means in my experience is that those students who are always negotiating instead of working are in the situation of recognizing that they are not going to be able to give their best on that particular day, but still believe that they will be able to give that at some time, and that is why they continue to negotiate. Because they don’t understand why you want the daily, regular, punctual effort from them, as opposed to the single, pointed, “best effort” event that many of them have been trained to produce and which they have convinced themselves they want to (and are in a position to) offer. FWIW.

  15. Servetus – yes, but they also don’t like best effort grading. They want a lot of little assignments.

    Although what they’d really like is one big test that you spend the semester studying for, not by learning material but by getting the questions and learning rote answers to them, whether they actually understand the questions and answers or not.

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