Question of Atheist Scruples – bad teacher?

May 27, 2016

One of your professors is an incompetent teacher who grades too easy. Some classmates have a petition demanding his replacement. Do you sign it?

Three personal history stories first:

First story. My K-7 elementary school didn’t have a French-specialist teacher in the ’80s so for grades 4-7 the teaching was done by whoever was assigned. It didn’t matter overly much at that school what level of French we were getting, but I sure as hell noticed a difference when I switched to the junior high for grade 8 and wound up in French class with kids who’d been at that junior high for their grade 7 year where the French teacher was an actual French man from Quebec who was actually teaching usable French and verb conjugation and all kinds of vocabulary. Those kids really had a leg up compared to me and my grade 7 experience which, comparatively, was grade 3 level drilling on colours and days of the week. It was really frustrating to be thrust into the real thing and be so clueless.

Second story. I was already in Band by junior high which exempted me from the music class others were in and, by all accounts, the Music teacher was terrible at his job. At least once in his own class, I was told, he passed out the marked exams for his students to look over for any marking errors or whatever, then took them back with the intention of marking the grades down officially but then lost the exams somewhere. He then asked every student if they remembered what they got on the test. Of course people lied. He was oblivious to cheating in general and apparently would grade girls easier if they wore skirts and flirted.

I experienced him only through a semester of lunch break choir practice and the few times he’d subbed for other courses, like Math and English. He’d make mistakes in lessons there, too. Eventually, the kids had enough and took the matter to the principal. I can’t recall if I got interviewed over it but I might have. I wouldn’t have had much in the way of testimony as I wasn’t in any of his regular classes, but I probably would have backed up my friends.

Third story from university and my introductory computer course. The professor was fine but the TA was an Asian fellow with a very thick accent and it seemed like everyone in the class wanted someone else to take over our lab sessions and took it up with the prof. I don’t recall where I stood on that one now, but he was really struggling to explain things in English and make himself understood and everyone was complaining about it. Poor bugger. He could have been the cleverest guy we were going to run into that year and we sidelined him. 

So, to this question. Would I sign a petition? Maybe. It may depend on the type of class it is and how much I care about it.

If it’s a throwaway filler class I have no interest in pursuing as my major, I may happily take the easy grades and focus my energies on whatever mandatory coursework is required for the degree I do care about.  

If it’s happening in a class that should be better preparing me for future classes in my chosen field, however, I’d feel cheated and concerned about the quality of my education going into it. 
Which is how my peers taking that “filler” class as a mandatory one would be feeling.

Pop culture and “quality” education:

Bad Teacher which I didn’t bother to see. It just sounded like absolute crap. Going by IMDB, Cameron Diaz “stars” as a middle school teacher who hates the job but can’t afford breast implants without it once her rich fiancé calls it quits.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 4 – not my favourite, but does feature scenes of Buffy trying college on for size and that shit ain’t fitting overly well. She signed up for what she hoped would a blow-off pop culture class but gets ejected by the jerky prof within minutes of sitting down. Her psychology class isn’t a lot better, but at least her professor likes her, sort of. Professor Walsh winds up having some horrible secret mission shit going on and Buffy winds up in the middle of the mess that woman’s making with her monster-hunting militia and favourite army boy, Riley Finn. 

Community — oh, how to pick something from that one. Ken Jeong plays Chang, the shittiest Spanish teacher in the world. He’s certifiable with some serious anger issues.

The pottery teacher pitches a fit over anyone trying to duplicate that scene from Ghost. Betty White does a fun cameo episode as the anthropology prof who deliberately tranquilizes one student and could easily kill Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) while trying to prove a point about weaponry. John Oliver is in several episodes as Ian Duncan, foremost a psychology prof, but who fills in for Ms. White after the weapon episode and decides that anthropology, being the study of people, allows for entire lessons to be filled with Youtube videos of people who’ve Autotuned farts. There’s also a gym instructor who teaches valuable lessons about playing pool with or without gym shorts, a Who’s The Boss expert who gets schooled, a drama instructor who takes things to extremes and a life coach kind of “Carpe Diem” guy who tries to make people live in the moment, to the point of absurdity. Last of all, there’s the Dean (Jim Rash) who really shouldn’t be in charge of anything so important as education…


Question of Atheist Scruples – exactly how much does cheating matter?

May 23, 2016

So, the question:

You are taking an honesty test as part of a job application, and are asked if you ever cheated in school. You did once. Do you tell the truth?

Sure, because it’s amusing.

Grade 8 and Grade 9 at my junior high required split courses with half the year in Home Economics (meal prep in grade 8, sewing in grade 9) and Industrial Arts (woodwork/drafting in grade 8, metalwork in grade 9).

Grade 8 level coursework was not a problem and by grade 9, I’d already had a year or two of sewing with my local 4-H club. The metalwork, though… I could do the actual because it was fun and enjoyable to bend sheet metal and other stuff into boxes and light bulb holders but as soon as tests came around I was an absolute dummy.

Master Gould was an awesome teacher and really fun and encouraged cheating on all his exams. Back in those days, we had a school official rule that anyone with an average over 75 didn’t have to write the final for that class and Master Gould was bound and determined to get out of creating a final for anybody. I still recall sitting at a written class test getting hints from him and other classmates for the answer to a question. They kept saying, it’s something you can drink! but I wasn’t into Coke at the time so didn’t catch the hint at all. They finally had to blurt it out so I could finish in time. Hilarious.

This was back in 1989/90, though, and I gather from reading done recently that cheating has gotten a lot more sneaky and high tech in the past few decades, from printing your own labels for water bottles to whatever other zany notions redditors are willing to supply.

By no means do I condone cheating over legitimate learning, however. The question was, would I admit to cheating and I say yes I would admit it. I’d also add the caveat that I can’t know everything and things that I need to know for a job are not things I can lie about knowing and get away with for very long. I’m too damned honest. I’d much rather admit that I don’t know the thing and then express desire to learn what it is I don’t know.

What kind of cheating have you done? Did you get away with it?

Atheist Scruples: how to get ahead in business

September 15, 2014

The question may be a bit out of date:

You are an illustrator struggling for recognition. You can’t get past a secretary to see an editor. Do you lie and say a prominent critic sent you?

These days it’s less about office secretaries and more about online presence and knowing how to network in a virtual environment. It goes for any creative endeavour. The Man’s noticed this with his music work and efforts to build connections and team up on projects. He’s not a schmoozer by nature so pimping his stuff everywhere every five minutes is not the approach he’d feel comfortable taking and he’s already told me about at least one guy he’s unfollowed on his Facebook feed due to to similar behaviour.

He’s starting an illustration course next week as part of his USCAD art certificate. He was hoping to do a printmaking course this semester as well but it didn’t work out, sadly. That would have been cool. He’s looking forward to the class, though. On both cabin trips this summer he worked on a couple pieces with pen and chalk pastels. I can’t show the art, but I’ll include the pictures I took of the inspirations.

Wine and Glasses

Wine and Glasses

The piece he did of this he’s planning to give to his folks as it’s their cabin we were using. We already drank the wine ourselves. Whatever it was, it was nice.

The trees have eyes...

The trees have eyes…

He began to regret his choice to do trees as they’re really bumpy and difficult. He opted for a simpler storybook look to it that still evoked the sense of forest surroundings and it turned out well, I think.

The Guardian had a piece a few years ago written by an illustrator detailing how she got into the business. It’s a good read. Emma Block credits starting a blog for her artwork but admits there’s more to it than that.

I got my first job as an illustrator for card printer Moo’s pre-designed packs in 2008 just before I started university. Moo contacted me after they saw my artwork on a pack of their cards I ordered for myself. My next job came when the greeting cards company Woodmansterne (a client I am still working with today) saw my work on Moo’s website.

As well as my university work, I was busy producing work for myself and for online publications such as Amelia’s Magazine and Cellar Door. Free work has some value when you are establishing your career, but be picky about what you do.

The Man had a bit of luck lately with a fellow he knows who wanted music to rap over and even I liked it. And I seem to recall the fellow who put out his cassette at I Had an Accident Records noted a while back that his album had been in a shop somewhere in Europe. That was pretty cool news.

He’d love to make solid money with his music so he wouldn’t have to work cruddy jobs with cruddy hours. I feel for him. I hate seeing him unhappy.

The reason I failed Elementary Education…

September 13, 2014

Well, not failed, exactly, but I did wind up in a meeting with an adviser near the end of my second year in university who suggested I apply for a different program or be put on probation my third year.

So I went back and looked at my Arts and Science courses from year one and literally said to myself, which class had the best grade? Sociology it is…

I enjoyed university quite a bit after that. I complained about the essays but I’m still glad I didn’t have to fight against my total lack of aptitude and passion. Kids deserve teachers that love the work and know how to make it exciting.

The Man and I were working with the Little Man a bit this morning. He’s already had some “homework” from his grade 1 teacher related to shoe-tying — he knows how, he’s just really slow and deliberate with it due to lack of practice. Parent/guardian fail there, to not have him better prepared. “I can’t!” He’d say and start crying. “No, you know how. You can and you will get better at this. That’s what the practice is for.” We kept telling him the same thing in various ways. He’ll be doing more of that before we sit down for lunch, and before we make cookies and before he plays any more games or watches a movie. And before his mother picks him up later today.

It was a similar but slightly more frustrating experience when he decided to write a to-do list with one thing on it: “PLAY NINTENDO DS”. He figured out “play” easily enough but he does way too much guessing rather than thinking things through. His guesses get really wild like he doesn’t see the difference between what’s likely to be the next letter based on the sound of the word and what’s absolutely ridiculously wrong.

Also, his personality seems to lean toward quitting when things get hard and gets stubborn when we try to show him how to figure things out. It was a minor war just getting him to write the colour RED. He was guessing every vowel except the one he needed, even after I told him it’s the same one in the word TEN that he’d just written down moments earlier. I don’t know if this is lack of confidence or lack of care or if he’s running on mad hope that if he stalls long enough someone will do the work for him. A mix of all three, probably.

Bringing me back to the education side of things. I don’t know the tricks that make kids eager to learn. How much of that can be taught though and how much of if is inherent in the kid himself?

All he really seems to care about knowing right now is all the ins and outs of Skylanders so what I probably should do is get a book of Skylanders crap and he can practice writing all their names and start writing everything he knows about them – which is already far more than I could possibly give a damn about. But, play to his interests, that’s probably a big key to future success here.

All of a sudden I’m reminded of a girl I knew through 4-H back in the days when it was more about horses and cows than computer programming. We had a series of public speaking assignments for this particular English class one year at school and every one of her talks was about horses. She was mad for horses. The teacher got tired of hearing about horses for some reason, however, and asked her to plan her next talk – the major 10-15 minute show and tell – on another topic. So, she came dressed head to toe in jockey gear and talked about jockey gear.

Well played.

Atheist Scruples: it’s back to school time again

August 13, 2014

This question is apropos:

Your child is doing poorly in one subject which is bringing down his average. You’ve tried coaching but his learning is slow. Do you do the homework until he improves?

How would that help him learn? I’m not going to conjugate his French verbs for him. Been there, fuck that. It’s bad enough I had to do my own in school. My mother’s French but I don’t recall getting a lot of help out of her to get through it. I also don’t think I asked for any, really. By the time I was in high school French, Mom had been speaking non-stop English for twenty-some years and only spoke French if she phoned home or we went to New Brunswick.

She did get me a copy of 501 French Verbs at some point, but I think that was for university. Grade 12 is when I really could have used it. Man.. I swear. Fifteen verb tenses over five weeks or some damned thing. We’re getting quizzes often and after weeks of low scores on them my teacher pulls me aside and says in English, “It looks like you’re having trouble with French verbs.” Wow. Chapeau. Hat’s off to Larry, lady. Thanks for finally noticing… I scraped by in the final, but I don’t remember by how much.

Neither of my parents got far into school. I think Dad finished Grade 9 but didn’t go much further and Mom might have quit before that on account of needing to care for her siblings or work or whatever. (I really ought to get both of them to dictate their life stories. I don’t know enough.) I have a sociology degree with a minor in philosophy and a year of elementary education thrown into the mix.

The Man skipped the university route, opting to work those years instead, but is now putting his RESPs into an art program. He’s a few classes away from completion. He’s no slouch in the brain department either. His parents are teachers by trade. There was no getting away from getting good marks in that house.

His ex and mother of the Little Man got a youth care certificate of some sort. I don’t know if she tried any university courses prior to that. I’m thinking no.

Collectively we should be able to instill in the Little Man a sense of how important it is to work hard in school and do his best to understand and use what he’s learning. He’s in French immersion. The Man and I are very rusty with French and Ex has none to speak of so we’ll all learn with him as he starts Grade 1. Especially once we have to decipher his school assignments and make sure he’s doing them correctly. “Ah non, ce n’est pas correct, mon petit garçon… Ah oui! Très bien!”

I think a related Scruples 2014 question would probably run along the lines of this:

You’re struggling to keep up with the class assignments and a friend suggests you buy relevant essays online or copy text from a website to paraphrase and make your own. Your friend admits to doing both regularly. Do you follow her lead?

I got a kick (wallop, stimulation, refreshment) out of a recent Guardian piece (section, specimen) on the funnier side of plagiarism recently, namely the habit some students have of replacing original text with whatever a thesaurus may suggest as an alternative. It’s called Rogeting, after the famous thesaurus compiler.

To “stay ahead of the competition” became the quaint “to tarry fore of the conflict”, while “new market leaders” was turned into “modern store guides”.

Sadler’s favourite Rogetism, however, is a rendering of the phrase “left behind”, which was marvellously converted into “sinister buttocks”.

“This was a sad business for me and especially [for] my student, but I do think ‘sinister buttocks’ deserves a prize,” said Mr Sadler, who entered the student mistake for this year’s Times Higher Education exam howlers.

I can find articles about this year’s short list for the competition, but nothing about who won it yet. Sorry.

Prom season is open season on gay relationships

May 14, 2012

A Catholic school in Kentucky banned a lesbian couple from attending theirs. The trouble is, Hope Decker and Tiffany Wright found out they couldn’t go as a couple when they arrived at the gym on Saturday night and were immediately turned away. No warnings ahead of time. Just found out on the day.

“I would understand and respect the school’s decision if they truly upheld church teachings,” Wright said Sunday night. “They didn’t forbid the entrance of all the couples who’ve had premarital sex and all the kids who planned to get drunk after the prom.”

Sounds like hypocrisy in action. I’d say they truly are upholding church teachings… The kids opted to party in the parking lot after that.

Wright said the couple’s parking-lot prom was great.

“We had a wonderful night, and we were surrounded by true friends,” Wright said. “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

Among the other students outside with them were Lexington Catholic senior Suzie Napier, who said she wrote a letter to school administrators expressing displeasure at their decision. Napier said 107 fellow students signed it.

Puts me in mind of anther school a couple years ago in Mississippi that actually cancelled their prom to stop lesbians from dancing together. The school got a hell of a lot of bad press and the girls got a hell of a lot of support from many circles.

Napier said the students played music from their parked cars at the outside prom and set up a table for refreshments.

“I definitely think this prom will be much more memorable than any prom the school hosted,” Napier said.

Megan Carter-Stone, a senior, also attended the outside prom.

“It was a wonderful time, and I think we got our point across,” Carter-Stone said. “At least I hope we did.”

It’s good that these girls and their friends made the best of a stupid situation and hosted their own party instead of let the school officials ruin a night that’s supposed to be memorable for better reasons.

If the school had always planned on keeping them out of the gym, they should have been told sooner. It was mean spirited to let them think they could come to prom and then leave them out of it entirely. Would Jesus treat people like that? If he really was the caring equalizer Christians want to claim he was, then the only obvious answer is no. Decker graduates this year but Wright still has a couple years left at this school. How’s she going to be treated after this? Catholics praise their martyrs for standing up for what they believed in in the face of adversity. Will they praise her, too, or make the rest of her time there a living hell?

Student willing to ruin school career over Jesus T-shirt

May 5, 2012

From CBC:

A Christian student suspended from a high school in Nova Scotia for sporting a T-shirt with the slogan “Life is wasted without Jesus” vows to wear it when he returns to class next week.

William Swinimer, who’s in Grade 12, was suspended from Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin in Lunenburg County for five days. He’s due to return to class on Monday.

The devout Christian says the T-shirt is an expression of his beliefs, and he won’t stop wearing it.

“I believe there are things that are bigger than me. And I think that I need to stand up for the rights of people in this country, and religious rights and freedom of speech,” he told CBC.

Swinimer wore the same shirt to class for weeks on end, the article goes on, but teachers and students were starting to feel like it was less a message about personal beliefs and more like a passive attempt to convert the entire student body. As Nancy Pynch-Worthylake, board superintendent, put it –

“When one is able or others are able to interpret it as, ‘If you don’t share my belief then your life is wasted,’ that can be interpreted by some as being inappropriate,” she said.

Swinimer was too wrapped up in his own feelings of persecution to see it that way, though, and was willing to risk losing the rest of his school year over his shirt. I was curious about what other coverage this story had and found CBC’s update. The school board has reconsidered.

Swinimer called the board’s decision “awesome” and said he will be wearing his T-shirt to school on Monday.

“Some people say you’re not supposed to have religion in school. Well, every other religion is in that school and they constantly put Christianity down,” he said.

I don’t know what he means by that. Is he saying his school looks the other way while kids from other religious backgrounds blatantly insult the Christian kids, or did the school make the decision to be less Christian-centric and open things up to more secular events like winter festivals instead of Christmas parties?

Pinch-Worthylake said the board will use this incident as a learning moment for everyone, adding that it is time to move on.

“We’re going to be working with students around how they can express their religious views and other views appropriately, and how we work together when those views may be interpreted or misinterupted by others,” she said.

“So, the focus is off the T-shirt. Whatever T-shirts come to school on Monday with personal beliefs will not be an issue for us.”

And that might help with whatever perceived slurs Swinimer claims are hurting li’l Christian feelings, too. Personally, I think he still needs to be taken aside and reminded that school hours are for class work, not proselytizing. He’s going to waste his life if he doesn’t care more about getting a good education and it won’t matter how much love for Jesus he has if he can’t get a good job as well. I expect this story will follow him for years and there will be places that will not hire him – not because he’s Christian, but because he comes across as arrogant, self-centered and willfully ignorant of the fact it’s perfectly acceptable to not be Christian.