The Random Yak

It Wastes Your Time and it Annoys the Yak

Filed under: Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 4:17 pm on April 12, 2010

The title of this post, in slightly modified form, represents the second half of the old saw that starts, “You should never try to teach a pig to sing, because…”

It is also, unfortunately, the answer to the newer and slightly less familiar one beginning, “You should never agree to teach a college course because…”  At least, it seemed that way this morning.

On the one hand, my students’ recent midterm exams featured the first perfect score anyone has ever received on a midterm in one of my classes.  To be specific, it featured four of them.  Splendid news – and in reality, more than enough to make the effort worth it, despite the minor annoyance created by the half of the class that decided studying was a waste of time.  Unfortunately for all of us, this had a highly foreseeable result: half of them failed.

To their credit, they failed spectacularly and not without sparks of creativity.  (Under the circumstances, I’ll take my entertainment where I can.) Not-so-much to their credit, it meant I spent the lion’s share of the hours I would have liked to spend reading new books over the weekend drinking coffee and trying not to say nasty things about people who probably don’t really deserve to be called anything but lazy and unmotivated.

Most of you probably thought this would turn into a ranting post about the failures of modern alledgeducation and students’ lack of interest in learning – not without reason, and not without justification.  I see those problems regularly, and I flail about in the mire of frustration at least as much as the rest of you.

But not this time.  Nottoday.  You see, today I’m not blogging to tell you about the creative-but-hopeless things the failures did.  Today I’m going to focus on the ones who deserve the spotlight.  The ones whose achievements usually end up shadowed by the alarmingly bleak waves of apathy upon which ride the failboats of the age.

Let’s talk about the perfect scores.

Not one, but four.  Four people who cared enough to do something not just well, but exceedingly well.  They learned the material, they answered the questions, they aced the test.  On their own merits, mind.  Not with a curve, or easy grading, or a university that decided to boost their grades to “the level we’re sure they really intended.”  They studied, they learned and they passed.  And I am proud of them.

At first I, too, let the frustration of the unmotivated bring me down.  I stomped around the house like my shaggy old self, fuming about wasted effort and wasted time.  I berated myself for agreeing to teach again, after deciding I would devote my efforts to places where they met with better results and more serious interest.  After all…I was right.  They didn’t care, and I had the exams to prove it.

But then (with a little boot help from The Random Spouse and another very good friend) I started thinking about the other ones.  The ones who cared enough not just to listen but to excel.  When I taught law for a living, I often said I’d stand and teach if even one person really wanted to learn – and here I have not one, but four.

Is the others’ failure irritating? Yep.  Annoying?  Sure.  Enough to make me grumble around like a bad-tempered quadruped?  I’ve already admitted it, and more.

But letting myself get mired down in their failure is, in effect, a failure of my own.  There are others who do care, and they deserve better.  Does that mean a few pearls may fall before less-than-interested parties?  Sure.  But in the long run, success isn’t measured by the ones we didn’t save.

It’s measured by the ones we do.


  1. “…and not without sparks of creativity…”

    *heh* In one of the few undergrad courses that really grabbed me, team taught by one English prof and one history prof–each of whom were present for ALL classes, each test was an essay test that required not just covering the bases of data but noting significant relationships and submitting our written analyses of the data.

    Fun for me, though sometimes the fact that I’d not obtained the texts for the course (long, long story for another time–I did have almost all the source texts in my personal library though) led to remarks by the history prof like, “Saved by your gift of gab again.”

    But… paying to take a class and then just sloughing off any work to gain information and understanding from it seems stupid to me. I’d have a hard time relating to the ones who essentially blew the exam off. Glad you had some who really want to master the subject. That sort of thing does make up for a LOT of the other.

    Comment by David — April 13, 2010 @ 5:42 am

  2. Meanwhile, yesterday Jerry Pournelle posted something (that I immediately stole and posted here: that seems to have application to earlier (and perhaps later) versions of both classes of students you note here.

    Comment by David — April 13, 2010 @ 6:47 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Site Meter