Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Modeled on the idea of "immorality" and "amorality." Where "irresponsibility" is someone who is doing something they should not (e.g., skipping class) or not doing something they should (e.g., claiming they will help out at a volunteer workday and then never showing, and not having any good excuse).

Aresponsibility seems to be something newer - or at least, I'm seeing it or recognizing it now. This is people being irresponsible but not realizing that they are doing so. Whether it's that they've never HAD to be responsible, never been taught, or whether they have such an enormous sense of entitlement, I can't tell.

Here's something that happened the other day: one of my students has missed something like half the labs. And he failed to hand in a paper in the class. So he e-mailed me: hey, when can I make up the labs?

Um, never? That's why I say in the syllabus, no make up labs?

And then he asked about handing the paper in - hey, his computer broke down and he just not got it fixed. (The paper was due 2 weeks ago, I had never heard anything from him until just this moment). I told him - grudgingly - I would accept the paper, but he would lose points because it was late.

"OH, so that's how it has to be!" he e-mailed back. Wait a minute - are you giving me 'tude for my telling you that a paper I DO NOT HAVE TO ACCEPT will be accepted BUT with losing some points? I don't even have to grade the freaking thing. I would be completely within my rights to refuse it.

I don't know. I think I'm going to have a talk with this guy's advisor. I know the advisor and if he knows how badly this guy is slacking, he will have a come-to-Jesus meeting with him, and hopefully put him on the path to being straightened out.

But I keep seeing this these past couple semesters - people missing monumental amounts of work, showing up a couple weeks later, and completely expecting that they will be not only forgiven, but will be allowed a complete mulligan on what they missed. And the level of presumption of that makes my head spin.

The students know - or at least, the ones who attend labs know - that some of the labs take me AN HOUR to set up. And I don't have a teaching assistant this semester. So it's all on me. For a student to come to me and tell me that I need to set a lab back up, just for him, because he couldn't be arsed to be there on lab day (and no, he didn't miss lab because he was sick or at work or testifying in court or any of the 10,000 TMI reasons why students justifiably miss class) - well, that basically says to me "You are my servant. My whims are more important than your own life - they are more important than the other work you are doing." I have a total of some 100 students. If every single one of them imposed upon my time in that way, I would be on campus 24/7 catering to their "needs."

I do not see why the special snowflakes of the world fail to see that I can't just cater to their whims. "It's just for meeeeee" they say. "I won't tell anyone you bent the rules."

That's. Not. The. Point.

I also had a student - who really should have known better - walk into my lab and hit me up during lab yesterday - needing a letter of recommendation for grad school. And, ohai, he needs it tomorrow (meaning, now, today).

I just looked at him. "You do know I have a meeting at four, after this lab lets out" I said, irritably. "You do know that it takes me a while to write these things: I have to look up your past class performance in my records, and it takes time to compose a letter." (I didn't say that I felt like crap right at that moment - it was about 80 degrees and 80% humidity in the classroom - and I really just wanted to go home).

He left, dejected. But golly, asking a prof to write a letter with less than 24 hours turnaround?

He did come back later and say that they would take the letter next week if I could do it. I didn't WANT to but I grudgingly agreed.

I think people really truly have a blind spot about those things: they think because they can do things at the last minute, everyone can. I have a busy life. I have meetings a lot of evenings during the week. I have exams I have to get written. I have research I'm working on. I have a grad student. I can't just reshuffle my schedule and add in last-minute requests easily.

And even on top of that: I go to work around 7 am. I should be able to get home by 5 pm, and AT MOST take some grading or prep-work home with me. I get to have a few minutes of what's called "a life" and I try to do that by working responsibly during the day. I don't like being blindsided by late papers and last-minute requests because that means I put my relaxation time on hold because someone else couldn't plan.

And I begin to wonder: is the seemingly-increasing levels of people not being responsible, and then expecting everyone else to mop up for them, a cause or an effect of what many of us see as increasing governmental (and other) paternalism: where some entity somewhere says, "You can't handle making your own choices; I'm going to make them for you." I wonder if people are abdicating taking responsibility because they are slowly becoming used to decisions being made for them. Or, is the government (and university adminstrations, and some manufacturers) trying to make it so we have fewer and fewer choices we have to make - or at least, fewer choices for which we will bear responsibility if we choose unwisely or selfishly? I think of some of the bail-outs and how angry it made people like me - people who tried to do everything the "right" way, when others around us behaved irresponsibly (by doing things like taking lavish vacations they really could not afford) and then, the responsible folks were told, "ohai, some of your tax dollars are going to go to help these people."

(Dont' get me wrong: I have nothing against a hand up - helping someone who lost their job keep their home, for example. But what gripes me is someone who is spending in a way that they should know is unsustainable, and then them coming to someone like me, who scrimped and saved, and saying that they "deserve" a part of my savings).

I don't know. It makes me beat my head against a wall a lot - it's to the point in my volunteer-life that I don't even ASK for help any more, because I've been burned so many times by people who act all eager to help, and never show, and then give me some excuse like "There was a good game on tv." People tell me I'm too g.d. independent, but I feel like I am with good reason. I'd rather try to go it alone - and have to work harder - than trust someone to help and wind up going it alone ANYWAY when they find something they'd rather do.

1 comment:

Dave R. said...

I wonder if it might not be a good idea to give the students in question, and maybe some future ones, copies of what you just wrote. They don't have to know you have a blog; you can always say it's from a letter you wrote to a family member or a friend.

Or are they so self-absorbed, and used to being pampered, that they are incapable of empathy? Could be.

And have we reached a point where young people will reflexively vote for the politicians who will "take care of them" rather than give them the freedom to chart their own directions in life? Could also be.

But then,I'm kind of old, and old guys have been complaining about young ones for several milennia now.