Apparently this is something some of the OWS protestors are asking for.
I have a couple of problems with the concept; one is a practical problem, the other is a more philosophical problem.
I don't deny that college has become expensive. And for a lot of jobs where you once could be hired with a high-school diploma, you now need a B.A., or even in some cases, an M.A. And that's a problem.
I've already commented before on why I think college has gotten so expensive; I think it's mainly a combo platter of growing administrations (in some cases, because of added accounting or assessment type duties, or added student services; in other cases, there does seem to be mindset that "more administrators is better"), decreased state funding for public schools (not necessarily a bad thing, perhaps, in these days of strapped state budgets, but you do have to ask students and parents to shoulder more of the costs), and a desire for the newest, fanciest, and latest - I've seen new dorms where the dorm rooms/suites were far nicer than any apartment I ever lived in.
And yeah, we do need to ensure that college is at least somewhat affordable for people who want to go - a big part of the American dream is that people can have upward mobility if they work for it. The kid who grew up in a working-class family can become a surgeon if he or she works hard, earns good grades (and has an aptitude for science - and the dexterity required of a surgeon). And it makes me sad to think of people being closed out of that.
(I will say, my small university? We STRIVE to be affordable. And I consider it important to give my students the best education I can - I'm not giving them the "$5 education" whereas if I were at Harvard or somewhere I'd give them the "$20 version," I try hard to teach the students what they need to know regardless of whether they're trying for med school, want to go to grad school, or are taking college classes with no ambition greater than working at the local casino)
But I have two (maybe really three) problems with the idea of college education being "free" - which would really mean the taxpayers pay for it.
First of all: it costs money to keep a school open. You have to pay the electrical providers, the Internet providers. You have to buy books for the library. And you have to pay your faculty. (I mentioned before: I'm close to the top of the "food chain" of faculty, and I make $60K a year. Which I think is a good income, but I do not think it lavish or excessive.)
If the state paid for EVERYTHING, corners would have to be cut. Already, because of cuts in state funding, our library cannot afford everything it could ideally have. And we've got some serious "deferred maintenance" issues on campus. I can imagine in a fully state-run university, they'd have to cut faculty salaries...and then, if the salaries got low enough, you would not be able to get or keep quality people, at least in most fields. (If it came down to me, for example, being told, "You will make $25K a year, or find another job," I'd probably wind up (sadly) leaving academia. I suspect my skills and native intelligence could land me a better paying job in some other field.)
So that's the practical issue. (There's also the political issue that I don't think the state should pay 100% of a thing like that.)
But there's also a philosophical issue. My father remarked that he read the Communist Manifesto and other similar books when in college - and that "communism is beautiful on paper but ugly when people get involved." By that, he meant, in a perfect world, socialism or communism would work. (And in some limited situations - like some religious orders - a sort of communal property-held-in-common lifestyle DOES more ore less work.). But in the larger world, it doesn't. Because people tend to be selfish. And some people believe that "some pigs should be more equal than others."
But also, as he pointed out: property that no one owns, no one tends to keep up. Because no one has an investment in it. (There's also an essay out there called The Tragedy of the Commons. It's not quite the same idea, but it's similar).
If you have insufficient investment in something, you don't care about it.
And so, I'm afraid that if students were going to college for "100% free," there would be a critical mass of students who would not value their educations...who would slack off, and party, and not do anything. (Because if college was free, there might also be full employment for adults, courtesy of the government. And if there's no competition for anything - there's really little incentive to be excellent.)
Even now, I can see some students who are on loan money who don't try as hard as the people who are working their way through (or who earned good scholarships for which they must keep a certain GPA). (I've also heard students claim they're just going to default on their loans, because "Who will come after me?" Oh, my dear children, oh....)
If we make college free, people won't value it. (But I agree that neither should it be so expensive that only the very wealthy or connected can afford it).
And as I've said before: we need to promote non-college paths into the workforce for people who don't WANT to become doctors or engineers or nurses or researchers or professors or lawyers. We need to encourage the skilled trades - I know that there are some employers who cannot find qualified people for skilled-trade type jobs, currently.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Apparently this is something some of the OWS protestors are asking for.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
One of the kids' tv networks (The Hub) has given Warren Buffett his own cartoon.
You read that right. Warren Buffett as a cartoon character. The show is apparently one of those overtly-educational cartoons, aimed at teaching kids about earning money.
(My immediate reaction: Mr. Buffett, are you also going to teach them about taxes, that anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 what they earn will go to the government? After all, seeing as you now have a tax plan named after you...)
Aside from the fact that I just find the idea of a cartoonized Warren Buffett faintly creepy, I also find those kinds of overtly-educational cartoons NOT entertaining. (Remember "Captain Planet?"). I suppose they play a role but I remember hating those kinds of things even when I was a kid. Though I could be wrong about this one, and I hope I am. Maybe what kids need is some show promoting earning money and being smart about it, instead of just the endless "gimme gimme gimme" that some kids seem to learn.
But I hope they're not too heavy-handed about it. Because the heavy-handed shows can be just awful.
There are some cartoons - Phineas and Ferb does this a lot - that sneak in snippets of educational stuff, like vocabulary words ("Aglet") or little historical facts. Or some shows aimed at younger kids take a problem-solving theme and try to teach some moral lessons, like don't immediately reject someone who's different from you. And as long as those aren't done in a heavy-handed way (and in Phineas and Ferb, there's almost a winking, "hey, kids, here's the daily dose of education" humor about it), the cartoon can still be entertaining.
Although, I don't know...maybe there is a precedent for teaching kids about money and investing via cartoons; I remember an old Looney Tunes cartoon where Sylvester came into a lot of money, and Elmer Fudd (I think it was Elmer) taught him about how investing it being better than spending it, because it generally improved the country by allowing businesses to grow and new products to be made.
Though, I don't know, looking at some of the statements I've received lately from TIAA-CREF and my IRA, I'm beginning to think maybe spending more and investing less is the way to go right now. Because that iPad or whatever might drop steeply in value when I walk out the door of the store, but at least I still HAVE something for my money, instead of just shares of some company that may or may not increase.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
I do a tree-identification lab with one of my classes. We did it today. What I plan for the lab is this: I get out herbarium sheets (dried, mounted specimens of leaves and twigs), set them out, give the students some guidelines of characteristics to look for. After they've spent a while examining and drawing and writing descriptions of the specimens, I take them out on campus and show them what live trees I can (the ones we have representatives of on campus; not all of the trees they need to learn are planted right on campus).
This year, something new: several student whipped out their cell phones and began photographing the specimens rather than looking at them, drawing them, etc.
I didn't make too much of a fuss - after all, we're all told "PEOPLE LEARN DIFFERENTLY" but I have a feeling these students won't know the trees as well as the people who went slowly around the room, sketching each leaf, writing down details and characteristics of it.
And one thing I tried to convey when we were out on campus was that you often need to use multiple senses to identify something. Yes, I can identify most trees on sight - looking at the growth-form, the leaves, in some cases the bark - but I also like to feel the leaves of some species (there are a few that you can tell closely related species apart by the fact that, for example, one has hair on both sides of the leaf and the other only has it underneath). Or that some species feel especially waxy. And in some cases, you can use smell - my "verification character" for one of the cherries is to scratch a bit of the bark and smell for bitter almonds - because they make a cyanide compound in the bark.
(In a way, it's like being an old-timey ME or crime-scene investigator: you have to consider everything. You have to smell stuff, feel stuff.)
A few people halfheartedly photographed the trees in the field.
Part of me wonders: in the future, when there are "apps" for everything - tree identification, bird identification - where does that leave those of us who learned it the old-fashioned way? I admit the idea that everything can be called up on the cell phone makes me a little sad; I have put in many hours learning my trees and herbaceous plants, and I used to pride myself on how well I knew stuff and how fast I could identify things. Is an electronic brain going to replace the human brain?
But on the other hand, I think of my Grasses of North America professor, who would bring four or five species into the lab each week and then FORCE us to spend fifteen minutes looking at and drawing each one. "You should spend more time looking at it than you do drawing it" he'd say. Meaning - look at the details, pay attention to the characters, learn what's important.
One thing that worries be about the too-easy "e-learning" is that maybe people aren't stopping to look for what's important - that they get information overload and learn things in a very superficial way, but never plumb the greater depths.
I used to annoy some of my labmates in grad school when I knew a plant really well and could identify it fast. They'd ask me "How do you know?" and I'd sort of shrug and go "Gestalt". But that's true - that's how I'd do it. I'd have looked at the plant so many times that I developed a mental image of it, and I knew what characters to look for without even thinking about it. (I also have an excellent visual memory, I've found).
But I do wonder sometimes if by making things seem fast and easy - like taking a cell-phone photo of plants you're supposed to learn to identify - if people aren't somehow short-circuiting real learning.
I don't know.
It does make me sad that maybe my way of learning stuff - the time-consuming, slow, but ultimately rewarding and satisfying way - may seem outmoded now.
But we'll see - I made a mental note of who used the "slow methods" and who snapped pictures and scrammed. In a couple weeks I take them out in the field and it will be interesting to me to see if there's a difference in the knowledge levels and memory. I suspect there will be, but I don't know for sure.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The SOP when something goes wrong with classroom technology is to report it to our chair, and then ask the secretary (who has the real power) to call whoever-it-is- who is to fix it.
Well, one of our projectors started going wonky. I told the chair, she groaned and said, "That probably means the bulb is starting to go. Have J. call computer services, but it seems like they order one bulb at a time, and it takes two weeks to get here."
I immediately thought of a movie line. (This is rare; I am not like Tony DiNozzo by a long shot).
"Well, ain't this place a geographical oddity," I quipped. "Two weeks from everywhere."
She laughed ruefully - I am sure she got the allusion. But that's one thing I like about where I work - that you can make jokes and people are more than likely going to laugh. Some college campuses, seriously, they look at you suspiciously and go, "What do you mean by THAT?" (possibly calculating how you offended them) or they think you aren't taking things seriously enough.
And one thing I've found is, when I lose my ability to laugh at stuff (which has happened over the last few months, largely because of the state of the world), I do get kind of miserable. And it's like I lose some of my creativity and problem-solving ability. So it's welcome to me to see my ability to laugh at stuff - especially the stupid stuff (like having to wait two weeks for a crazy projector bulb) come back.
Also, in my department, I think we're able to laugh a lot together because the problems we face tend mostly to be external to the department - funding problems, or helicopter parents, or administrators who don't totally understand that science classes cannot be taught the same way as English classes or Business classes. And that helps to make us a cohesive unit, whereas some departments have factions that fight amongst themselves, and that's just ugly and sad. One thing I'm tremendously grateful for - and which means I would have to have an extremely enticing offer elsewhere to want to leave - is that we all mostly get along. We have some differences of opinion, we all have personality quirks that can be annoying - but they're all things we can live with. And having a pleasant workplace (in my mind at least) trumps higher compensation but dealing with miserable human beings.
Friday, October 14, 2011
This just shows me how broken people can be, and how envy/selfishness can destroy the lives of innocent bystanders.
I'm talking about the news story about that man in California. He was engaged in an ugly custody battle over his son with his ex-wife. So he went to the salon where his wife worked and killed her.
And a bunch of other people.
And so now there's not just one family grieving, but many. There are people all through a community whose sense of security and "I can go and do stuff and be reasonably sure I won't die randomly when I'm out doing it" have been shattered.
And worst of all, there's a kid who now has NO parents. His mom's dead, his dad's surely bound for life in prison. (And even at that, if I were a judge? The dad would NEVER get custody of the kid now).
I just hope and pray there's someone - a grandparent, an aunt-and-uncle, a close family friend - who can adopt this child and help him begin to heal from what he's experienced.
I used to watch Joan of Arcadia back when it was on television. I remember one of the comments made on the show (I think it had something to do with Joan's boyfriend's mother dying) that everything you do has ripples...and those ripples go outward in ways that are good or bad, and they affect other people you might never even thought they would effect. And I remember Adam (Joan's boyfriend) saying something to the effect that he hoped the ripples he made were "good ripples."
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
I gave an exam in one of my classes this week. One of the students - this is the person I talked about before who shut down when they couldn't quickly find the lab in the lab manual and accused me of not putting it in - claimed that she didn't like my exams because they were "too hard."
That led to a little eruption of griping - I needed to give more detailed review guides (oh, my children. Let me tell you a tale, back in the Pleistocene when I went to college...there were NO review guides. And there was no WebCT where you could look up class notes. No, my children, you were entirely on your own. And some of the professors were even mean! And some only had 2 hours of office hours all week and were never in outside of office hours!)
So anyway. I let them gripe and listened, partly because there's always the off-chance there's a genuine grievance in there I need to address, but also partly because I figured they needed to let off steam before the test.
(As for the "too hard" - this is a class that earned like a 72% average on the first exam. I don't think the exams are too hard).
Another person griped that "You expect a lot of us. This is a hard class."
Well, yes, I acknowledged. This is a class with a lot of challenging material and I understand that.
What I didn't say, but perhaps should have, is this:
"Yes, I expect a lot of you. But I expect a lot of you because I believe you can do these things. I think that if you work hard and apply yourself a little, you can learn this material. I have students coming back from their grad-school programs thanking me for being tough, because they are finding they are well-prepared.
If I didn't expect a lot of you - if I made the class a giant easy A, you should be insulted. Because what I'd be saying with that is, 'I don't believe you can work up to high standards, so I'll just pat you on the head and move you along.'"
I didn't say it, partly because I felt there wasn't time (and some of those things might have been a little harsh), but also because we've become so "student centered" that I could see someone taking it the wrong way and going to the dean. (And I really want to avoid our current dean as much as possible. Our current dean is a super-micro-manager who will make your life kind of miserable if they think there is a problem with how you "interact" with the students).
But it's true: from what I've seen of these students in class and in lab, they are ALL smart enough to handle the material. Some of them may not WANT to work as hard as it would ideally require, but they're all smart enough.
Another observation: A lot of this class is med-school-bound. If they think *I* cover a lot of material and expect "too much," then they have a big, bad surprise waiting for them.
"Do the hard things," kids. Anything worth doing in this life takes effort.
Sunday, October 09, 2011
A friend of mine is having problems with her son being bullied. He's mildly ADHD, so he's a "weird" kid in the eyes of a lot of of the other kids. And he gets set off really easily - she's working with him on his temper, but it's slow going.
The aggravating thing is that the school is blaming him. "If he just didn't get upset, if he didn't push back, those other kids wouldn't bully him."
While I tend to come down on the side of "teach your kids to be tough, because there are people who will try to bully them all through life," I think there's also a point that adults need to step in and be the adults.
Blaming the kid for getting upset when other kids harass him seems wrong.
Other kids will ALWAYS cut the "weird" kid out of the herd and harass them. I didn't have anger issues when I was a kid, but I cried easily. So guess what some of the other kids' favorite sport was? Making me cry. Saying mean or rude or nasty things to me, doing stuff like excluding me, anything they would think would set them off. Sometimes the teachers saw and did something (though some well-meaning but ham-fisted ways that teachers stepped in made stuff worse, actually), sometimes they didn't.
What was the lesson I learned? Don't trust your peers. Ever. I can't quite unlearn that lesson. So, thanks a lot, stinky little bully kids. Probably part of the reason I never dated much, part of the reason I remained single was that every time I worked up the courage to begin thinking of asking a guy out, I immediately imagined him laughing at me, or saying some cutting remark that would make him look "big" to his friends - and so I decided no, being alone is not worse than that.
It must really be awful to be a kid today, even with all the lip service given to "ending bullying" - I am sure at a lot of schools "bullying" has gone underground but is still there. And cyberbullying - harassing kids over the Internet - you couldn't get away from that, the way I could go home on Friday afternoons and be bullying-free until Monday morning.
Frankly, I roll my eyes when any sentimental adult talks about how "angelic" kids are and how some of them seem to have a direct line to God and stuff. Because it seems more to me that a lot of kids seem to have a direct line to The Other Guy. Which is why teaching them to be civilized, to understand that other people have feelings and get hurt and all of that is so important. (And sadly, I've seen a few kids lately who don't seem to be learning that lesson).
This is just another way in which people frustrate me.
Saturday, October 08, 2011
I can't read any more/listen to any more on the "Occupy Whereever" movement.
It makes me too sad. And frankly, too scared: There are people (a small number, I am sure, but still) calling for things like "kill the rich."
It's all fine the people who are laughing at the clueless 20 year olds in the crowd who are protesting mainly because they think it's cool - but I think we make too much fun of the movement at our collective peril. There are, I think, a small number of well-organized, persuasive, potentially violent people that are in the movement - that could sway some of the weak-minded people over to their side.
Already some in NY government have allegedly received threatening e-mails over a surtax on millionaires. (And when I heard this on the news, my first thought is: Are these being investigated for what they are, terroristic threats? I haven't heard if they are but I damn well hope so - if my 75 year old dad has to be patted down and take of his shoes in the airport, and carry a special letter from his doctor warning that his fake knee will trigger the scanners - then they damn well better look for the people saying, "Kill the rich" and threatening to firebomb restaurants.
(Of course, it's possible - though I'm not sure even a NY politician would be this slimy - that they're faked up, as a reason for the tax hike to be pushed through. "Look, we were threatened. You don't want violence in the streets, do you?")
The other thing - as someone was saying on the radio this morning - it's the millionaires and other taxpayers who are providing the DSC services in the occupied parks. And it's going to be city workers who pick up all the (literal, in some cases) crap after these. (That really frosts me - for all the talk of being in favor of "the little guy," the protestors don't seem to care about the city workers who have to clean up after them.).
(Sometimes I wonder if this will lead to Atlas shrugging....and then we'll see just how well we get along without "the evil rich." I know if I had lots of money, at this point I'd be seriously considering retiring to a small ranch or farm somewhere and, I don't know, raising lavender or boarding people's horses for a minimal cost over operating expenses and just doing what I want to do and saying "screw it" to the idea of trying to make lots more money)
As much as I've bitched in the past about living in a small, comparatively remote town....now I'm grateful. And I'm grateful I have cop neighbors. And I'm grateful there are as many armed and well-trained people in my town. Because we MAY be seeing an armed insurrection at some point. And I'm grateful I have former-military students who I bet would have my back in some kind of really ugly situation.
damn, I'm glad I have all that stored food. If "occupy Wall Street" turns into "occupy Wal Mart" and people have to cross screaming protestors to get their damn groceries....And I'm glad I have so many books and craft supplies stashed away; if it comes down to us all having to wall ourselves off for a while while things get very ugly.
I don't know. I've said for four or five years that I think we're headed for a new civil war in this country - or are perhaps in a "cold" civil war. I really don't want to see that. But I fear it will happen.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Michael Moore: "The rich are kleptomaniacs and sociopaths."
Takes one to know one, I guess.
He's calling for caps on Wall Street salaries and the salaries of rich businessmen. Why not also cap salaries of entertainers, while we're at it?
What I totally don't get is why is a wealthy businessperson - who probably creates meaningful jobs for a lot of people - is evil, but some entertainer making just as much money, and who probably mainly creates jobs for hangers-on, isn't.
I'm not saying entertainers are evil, I'm just saying it makes no sense to me to vilify one group for making a lot of money and remain silent about others.
I don't know. This is ugly and will get uglier. I hate to say it but I'm glad my annual salary is about $60K: that's enough for me to be comfortable on but probably low enough that I can continue to fly under the radar of the haters.
I really, really hope we're not heading to some kind of Dr. Zhivago future where people with big houses are expected to warehouse many families for "the party," and where those who have education and have worked and earned a lot are considered potential enemies. I've heard some news clips of people actually suggesting violence (Rosanne Barr and her "beheading" quip, for example) and I admit I'm beginning to get a bit scared.
I can see the "kill 'em and take their stuff" idea growing like a cancer among some groups of people, aided and abetted by the frankly irresponsible comments of has-been entertainers...time for the honest folks to think about locking and loading, I guess.
Monday, October 03, 2011
I have to admit, I'm sure part of this is filtered through my own feelings/experience. But I'm frustrated at the protestors and the news coverage of them.
Granted, I'm the kind of person who, if I see something I think is wrong and unjust, I'm more likely to say to myself, "Okay, what can I do to work towards fixing this" rather than "Gee, I should go and complain about it to someone." For example, if affordable housing were a big problem in my town, and I had the time and the passion, I'd join or start a Habitat for Humanity chapter*
(*And yes, I know some people have objections to some of their practices/people who were in charge/etc./etc. but I've seen some of the work they do and at the grassroots level it can be very helpful to people)
There are actually many groups in my town aimed at dealing with hunger, poverty, illiteracy, lack of job training, you name it - all groups of people, largely volunteer, who saw a problem and said, "What can I do to help fix it?" Most of these folks fly under the radar - they don't seem to want to draw much attention to themselves - but they do a lot of good work.
And that's why the people sitting on Wall Street frustrate me. Yes, there's injustice and unfairness in things (just look at BoA deciding to charge $5 a month for the privilege of a debit card - thanks, Dodd-Frank), but sitting around and complaining won't do much. (Hell, these days, writing to your Representative apparently doesn't do much, either).
I also got a distinct sense of entitlement, and possibly also privilege, off of the protestors interviewed. Several of them spoke with the undercurrent of "I want the rich people to give me stuff so I can do what I want." One guy wondered aloud why pot hadn't been legalized yet. (FWIW: I wouldn't have a huge problem with decriminalization, but it seems a lot of chronic pot-smokers don't exactly achieve a lot in life...). Several said they wanted to dismantle capitalism, but when asked, had no alternative, other than a "more just" system.
(Heh. I watched "Dr. Zhivago" on TCM this weekend...I'm now thinking of the scene when his family's home is taken over by the Bolsheviks (? I think - it was one of the "people's" groups) and 14 families installed in it - the place running to rack and ruin, presumably because no one could be arsed to take care of anything, because it wasn't their property - and Zhivago bitterly commented it was a "more just" system (ironically and bitterly - said mainly to appease the dour Party Leaders that were in charge).)
I wonder, would these folks REALLY like an old-time agrarian system, where if you don't work, you don't eat? Where there aren't thinks like iPads to be had, and Facebook doesn't exist because Mark Zuckerberg is too busy trying to keep his widowed mother alive on what grain he can grow?
(And I have to admit, I roll my eyes at everyone who talks about "evil corporations" while Googling something on their iPhone...)
I think really what a lot of the protestors think is that they're a special class who shouldn't have to work - not like those evil rich people who should work and should support them.
I don't know. I work for a living. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy my work, I feel like I'm useful to society and I'm doing something that helps people. And I enjoy getting my paycheck so I can pay my bills and go grocery shopping and maybe buy some books to read. And it irritates me to see someone who's apparently intelligent and able-bodied saying what sounds to me like, "I shouldn't have to work for a living because I don't want to." That they expect the rest of us to support them, just, well, because.
This is why I think stories like "The Little Red Hen" should be required in all grade schools. And parents should tell them to their kids. And work - whatever it is - should be seen as valuable and perhaps even noble, and that sitting around on your butt is not a desirable alternative.
Saturday, October 01, 2011
I've been fairly quiet on the teaching-discussion front this fall. I've been crazy busy (new preps are a lot of work, and the stats class I teach can be intellectually exhausting), but things have been pretty good. Dare I say it, lest I jinx myself? But I seem to be having a special-snowflake-free semester.
And a couple good things have happened. I got an e-mail from a former student who is now in grad school. He was thanking me for the background I gave him in the stats class, because "A lot of my friends from other schools are struggling with the intro-level graduate course in stats and I'm not." Now, granted, he was a good student - and I'm sure that helped. But it made me smile because I remember him bitching about some of the things I required them to do in that class. (I've had that experience myself as a student: had a "hard" teacher that I bitched about and even didn't like that much, and then later on, when I got to a higher-level class, I was all "WHOA. They were a really good teacher, they taught me so much.")
I also have an ecology student who is in the "capstone" senior class. (This is a catchall type class on things like Appropriate Interview Behavior and where they do assessment testing). They've been doing the assessment testing right now, and she has the class right before lab...so she has been coming into lab and saying, "You know that thing you talked about in class? It was on the test we took today!" (In fact, this last week, she commented: "That stuff about the competition in the barnacles you talked about this morning? It was ON THE TEST! So I know I got that right!" The thing is - I've never seen these assessment tests. They are the carefully-guarded "nationally normed" tests that are given with Fort-Knox-like security. So I cannot be accused of "teaching to the test." But it makes me feel good that the things I have decided are significant to teach the students are also things the ETS and other groups have decided are significant.
And finally, I am teaching an intro majors class. This is the first time - usually I get the non-majors survey class for that slot. Oh, my gosh, is there a difference in dedication between majors and non-majors. Oh, my gosh, is there a difference in the level of POLITENESS. I suppose for the majors they realize, "I'm going to see this prof again, I better show them some respect" and for the non-majors it's all "Pah, I'm never going to have this person for a class again, so what does it matter?"
I also teach a section of the lab for the majors intro class and you know? It's a joy to see the students progressing. We've gone in a few weeks from students who were afraid of graphing, who needed to be reminded what the independent and dependent variables were and which axis you used, to those same students looking at their data and going, "Oh, I need to graph this, okay, this thing is the independent variable and this other thing is the dependent variable" and doing the graph like it's no big deal. (Oh, granted, there are still some students who struggle with stuff - but in general, people's confidence level has really increased, their comfort with the material has really increased, and it's cheering to see that.)
So it's turning out to be a busy but good semester.