Monday, May 06, 2013


I don't carry pencils to final exams any more. I don't carry any writing utensils, for that matter.

Partly because I got sick of losing them - you loan someone a pencil, and unless you are there breathing down their back as they finish up, they often walk off with it. And good pencils (the only kind I will use, and it's increasingly hard to find good pencils, now that Ticonderogas are made in China out of some kind of super-breaky graphite now) aren't cheap.

But there's another issue here: Is it really too much to ask an 18 to 22 year old (or sometimes older) to bring a freakin' pencil with them to the exam? I regularly have people show up to exams with no pens or pencils and frankly, I don't want to give them the test when that happens. Because, how prepared for an exam are you gonna be if you didn't think to bring a  pencil? (These are people who do not ordinarily take notes in class - so they don't show up with notebooks and pencils).

One of the classes I teach gives exams as a Scan-Tron test. This is a Gen Ed class with a common exam, so it has to be machine gradeable. Now, I'm not a huge fan of all-multiple-choice, but it does make the grading easier on me. I tell the students: bring a #2 pencil. I put it on the review sheet: Bring a #2 pencil. I put it up on the class webpage: Bring a #2 pencil.

And I still get people who whip out an ink pen and are set to do the Scan-Tron in ink pen. (Oh hell no. I am NOT hand grading scan trons just because someone didn't have the right writing instrument).

But I mean, really: I grew up reading fairy tales where if you broke one little magical rule, you were in big trouble. Or if you happened to have the right thing at the right time, showing your preparedness, you were rewarded. I also remembered being told the story of how J.C. Penney (the man, the one who founded the store) once hired a person partly on the basis that he bothered to taste his food (during a restaurant meal) before salting it, rather than automatically salting it, and Penney assumed that meant he was a prudent man. And later, I remember the story of - was it AC/DC? - who had the clause in their contract that there were to be no brown M and Ms in the bowls of M and Ms in the dressing room, and the idea was that they could tell at a glance if the other things - safety related things - they asked for had been followed by checking the M and Ms.

So I pretty well learned young that Following the Directions Is a Good Thing. And what's more, when I was a kid, there were consequences: If you showed up without a pencil, there was a good chance you would not be allowed to take the test, and the teacher would brook no whining about it.

But now, sometimes, I feel like people are not allowed to suffer consequences for things - and I wonder if that just leads to an increasing number of bad decisions.

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