Sunday, February 22, 2015

Extra Credit

So apparently a University of Wisconsin (Whitewater) English professor offered her students extra credit for going to a protest against Scott Walker's budget cuts (Apparently the credit was offered either for participation or "observing" but I wonder what her reaction would be to a student supporting Walker).

Okay. This whole thing sums up several of my objections to extra credit right there. First off: it's not directly related to the class material. It's apparently the professor's own opinions coming out there. I don't want to be accused of "undue influence," so I'd never offer extra credit for something remotely political or social-activism focused. (For example: I might support the service of the local Ministerial Alliance, but I would not grant students extra credit for volunteering to help with a food bank they run, or something similar. I might PUBLICIZE it - but I would be more prone to OUTSIDE of class, less it look like I was trying to hint "do this and it will positively affect your grade.")

But even beyond that - going to a rally for extra credit? What the heck is that?

Back in the day when I was in college, the way extra credit worked was this: Sometimes professors put harder or more challenging problems on an exam (or offered them as homework). It was optional for you to do them and it was more work over and above what you were already doing. (For example: you could NOT get credit for extra credit exam questions if you left other questions blank). They were also HARDER, for example, a trickier enzyme-kinetics question than the standard ones we'd seen. Or a challenging essay that got us to synthesize a couple different topics we'd covered. (And of course, in those pre-widespread-world-wide-web days, a take-home extra credit homework could not simply be Googled).

The idea was, if you wanted to work harder and do more, great - you could earn a few more points. Generally it was the "best and brightest" who took the stuff on, and mostly what it did for those who chose to do it, was to put a solid lock on their having an "A" in the class. (Or at least that was my experience). Extra credit was NOT a substitute for other work, in fact, some professors had a policy that if you hadn't turned in even one piece of the regular work, you could NOT get extra credit.

I suppose some might argue that's elitist - that it was the students who were already good students that had the best shot at extra credit, or that the people who already worked hard got it. But you know what? That's kind of how it should work. The person who works hard should see a reward for that hard work.

I think one of the changes we've seen in the 20 or so years since I've been an undergrad is a rise of "the people who are hardworking and smart don't particularly deserve any perks, rather, we should make it so those at the bottom cannot fail."

It seems to me now that a lot of people who grant extra credit do it so people DON'T fail* - so they can salvage their grade and get away with not doing all the work in the class.

(*It's possible this is a cultural difference between colleges. I went to a highly-selective "Public Ivy," and I teach at a small regional state school that is not particularly selective).

But there's an expectation on the part of the students that bugs me - the few times I've put tougher questions on the exam as "extra credit," a few people have implied it's "unfair" because not everyone can answer them.

Wait, what? It's not fair that some people might earn a few more points because they worked harder or were smarter to begin with? Well, no, it's not fair, in the sense of "equal outcomes for everyone." But there are equal opportunities: you all get the same question. You all had the same chance to study for the exam. You all heard the same material in class. You all had the chance to take advantage of my MANY officer hours per week to get help. But some of you chose not to do that. So you don't get the same outcome as those who did. Frankly, that's how life SHOULD work - those who put in more effort get more out of it.

The other thing I see is a rise of wanting extra credit to make up for previous failures. Like, "Can I write a paper to earn back points?" No. Why should I make more work for myself reading and grading something because you couldn't be bothered to come to all the labs or do all the homework?
(I will work with people with legitimate excuses, and I do have one "free" lab built in to most of my classes, so people who are out sick one week won't be hurt).

But almost invariably, at the end of the semester, I get someone who is all sad coming to me because they missed four or five labs, and did poorly on a couple exams, and is in danger of failing, and wants me to make a special assignment just for them so they will pass. And I ask them why they didn't come in seeking help earlier? And no one has ever had a good answer for that.

I also know people who hand out extra credit like it was candy at Hallowe'en. Go to this talk, get extra credit. Go do this volunteer opportunity, get extra credit. And granted - it's good for the students to hear some of the talks on campus or do things for the community - but they should be doing that anyway, and if something like, I don't know, going to see plays, is so important to the grade of a class, it should be worked into the syllabus, for example, see and write a one-page commentary on one of the three or four plays that is performed on campus each semester and that's worth 10 points of participation or somesuch.

The problem with the "candy" extra credit is that people come to EXPECT it. And then people like me, who don't do extra credit (at least not in the Brave New World way of "show up, go from a D to a C") are the bad meanies who don't want students to succeed.

And that's even beyond the whole political thing of sending students to a political rally.

Monday, February 16, 2015

an ugly world

If you had told me, fifteen or twenty years ago, that I'd see a sharp increase in martyrdom* of Christians in my lifetime, I'd never have believed you.

(*And yes, that's what it is. They are dying because of the faith they profess, at the hands of people who do not share that faith)

I'm glad Egypt is apparently doing something about it.

I am also troubled - as I've said before - by what seems to be a new rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. Hey, guys.....we had a really big war like 70 years ago partly because of people doing ugly anti-Semitic stuff. Stop it.

Granted, the root cause of both these problems (increased Christian martyrdom and increased anti-Semitic acts) is probably the same. (Though I suspect there are some "good Europeans" who are indulging in an uglier side of themselves as well, as far as the anti-Semitism is concerned).

Look, there are a lot of things people do that I don't agree with. But unless they are directly threatening my life with those things I am not going to take action against them. It's a big damn world, live and let live, all that. And I get that "live and let live" is a REALLY hard concept for certain groups, but maybe those groups need a serious reformation and consideration of their beliefs.

As I've said before: it's a good thing I'm not God, 'cos there'd be a whole lot of smiting going on right now. And probably a few nasty plagues (frogs, flies) in certain parts of the world.

Friday, February 13, 2015

No fake, Sherlock.

Two little things:

A. President Obama said: ""It’s one of the great paradoxes of our time that the very technologies that empower us to do great good can also be used to undermine us and inflict great harm,"

Wait....a tool can both be used to help and harm? Who would EVER have thought? 

B. My personal information was swept up in the Anthem breach and I spent part of the end of last week and the first of this week getting locks and holds and alerts placed. That said, I am absolutely, positively, 100% not-in-favor of more restrictions (like some of those some on the Left seem to favor) on the Internet, because those seem mostly designed to hurt dissent and to hurt those who are abiding by the existing laws. That said, I think identity theft needs to somehow be dealt with more severely. (Last week I was stomping around saying it should be a capital crime, but no, I don't really think that). But yeah, it feels creepy and weird and wrong that some jerk over in China may have my social security number and birthdate. (And not so he can send me a card on my birthday, either)

So: tools can help and harm. The answer is NOT restricting the tool or access to it, but dealing harshly with those who misuse the tool.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

a question

What kind of a f***er burns a guy alive?

Dammit, I'm so mad at humanity (or at least some segments of it) right now. 

I just....can't. I can't think of anything else to say. (I had a grandparent who died as a result of burns they suffered in a kitchen accident, so burns and fire are sort of an issue for me anyway)

Monday, February 02, 2015

One more thought on measles

There's a 21-day incubation period.

Okay then: all parents who refuse vaccination of their children for non-medical reasons, you and your children get quarantined, starting now, for 21 days. You need groceries? Call a service to deliver them. Have to go to work? Work from home. Your child's going to miss school? Cry me a river, kids on chemo have to miss school too....and they could catch measles if your kid gets them and takes them to school. No traveling, no going out to movies, no fun, for 21 days. Hope you all have Netflix!

That's what it might take to shut this down.

The other option? Get the kids vaccinated. Simple choice.

I'm just sick of the whole "Let's be a free rider on the responsibility that other parents are shouldering" bit....and the free riders are apparently reaching a critical mass where they can't be absorbed by the system any more. It's just the same in my mind as the (possibly apocryphal) case of the able-bodied guy who wanted to pursue the surfing lifestyle, so instead of working and surfing on weekends, he went on assistance. So everyone else who puts their hobbies on hold during the work week gets to pay for him.

No, life isn't fair, but people shouldn't get to abuse the community to make it "more fair" for what they want.

I have an appointment this week to get my immunity checked, and if needed, get revaccinated. Because I expect this to get worse before it gets better and I want to know I'm immune, not just assume it based on childhood vaccine records.

Edited to add: RAND PAUL YOU ARE AN IDIOT. If it's you vs. Hilary in 2016, I will either stay home or will vote for a third-party candidate. "Mental disorders" my ass.

Any parent worried about safety for their kids: their kids are in worse danger, statistically speaking, whenever they ride in their parents' car somewhere. If they eat rice, they consume more dangerous chemicals (much rice, esp. grown in Texas or Bangaladesh, contains high levels of arsenic).

People get "choice" in vaccines only if their kids don't come into contact with kids who can't safely be vaccinated - or people with compromised immune systems - or people whose immunity has worn off. There's no way to ensure this UNLESS you and your kids live on a commune and never interact with the public.

This is not solely a personal freedom issue because an unvaccinated child could inadvertently harm others. 

I'm really, really, disappointed in Rand Paul over this. (And Chris Christie, but I was already so not on board with him)

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Changes and thoughts

The congregation I belong to has undergone an enormous amount of change in the past ten or so years.

First, the congregation split. Two factions had developed, roughly on age lines (the boomers, vs. the post-boomers. I actually sided with the post-boomers. The boomers were the ones who left....) There were also some doctrinal differences; the people who split and left were more doctrinaire and less willing to say "that's between them and God" concerning things like divorce and gay people.

We struggled. We had an interim for a while....the same interim we had before the pastor who left in the split was hired. We hired someone new. He worked for a while and then he and his wife divorced and he decided to move. Then we hired someone new who turned out probably not to be the best fit for us. Then we limped along with people coming in for single weeks. Then we had a seminary student. And he was fine at first, but....well, as someone noted, he had some authority issues, he wanted things done his way, he had a hard time compromising. This led to a lot of tension and unhappiness. And I remember one Pastoral Committee meeting (which, sigh, yes, that's another group I'm on) that got really ugly and upsetting with two people yelling at each other and I walked out of there in tears. And I admit, the last few months he was there, I fully expected we'd fold after he left....there was a lot of demoralization and I admit at times I felt like I was walking on eggshells. People wouldn't come to church. Sometimes the elders I had assigned duty didn't show up, which was upsetting - there were long strings of weeks I had to serve at the table because one or the other of the assigned people weren't there. It go so I just expected I'd have to do it....I was getting very tired.

I didn't realize how much it affected me and how upsetting it was to my psyche or subconscious. We now have another interim. This man is older, he's been through a lot, he's learned, I guess, how to work with people. He's super friendly and relentlessly positive. People have begun coming back. Every week so far, since he's been there, both of the people assigned to elder have been present, so I haven't had to fill in. People even show up for meetings when they're called.

And on the one hand, that makes me really sad: my attitude is that when a church is struggling, like when there's someone in leadership who's difficult, that's when you make an extra effort to get the work done and keep trudging forward and not leave the other people in positions of leadership hanging by not showing up for meetings or duty. But I can also understand if someone puts you on edge, you want to avoid dealing with them.

(For what it's worth, the person in question didn't really put me on edge, not other than that ugly meeting. I make it my goal in life to do my best to work with people, even with those who have difficult personalities)

But it is an enormous relief not to have that walking-on-eggshells feeling. The guy we have now will stay until we get someone permanent (and, please God, let the person we hire be someone we can all work harmoniously with).

As I said, I didn't realize how much that all affected me. Last fall was difficult; I taught an overload, I was tired all the time, and feeling like things were unsettled and uncomfortable at church (which is the closest thing I have to family here) made everything so much worse.

It's one of those times that you look back on after you came through it and you realize how beat up/depressed/tired/angry/whatever you were, but somehow you couldn't see it when you were in the middle of it. I feel more like myself again. I'm laughing at stuff again. My creativity and eagerness to work are coming back.

I just hope this is the end of the congregation's big problems for a while, at least. I want to see us grow, I especially want to see us have some kind of stability. I don't want to have to beg people to attend the women's group meetings or the elder's meetings....I don't want to feel like I'm carrying responsibility other people could carry but choose not to.

A few months ago, I was wondering, "Where will I go when we fold? Could I shift to being a Presbyterian? Could I try Methodism? Could I stand driving an hour's round trip each week to the next nearest Disciples church?"  Now I don't feel like it's so likely we will fold. Oh, we need to grow. We need new members. But we do serve an important purpose. (For example: we have several gay men as members. It's the only place in town, apparently, where they feel welcomed in a church. And you can say what you will about homosexuality, I am not going to judge people harshly for being gay. I get that a lot of doctrine opposes the action....but knowing the men I do, I can't...I don't know. I guess it's one of the things where I go "that was then, this is now." I'm not saying it very well but I feel like it's not my place to judge someone for that. Most of them are in committed relationships and are not hurting anyone.... I have bigger problems with hetero couples where one member cheats a lot on the other and hurts them, or where they get together for the wrong reasons, have kids, and then split up and leave the kids kind of adrift)

My church is important to me. It serves an absolutely necessary role in my life and it hurts me - more deeply than I realized - when my church is hurting.