Bah. I am in the middle of another, more upbeat post, but I am also in the middle of some marking that is taking way too much time because I’m feeling annoyed by this sadly common phenomenon: It is extremely frustrating and irritating when students submit proposals or drafts for comments, only to ignore those comments. I’m comfortable with the idea that a student might disagree with my comments, but I would strongly prefer that such a student express that to me than that I have to waste my time simply reading the same material again and making (or, at least, thinking) the same comments again. There is also the possibility that the student just ran out of time for revisions, but I’d much prefer the student to ask for an extra day or whatever would be necessary.

It’s an interesting problem because I suspect that it arises from some combination of a lack of communication and a lack of trust. So, when I say that I’m offering some thoughts and that I hope the student will contact me with concerns and questions, I’m trusting the student to do so. At the same time, I suspect that, no matter how many times I invite disagreement and debate in our in-class conversations, many students retain the false idea that the teacher knows (or believes that she knows) “the” right thing to say about anything and that, therefore, it is not acceptable to challenge what the teacher has written …even if you’re going to ignore what the teacher has written. (I’m thinking here of a situation some time ago when I received a proposal for an essay based on what I saw as a fundamentally problematic non-argument. I gave some specific suggestions about how the student might arrive at an essay that was logically and intellectually feasible, but the final essay I received was precisely the one originally proposed. So, the student either did not read my comments or did not choose to either act on them or consult me about them.) So, it’s partly a question of whether or not there are things I can do (with in-class discussions, with assignments, or during private consultations) to help make my more benevolent and tolerant view of student work more clear. I have no problem with the idea that a student have a different viewpoint on a text than I do, as long as it is well supported by evidence, but my job is to try to help when I see logical flaws or places where evidence is being ignored or contradicted in some way.

I was just talking last night with some non-academic friends about the frustration of dealing with any plagiarism case, which frustration is partly (for me) to do with what, again, feels like a lack of trust that I really mean it when I talk about wanting to learn their thoughts and see the arguments that they can put forward, when I talk about how much more interesting they are than some essay off of the internet. (Okay, I know that this is probably not all, or even any, of what is going on in most plagiarism cases, but it’s hard for me to escape the sense that this is at least implicit in some of what is going on.) Of course, this is all to say nothing of our in-class conversations on the purposes of classes that ask students to practice articulating their thoughts and to apply a small amount of discipline to the appreciation of materials that might not be their first choice.

I don’t have time at the moment to try to rehearse the possible responses to these situations, and I’m pretty confident that there’s no silver bullet to begin with. Still, I wanted to air these thoughts. Anyone with other thoughts should feel free to weigh in!


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