Street Smart Chicago

Chronicles of Continuing Education: Rallying for the Old School

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By Janina Ciezadlo

Some fellow adjuncts recently started arguments with me about managing my grades online. When I said that I had absolutely no interest in doing so, they launched into a strange indoctrination lecture, designed to devalue my own system and bring me on board with the program as if I were a recalcitrant, weak-minded old lady. I found their zeal absolutely astounding because neither were administrators or had any real stake in my conversion whatsoever. And of course, they were shocked at my lack of interest in data entry.

After they’d exhausted as many reasons as they could on the subject, they implored me to embrace data entry on behalf of the students. I’ve always been suspicious of things people do for students or children. One of the most irresponsible consumer behaviors in the last half century—purchasing an earth-killing suburban attack vehicle—has been bolstered by the excuse that the greedy wasteful parents did it for their children, holding, evidently, the comfort of their spawn on the way to soccer practice over the fate of the earth.

Sherry Turkle, a psychoanalyst and researcher at MIT into the ways technology is reshaping our social lives has written a book called “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other” in which she explores ”how we are changed as technology offers us substitutes for connecting with each other face to face.” If a student wants to know what his or her grade is, they can ask me. In order to do this the student has to learn to actually approach an adult authority figure and ask for information. Speaking to adults has to be one of the more important life skills a college student may learn in their four years of struggle. Pushing a button to learn their grade deprives them of this interaction, so the “do it for the sake of the children” argument is misguided. Asking about one’s grade distinguishes a student in the eyes of the professor as a person who cares about his or her grades. I look them over, notice what they are wearing, the color of their hair, the shape of their face and how they hold themselves. I might remember them.

The other day as I was making out the cards I keep for each student in my classes, a system I have perfected over at least twenty years, I realized that the process of writing each student’s name at the top of the card gave me an opportunity to think about the student and their name, to wonder about the student’s origins, and to relish the shape and sound of the name. My mind and hand were engaged in a thoughtful and graceful process of forming letters. I write with a carefully chosen pen. Below the name I write in plusses and minuses for short assignments, in the middle of the card go the primary letter grades and along the bottom are the absences. The student’s progress is immediately discernible to me. I explain the system to the students at the beginning of the term and I am always happy to show the cards to the students. I find this process pleasurable. I like the non-linear visual format. I have chosen hot pink cards for one class—gender studies, to be exact and a cooler color for the other. I clip the cards to a stack of response papers and shuffle them.

I very rarely have complaints about grades, and it is something I can do on the train without investing in an expensive device. Years later, I recycle the cards for grocery lists. Sometimes I see a name I remember and think of that student and wonder what has become of them for a fleeting instant. Why give all this up to log into yet another program?

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