Skip Class Calculator Inventor Responds

I thought this too important to relegate to the comments. I apologize for the length, which cannot be helped.

In yesterday’s post—Back To School Electronically—I mentioned and disparaged the website Skip Class Calculator. The owner of that site has emailed me to take exception to my words.

To repeat that site’s boast: “This calculator was designed to help college students decide if skipping class is a smart move. Answer these questions and your decision will be made based on a surefire mathematical formula.” I said that any student tempted to engage this calculator should not only skip class, but should drop out of college immediately.

Part of the promotional materials for the Skip Class Calculator includes a Facebook page on which people sing the praises of the Calculator. One contributer is Joshua Peacock, who said, “…no longer will we have to stress out debating whether to skip class, because this simple to use tool will do all the thinking for you.”

I thought it possible that Peacock was not a real person. The site’s owner, Jim Filbert, emailed me to stress that Peacock is certainly real and is, as I jokingly suggested, a fine young man. Here is Filbert’s email:

Re: Back To School Electronically

From: Jim Filbert <jimfilbert@gmail.com>

To: matt@wmbriggs.com

Dear Mr. Briggs,

This is a response to your recently published post at http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=2793 titled “Back To School Electronically,” on August 20, 2010.

My name is Jim Filbert. I am the creator of the Skip Class Calculator website in which you mentioned in your blog post. First off I would like to thank you for your mention of the website in your blog. All publicity (either positive or negative) helps drive traffic. Even though your comments of the website were not the most flattering, I skill thank you for the mention regardless.

The main reason I am contacting you is because I would like to discuss the comments made in your blog about Josh Peacock. Before I state my opinion regarding your comments I would first like to let you know that I fully support your right under the the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to address your opinions on any thing you would like. You have this right as much as I do and I respect it fully.

However, I must say that the comments you made regarding Josh were a bit unfair. I have been a close friend of Josh for many years and know him very well. Josh is a person who took his undergraduate studies very seriously. He finished school with a near 4.0 and a degree in Health Care Administration. He also was a prominent member of the Army ROTC program. He is now a commissioned lieutenant in the United States Army and is pursuing an MBA at Cleveland State (as you know).

The comment made about the website by Josh was more of a joke than anything. It was more of a publicity act to help draw attention to my website. It certainly did not reflect his behavior or his true feelings regarding his undergraduate coursework. I know for an absolute fact that Josh did very little skipping of his courses. I understand that the comment Josh made was posted on the internet and as such is public domain to be used by anyone as they see fit.

I do not expect this of you but I would like to have it on record. I ask that you please either remove or alter the comments you made regarding Josh Peacock. Your bog post is a tarnish to his reputation and I would find it unfair that an innocent person be ridiculed because a joke was taken out of context. If anyone should be ridiculed in your blog post it should me as the creator of the website. (If you would like to replace the comments made about Josh with comments made about me – I would be more than happy to provide you with any sort of information or quote you would need). Josh is a very close friend of mine and I would not want to see him humiliated unfairly.

Again, I do not expect this of you and I fully respect the fact that you have every right to comment as you wish.

If you have any questions or comments please contact me.

Thank you for your time,

Jim Filbert

Jim, I beg Lt. Peacock’s pardon and apologize to him for intimating his ephemeral nature. I did notice his military affiliation, but I chose not to mention it to save the Army any embarrassment. I could not understand how an officer of the United States Military could openly encourage people to shirk their duties, even jokingly. Therefore, I surmised that Lt. Peacock was fictional because no real officer would ever talk this way.

Understand: I say this not as Professor Briggs, but as Staff Sergeant Briggs, a title I held when I served my country for six years. I fear for the men who eventually must serve under Lt. Peacock’s command, and am appalled that an officer could publicly be so cavalier about his and others’ responsibilities.

You claim Peacock’s comments were a joke, a “publicity act”, that he skipped very few classes, and that his public words were not his “true feelings.” His quip was not very funny, it was poor marketing, he should have skipped no classes, and he’d best learn how to tell the truth. There are qualities all officers must possess; among them maturity, diligence, discretion, and honesty: all which, evidently, are lacking in Lt. Peacock. They may eventually come to him; I pray that they do.

To Lt. Peacock, I say We are at war, sir. You are not an ordinary student, but an officer. The standards you must uphold are higher and infinitely more consequential. It is time to grow up.

Now, Jim, as Professor Briggs, I can tell you that your claim that the Skip Class Calculator is based on a “surefire mathematical formula” is gibberish of the rankest order. I prove it thusly.

I am, as a professor, a “hard ass.” I expect that students enrolling in my courses do so because they wish to gain knowledge, not mere information. They are there to learn, not memorize. They show up because they want to understand, not because they need to fulfill a requirement or need a grade.

Thus, the best time to skip my class is never. I checked your calculator to see if this is what it would recommend. If it’s formula were as “surefire” as you claim, it should verify my requirements. However, it did not. For various combinations of entries, it suggested that it was OK to skip. Therefore, your advertising claims are either misleading or entirely false.

My original conclusion was correct: anybody earnestly using your Calculator should not only skip, but should drop out of school altogether. These people are probably only after a “degree” anyway, an item which can be purchased in various places. This maneuver would save them the tedium of sitting in class, relieve them of the necessity of thinking, and lessen the burdens of the professors forced to endure their (occasional) presence.

I cannot say I wish your site the best, Jim. I hope it fails, and, while doing so, that it causes you to lose money. It would be a good lesson for you. If you choose to attend to it.

William Briggs

44 Comments

  1. “I skill thank you”. Hmmm … perhaps skipping class is — or at least being pro/anti skipping — is not a significant factor in editing ability as evidenced by past “bog” posts.. 😉

    I’m surprised at you, Professor Briggs. I would think you would favor this device. It makes your job easier. As more (non) students use it, identifying those with the desire to learn — or bought a defective device — becomes easier. One could argue that grades could be used but, as we all know, desire and ability are not necessarily correlated. Don’t the skippers also cause more money to flow in your department’s (and perhaps your) direction than if they had not enrolled?

  2. What nonsense. A student does not have a “duty” to attend class. If he chooses not to, then the student is not “shirking” anything. The school serves the student, not the other way around. If the student feels his time is better spent elsewhere, then that is his decision to make. He is an adult and should be treated as such. If he feels he can learn better on his own, then more power to him.

    The claim that all lectures are worth attending is laughable. I have yet to see a department that didn’t have a professor whose class lectures were utterly worthless. In that case, it is the school that fails in its duty to the student.

  3. Privatize the system. Charge for your lectures individually. Do away with diplomas.

    Suppose you wish to learn how to play the flute. You could take free lessons over the Internet, or buy an instruction book and teach yourself. Or you could pay for lessons from a flute teacher. All these methods will work, but one works better than the others. All the great flute players took professionally-taught lessons. You can tell when you hear them play.

    Students who do not go to lectures will not be as adept at the subject matter as those who do. Mediocrity is its own reward. Would you like fries with that?

  4. Matt,

    As a fairly recent graduate and the husband of a medical student, I feel that I must chime in.

    While I understand fully your argument that an officer should never encourage anyone to skip class, I cannot understand your belief that attending class is always necessary. While you may be an exceptional teacher, there are many other lecturers and professors out there who are not.

    I rarely skipped class in either undergrad or grad school, but I had professors whose classes provided me with little in the way of either knowledge or information. I sat through many lectures where, unfortunately, nothing much was imparted. In the meantime, however, I could have actually been learning through texts or drills.

    I know how frustrating it is to be in front of a class of unengaged students and feel like you’re wasting your time. But what of my poor wife, whose statistics class in med school was taught by a dentist who scarcely knew statistics beyond an f-test? Was she better off in that class, learning things she had learned already, or sitting at her desk and learning more pathology, something she knew nothing about and may control the direction of her career because of the Step 1?

    The fact of the matter is that the system, as it is established today, does not favor learning for the sake of learning. You know this as well as anyone here. If I had gone to every lecture prior to finals, I would have probably pulled off a B in classes where I was able to instead get an A. When you have students taking 18+ quarter units in order to graduate on time, and wanting to go to grad school so they have a shot at a decent career, is it any wonder that people make these decisions? I had quarters in undergrad and grad where, if I had actually gone to every lecture, I would not have gotten as good of grades.

    Sadly, while I think this “tool” is a waste of time, I can see why people are looking for ways to balance their time. You unfortunately ignore the fact that far too many people lecturing are not actually trying to teach anything. It’s fine to be a hard ass– but you had damn well better teach well enough to do it.

  5. Mike,

    It’s nice to imagine a system where we could do away with diplomas, but it ain’t happening.

    Diplomas are useful because they are relatively useful information for the job market. When companies are choosing who to hire amongst a labor pool of thousands or more, the attainment of a diploma is useful filter in making first cuts.

    For better or for worse, most of us simple peon cogs in the machine need diplomas to get jobs and have at least somewhat comfortable lives.

    I’m not fortunate enough to be gifted with any particularly interesting skills or ideas. My only hope is to ride on the coattails of the system, earn a check, and do the 9 to 5. Unfortunately, however, that same system requires certification because it’s too inefficient not to have it.

  6. Folks should actually go and look at this calculator. It actually does not ask about the substance of the course, the quality of the instruction, the interaction with other students, etc. It appears to reduce the entire process to determining whether attending or not attending will impact your final grade to the detriment of everything else.

    There are undoubtedly good reasons for skipping a lecture. Alas this calculator doesn’t seem to include any of them.

  7. I’m a former military officer myself and a service academy graduate.

    Thank you for calling the lieutenant in question to his higher duty….to represent the United States of America and to lead men in wartime.

    That said, ROTC and service academy cadets do stupid things from time to time. If this were the only dumb thing this one did, I’ll tell you I trumped him a hundredfold myself during my cadet days. I’m not justifying this; just acknowledging the reality of being young, stupid, and adjusting to a culture most alien to that most of us were raised in.

    He really ought to have the cojones to speak for himself, though. That’s part of leadership as well….standing tall and taking fire when you have to.

    And yes, I skipped a class or two during my days. In my defense, Ray Charles tickets were on sale that day…no calculator required to tell me that those front row seats were worth the hours marching in a square to be endured for missing it. “Sacrifices must be made” as the saying goes.

  8. Why in hell a student want to go to college/university only to skip classes, that make no sense. In my classes those I know who skip classes are usually in the lower end of the class who can barely discuss the matter seen in class, and even less compare matter seen in different classes.

    There are always some exception, but those usually work twice as hard to cover what was seen in class.

    Although such a site might get some popularity, it is not a great idea.

    What would be funny is a user suing the owner of the site for failing after he followed his calculator logic.

  9. “What nonsense. A student does not have a “duty” to attend class. If he chooses not to, then the student is not “shirking” anything. The school serves the student, not the other way around.”
    Schools serve society as a whole, and more directly serve the community in which they are. Students are benefactors chosen from the community and most schools are not required to take all applicants. Maybe you would like to review your argument a bit further.

  10. Briggs,

    Way over the top. Your comments sound like a petulant “Soup Nazi” version of statistics professors.

    “To Lt. Peacock, I say We are at war, sir. ” Are you referring to the War on Poverty, War on Drugs, or one of the other so-called wars the government continually “fights” with ill-gotten tax dollars.

    By the way, in any market (free market, anyway), what you sell and what someone purchases from you are not necessarily valued the same. So what you “expect” of your students is not necessarily the same as what they “expect” from you, or the university that employs you (did you and your students agree on some sort of contract that detailed your expectations?).

    Sorry, but it is what it is.

  11. astonerii,

    Serves? How do you justify your belief in so-called service to the community?

    Did you ever stop to think how much wealth was (is) created by folks who couldn’t sit through a single statistics course, or any college course for that matter? They are the ones who “serve” the community by serving the consumer.

  12. astonerii- Are you saying that the duty of students to attend class comes from some obligation to serve the State? Once the State takes an interest in something, it has the right to expect certain behavior from us? With government getting more involved in healthcare, are we now obligated to eat more vegetables and cut down on fatty foods?

  13. So does this mean Joshua Peacock is unhappy with Jim Filbert and want’s his name and reputation back? A shame. Both have now learned three important life lessons:
    1. Underclassmen [and women] sometimes say stupid things.
    2. Printed words last longer than spoken.
    3. ‘Tis easier to sully than sanitize a reputation.

    There are more precepts to learn, of course, but I’m sure once the Army drills Duty, Honor and Country sufficiently deep enough into the lieutenant’s skull the rest will fall into place.

    Mr. Filbert should probably make this experiment in “technological short-cutting” the focus of his thesis. By the looks of these comments much of his work has already been accomplished. Except, of course, the double-blind proof-reading. Possibly Jim Fedako might help with that.

  14. 49erDweet,

    What am I missing? Is Briggs, or any professor for that matter who works at a degree-granting university, selling something other than a degree?

    At a farmers market I regular, there is a gentleman who makes his own cheese. To hear him talk, he is selling his life’s work with every 1/2 pound chunk. To me, I am just buying fresh cheese that is priced a little lower than at Walmart. Our expectations are worlds apart. Yet we trade and create wealth.

    To demand that expectations meet for the good of society (ala astonerii) is the antithesis of liberty.

    Briggs can teach outside his current setting and play the personal trainer to those whose expectations are the same as his. But while he is teaching in a degree-granting university, he is part of the game. And from that fact that he teaches in such a setting, I know a priori that it is better than his alternatives, regardless of his expectations.

    By the way, you are correct with regard to the lessons (hopefully) learned by Peacock.

  15. JF, no offense intended, sir. Just noted in passing you are exceptionally sharp on detail. Something our dear Mr. Filbert seems to lack. My thought was to put two needs together, much like you and your cheese maker friend in the farmers market.

    My life’s experiences have taught me there are “gamers” galore, indeed far too many occupying wasted space in academia, but I won’t classify this post’s author as one of those. The width, depth and breadth of interest and intellect WMB displays here day-by-day places him far, far above that herd – imo. But that might just be me.

    Cheers

  16. 49erDweet,

    Agreed, especially on WMB — I just do not agree with this post. However, in the main, he is spot on. And that is why his blog is one of my few daily must reads.

  17. In my experience when a student signs up for a class, there is at least an implied contract. All real university catalogs use a good bit of ink describing this contract, or maybe the universities of today don’t require much in the way of participation.

    Anybody majoring in “heal care administration” probably has a lot of time to discuss subtle details of that profession in local bars and crack houses. There couldn’t be more than a couple of weeks required to reveal the entire body of knowledge of that profession.

  18. You should either go to all the classes or go to none of the classes (except maybe the first).

    A paper (it’s too late and I’m too lazy to dig up the cite) found that students who attend all the classes do OK. Students who attend none of the classes do OK. Students who attend some of the classes flunk. The research was done just in the writer’s own faculty (chemistry iirc) so extrapolating the results is iffy.

    Lectures are a poor way to impart learning to students. Almost any other strategy works better. There are lots of studies to back this up.

    I devote about fifteen minutes of each lecture to a quiz on the assigned readings. It assures that the readings get done in a timely manner. It also assures that most of the students attend my lectures (because the quizzes are worth a substantial portion of their mark). Most of my students do the work necessary to learn the material/skills. Most of my students pass.

    Learning isn’t magic, it takes work. The more work you do, the more you learn. Passively listening to a lecture or passively reading the textbook don’t count for much. Actively digging into the material is necessary for learning. Most of that happens outside the lecture hall.

  19. Briggs is right, anyone who would use this calculator to decide whether to skip class should just skip college. I must add, however, that anybody who takes the calculator as anything but a joke should lighten up.

  20. All,

    Is this what you would tell your own kid?

    “Don’t worry about skipping a few classes, son. Especially if the professor is dull or doesn’t do a good job. Don’t worry about custom, respect to your elders and betters, or learning to do what you don’t want because you made a commitment. Just go your own way. You won’t miss much. Besides, you’re really just after learning a fact or two and getting a good grade. College really isn’t for anything else: it’s the degree that’s important.

    Slacking is sometimes an alternative. This is a good lesson for you to learn early. You need to know when to cut corners so that you can ‘experience’ life and not have to worry about fulfilling minor agreements. Besides, everybody does this, and not just at college.

    People used to say that college was a place where you learnt about the examined life, what it meant to be a free man, about morality. And ethics.

    Now, it’s just for picking up a fact or two, which you can always get out of some book at your leisure (as long as you think that material will be on your test: we want you to get a good grade!).

    Son, you’re soon going into the military, and you’ll be forced to attend a lot of briefings that are, or seem to be, worthless. It’s OK to miss some of these. What you want is mostly in the manual, and just like at college, you can look up what you need. You know best your own style of learning. How could anybody know better than you?

    I guess my main point is, a lot of these things just shouldn’t be taken seriously.”

  21. Briggs,

    “People used to say that college was a place where you learnt about the examined life, what it meant to be a free man, about morality. And ethics.”

    Examined life? Free? Moral? Ethical? You must be excluding the socialist faculty that permeated my university.

    I think the issue here is you see your courses as essential learning. To you, that is true. But consider this:

    I desired a degree in mathematics. What I wanted to learn is of no consequence, as I could easily have studied mathematics outside of a university. But I needed the degree.

    So I had to sit through nonsense intro courses in sociology, psychology, etc. None of these would ever apply in my life (other than to convince me of the socialist bent of most university professors — outside of mathematics, of course).

    These classes became a game of regurgitating the nonsense the professors wanted to hear without allowing the nonsense to unseat my views. I was simply seeking a degree and playing by the rules of the university.

    Even 90% (hyperbole estimate for effect) of my minor (concentration) in economics turned out to be false. And it took me many years and many hours of self-study to unlearn the nonsense that was stated as fact.

    Should I really state, “Son, attend every class, listen to your professors, and take heed. Let them impart their knowledge on you. Accept it and embrace it. It will make you a better person.”

    For every Jim suffering a socialogy course in order to obtain a degree in mathematics, there is a Joe suffering a statistics course in order to obtain a degree in sociology.

    By the way, the gun and the brig of the military decide the correct choose under those circumstances. That has nothing to do with learning, freedom, morality or ethics and everything to do with the correct response to force.

  22. clazy:
    I agree with your first point. I am less sure of your second. I fear that tertiary education has become too much of a consumption good and a rite of passage – albeit that makes me sound like a fuddyduddy.

    Take a look at graduation rates for our public colleges and universities. They represent an enormous waste of resources. See for example – http://www.completecollege.org/docs/Massachusetts.pdf

    And Massachusetts has the highest (6 year ) graduation rate in the country!!

    I think this forms part of the broader context for Matt’s comment.

  23. In the original post on this topic Prof Briggs ended with the observation that “[w]e are producing a nation of self-satisfied idiots”. Re many of the comments above, QED.

  24. liam:
    Thems are fighting words. Please illustrate with examples and specific names. Be prepared to defend yourself.

  25. It should also be noted that the students at college are the customers. They pay for their education.

    Professors have a greater duty to attend class than do students. Yet many seek to limit greatly the hours they actually teach.

    If your job is “professor”, why do you spend most of the time doing research and allow so many classes to be taught by grad students?

    The shirkers are pretty obvious. Just look for who’s got tenure.

  26. “…no longer will we have to stress out debating whether to skip class, because this simple to use tool will do all the thinking for you.”

    I take that comment as blatant sarcasm.

  27. Matt,

    In a word: no. I have never believed that and never will. But if college is about exploring new ideas, then doesn’t the professor behind the lectern have as much of a responsibility, if not more, as the students?

    Where I most disagree with you is not the responsibility the student has– though I think if college is for learning, then the student’s responsibility is to himself– but that the responsibility ends with the student. It does not. Learning in the university is a group exercise, and all too often we find ourselves as students sitting in front of people who aren’t teachers, but preachers of the Good Word. It’s the professor’s way or the highway!

    This works, I daresay, beautifully in the sciences and math. Not so much in fields with room for interpretation like the social sciences, where we can often find ourselves learning little more than sometimes well-reasoned opinions on why something is, rather than what it actually is.

    I also don’t believe that we should encourage slacking. I’m somewhat offended by this. I worked 30 hours a week, 9 PM to 5 AM, so that I could afford to go to college. This was so that I could attend PUBLIC university. I missed lecture maybe a handful of times my whole college career. I took 18 units (a pretty full load) almost every quarter, and did every extra lecture, discussion, honors, etc. program I could. I worked myself to the bone in college.

    But yeah, sometimes I missed a lecture or two. Sometimes because I was too tired due to work. Sometimes to attend a talk being given on-campus. Sometimes because, quite frankly, I needed some extra time to polish off a paper that was important for my grade.

    I’ll never tell a child to skip class. To ignore responsibility. To not stand up and do what has to be done. But there are times when learning doesn’t happen in the classroom. There are too many bully pulpits on campuses. There are too many classes that don’t teach facts or knowledge, but instead provide circle jerks of opinion.

    But if college is about learning morality and ethics, then where? When? Why are we blaming the students who have so little control over the experience, when administrators and faculty have removed such content for fear of offending people?

    I’m not bothered by the fact that you see this as a responsibility for the student. I’m bothered by the fact that you aren’t also holding the damn “teachers” to the same standards here. If a doofus windbag is using my class to tell me that Israel is a blight on the political landscape of the world, then is it really “teaching?”

  28. Ari says:
    22 August 2010 at 6:14 pm
    Matt,

    “In a word: no. I have never believed that and never will. But if college is about exploring new ideas, then doesn’t the professor behind the lectern have as much of a responsibility, if not more, as the students?”

    In one respect you’re right; the professor does have “more of a responsibility as (sic) the student.” But, if you skip class based on a class skipping “algorithm” how will you ever know for yourself?

    To truly understand s**t you have to walk through an acre of it. You don’t challenge bad professors by not showing up for class. You challenge them by attending their lectures and asking tough questions. The intelligent among us will “render unto Caesar” and get “the” degree–which so many seem obsessed with(and rightly so ;-)) anyway.

    I think we’re in agreement that profs aren’t held to a high enough standard, but most undergrads aren’t in a position to judge. Show up, dis em, give em what they want, but do the work to at least be able to pretend you’re right; a good place to start is with their bulls**t positions.

    I graduated class of ’82. My economic teachers were left of J.M. Keynes. The city politics prof is now the leader of the third party (socialist) in my country. Students attended (blindly IMHO) these lectures and fell into step, while less popular view points were shunned and skipped. University isn’t entertainment and students and faculty have a duty to push the limit.

    Back to Briggs’ original post, the inventor of “skip class” and his commissioned buddy need to understand that the web, like any other medium, will represent who you are and what you believe–joking or otherwise. Crying out for context after the fact just doesn’t cut it.

  29. Bernie:

    That was an interesting article on college completion. The article has a couple of pull-out stats:

    1 – “Today, 53% of Massachusetts’s adults aged 25-34 have a college degree.”

    2 – A graphic shows about 22% of people finishing a college degree.

    Any idea how to square those two different numbers?

  30. commieBob:
    Do you have a reference? The guys at the Boston Glob cannot count – so nothing they do with numbers would surprise me.

    I have no idea how to reconcile the two numbers.

  31. Many people attend college not to learn but to get a degree. Many people attend Ivy League colleges to get a prestigious degree and meet people who can be valuable after graduation.

    College is one product where many customers are happy to get as little (class time) as possible.

    College is one product where the people in charge take no input from the customers (students). Readers of this blog have all taken useless classes from lousy teachers.

    Many colleges and universities could learn a lot from The Teaching Company. Efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction are some. “Also, if a course is ever less than completely satisfying, you may exchange it for another or we will refund your money promptly.”
    http://www.teach12.com/teach12.aspx?ai=16281

  32. It may be that there’s population movement inward and outward of certain demographics that skews the MA population toward the college educated.

  33. Speed,

    I hate to say it, but I can see why people attend college hoping largely to advance their careers. Why not? We all want to live nice comfortable lives, and if college is the best or only way… why the hell not?

    I tried to actually learn as much as I could as a student, but I knew quite a few people who just wanted to get out into the labor market so they could start saving money and buy a house. Is that necessarily “bad?” I don’t know.

  34. There are enough points of contention in this string to keep one busy for the rest of the school year, but let me address just one, the focus of one of Jim Fedako’s posts (most of which I have little problem with):

    “Is Briggs, or any professor for that matter who works at a degree-granting university, selling something other than a degree?”

    I have little doubt that there are many students in my classes who are there to “buy” a degree, but I don’t see my job as selling one, or even selling part of one. If I do my job right, my students leave with two things: the technical knowledge they need to operate successfully in those aspects of their life that apply to my field (chemistry), and the ability to think at a higher level than they were able to when they began the course – specifically, their acquistion of creative problem-solving abilities.

    And it’s the latter of those two goals that is by far the most important. One of the most gratifying responses I’ve ever gotten from one of my students was from a fellow who completed a pre-med curriculum as an undergrad, went instead into a graduate engineering program, and then ended up doing neither medicine nor engineering – he made his living (a damn good one, I might add) rehabbing and reselling houses.

    I asked him straight out if taking organic chemistry had been a waste of time. And his response was quite to the contrary, it taught him to think, and that he took advantage of his facility to successfully approach new and unusual problems every day of his life.

    Now I’m not sure how often he cut class, but I am somewhat dubious that he’d have gotten as much out of a videotape.

  35. It has been mentioned that the spectrum of different situations can be extremely large and therefore the spectrum of answers will be large too .
    While I agree with the part of the post that deals with the (necessary) duties of an officer , I agree less with the generality of the “attending class comments” .
    To be clear – the comments are OK , it is the generalisation that is not .
    To illustrate with 2 examples :
    .
    One of the hardest classes I have taken was the “Theory of measurable sets” .
    The theme itself is hard but the Professor was very young (the youngest PhD in Academia) and extremely brilliant .
    The consequence was that while he floated in the stratospheric heights of locally compact Hausdorff spaces and sigma algebras , the students were asking themselves if they were sure in what language he was speaking .
    90% (I am not exagerating) skipped these classes after the first one . I belonged to the handful that hartneckedly stayed .
    Oh not because I thought that the lecture would somehow further my understanding of the Universe or of human nature .
    But solely out of respect . The Professor was so enthousiastic and possessed such a deep and brilliant knowledge that it would have been a crime to let him talk to an empty room .
    And my presence was also necessary to try to make him aware that the gap between the way he lectured and our ignorant brains was too large and he should “descend” towards us a bit .
    As for the matter itself , after the class I always took a book and with help of the book could decode the content of the lecture .
    Sometimes 2 sentences of the Professor necessitated 2 hours of reading 🙂
    One could say that these lectures could have been skipped from a technical point of view but the challenge that it presented to my brain was largely rewarding and I remember locally compact spaces fondly still today .
    .
    My daughter had to take socio-economy classes .
    The first lecture her Professor (long hair , agressive bristling beard , jeans) has given began thusly :
    “You are a band of young brain washed idiots . I will pound in your heads that there is only one knowledge worth knowing and it is the Marxism . Your first work is an analysis of Marx’ Manifest of the Communist Party …” .
    I told her that she should tell the Professor that her own grand father had preferred to loose his job rather than take (mandatory) classes of Marxism-Leninism .
    Then I wrote for her the analysis where I explained that the Marxism is a theory of a ship where the crew has decided to kill the officers and to destroy the engine . Then the enlightened leaders decided to row in a random direction with a strict rationning of the available water heroically ignoring the fact that there was not enough of it to prevent everybody dying of thirst .
    And I strongly recommended to her to skip all the lectures regardless of the (academical) consequences .

  36. TomVonk:

    Hartneckedly? Bing search returned only this blog. Google returned nothing. Interesting word and I can guess its meaning from the context. What is the origin?

  37. I’m with Speed. “Stubborn”? “Stiff-necked”? Could not find “hard-neck”, either, which seemed a possible substitute. Figured ‘hart’ could be derived from “deer” and they aren’t very insistent. Inquiring minds want to know.

  38. Briggs,

    Consider the US Army’s relatively recent recruiting slogan:

    “An Army of One.”

    Its a blatant appeal to the selfish/self-serving, narcissitic trait so consistently nurtured in modern advertising, “progressive” values, & so forth.

    It has relatively nothing to do with–it clearly reflects the antithesis of–the need for teamwork, coordination, group cohesion, sacrifice, etc. so necessary to success, and survival, on the battlefield.

    But to entice warm bodies, the Army has to play along with society’s trends.

    Yuck.

  39. Ken,

    Or traditional American values, if you prefer. Lets not forget that our country’s independence was hard won by a bunch of individualist soldiers looking out for number one. It’s the line between that and Benedict Arnold that we shouldn’t cross, though.

    That said, the “Army of One” ads were meh.

  40. And since it may be relevant, let’s compare the duties of instructors at the service academies:

    1. Teach every class with the exception of excused absences for illness and the like (and you may well have to cover another instructor’s course as well).

    2. Keep regular office hours when not in class. This is typically 8 am to 6 pm every day; instructors are encouraged to come in earlier for the benefit of cadets seeking instruction during breakfast (after morning meal formation and upon being excused from the dining hall).

    3. Classes run 8 to 4 pm daily; a couple of periods may be free each day. Several times during the semester the instructor may be required to present an evening lecture, usually 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm.

    4. Regular graded reviews are to be held along with midterms and finals each semester. A midsemester progress check is conducted and extra instruction for struggling cadets scheduled accordingly.

    5. For military instructors additional duties may include serving as Officer of the Day, representing the department in military formations, serving on academic review boards, etc.

    6. Research is conducted outside of other duties. Sabbaticals are sometimes granted for longserving instructors.

    7. The closest thing to tenure is enjoyed by the permanent professors who serve as department heads. These are typically Colonels. Everyone else serves at the pleasure of the Dean, the branch of service, or both.

    It’s a pretty far cry from the responsibilities of professors in civilian institutions in my experience. This might partially explain why students feel less inclined to attend every lecture.

    I’m certainly not feeling the commitment to teaching from the academics here….isn’t that what you’re paid to do?

  41. I see Speed and 49erDweet .
    .
    Inquiring minds deserve to know 🙂
    This is actually a phenomenon known as “false friends” and tends to happen when you speak fluently 2 or more languages that are not far from each other (f.ex french and italian , polish and russian etc) .
    When you know many languages , there are no stiff barriers between them and the words that your brain is proposing to you are not necessarily all the time belonging to the language you are using just at that moment .
    This happens specifically when you have a very accurate concept in mind and some languages express this concept better than others . Then it may happen that your brain proposes you a word from another language and you don’t even realise that you switched language within a sentence .

    In this case (and I realize it only now) the word that came to me was the german “hartneckig” and yes it means approximately “stubborn” . “Hard” and “neck” having definitely an english feel , my conscious supervision of the writing didn’t ring any alarm bell that I might have slipped in another language and even substituted to the german “ig” the correct english adverb finishing “dly” 🙂
    Thanks for the warning . I will not get mystified by this one a second time .
    However it will surely happen time and again . Can’t be avoided 100% – it is very hard to keep the language stability when one focuses on accuracy of the concepts .

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