University of Tampa: Fancy Day Care Center

Have you ever stopped to consider the fundamental error of an attendance policy?

You have paid your tuition. For an exorbitant fee, you have hired the school to enroll you in their educational program. By extension, you have hired the professors they employ for this program. You have bought the time and efforts of those professors, who are contracted to provide educational materials such as lectures, tests, and papers, and to fairly evaluate your knowledge of the subject being taught in each class. They are hired to provide you with an individual numeric evaluation, which is averaged together by the school with all your other scores in a rough attempt to quantify your success in completing the educational program they provide.

All of those things make sense. What doesn’t make sense, however, is for a professor to require you to attend class sessions.

I understand the glib theory: how can you learn if you’re not in class? But if that was true, then you wouldn’t learn, would you? Non-attendance would carry its own inherent penalty, rather than being punished according to a policy.

There are only a few possibilities, then, to explain why a student might be absent but still test well:

(a)The student already knows the material sufficiently or has independently learned it well enough to meet the standards of the class, and their registration in that class is only to meet the arbitrary core requirements of the educational program.

(b)The test is so poorly designed that someone who has no knowledge of the material can still do well, presumably through context clues or the like.

(c)The test only includes material from the texts, and the teacher’s own educational contributions are negligible.

For each of these possibilities, it does not make sense to punish a student for non-attendance. The fault lies with the limited “testing-out” capability inherent to the educational program’s proscripted nature, the poor design of the test, or the inadequate efforts of the teacher, respectively.

Yet almost every class has some sort of attendance policy, which punishes you by lowering the score that evaluates your absorption of the material. Often this punishment will lower the score “a letter grade”, which is a full 25% of the potential grade, wholly out of proportion with the offense.

So what purpose is served by attendance policies? Why do they exist?

Often, we will hear that it is a matter of “respect.” The idea is that students should accord appropriate respect to a professor by being sure to be present at every class session, and to enforce respect, the policy and its attendant punishment is created.

But respect should be mutual, and it should be earned. It is not very respectful of professors to presume to punish students who do not attend class sessions (for which they are still being charged). Nor are the teachers earning true respect; in fact, attendance policies make it impossible for true respect in this area to develop between teachers and students. A full classroom is just as often a sign of a draconian syllabus as it is of a superb educator.

There is, of course, a reason for attendance policies. It is the same reason we have a ludicrous alcohol policy. It is the same reason UT attempted to force students to wait three hours between meals, so they were “eating healthy”. It is the secret reason behind many facets of many universities, with UT being no exception.

School is a day-care center.

We are not here primarily to learn. It is true that there are abundant opportunities for learning, and that education is the stated intent of a university. But at some point in the close past, many universities stopped being centers of higher learning and became day-care for overgrown adolescents. We come here from high school, many of us, because we’re not ready for the real world and can afford not to live in it yet by going to school.

There are exceptions to this. Many exceptions: people who have come back to school to learn and excel in their job (though it’s more often about the diploma than the knowledge); students who hungrily devour their classes as they prepare to set their new skills right into a career and go to work; students who hit the books every night so they can lay the groundwork for higher learning and become a lawyer or doctor or perhaps even a professor themselves. But these are, in the end, exceptions.

Those students who are not exceptions, the majority, leave college with a handful of new skills of questionable utility and a bare grasp on their major. Their main asset is a college degree, which marks them as privileged. Find a senior and ask them about their major. If it’s sociology, ask them about role theory or how to properly conduct a census. If it’s English, ask them about deconstructionism or Stanley Fish. Chances are, at best they will be able to provide a dictionary definition and a few descriptive sentences. Few of us learn much of anything, especially when compared with what we will need to know in an applicable career.

So make sure the teacher puts a check next to your name every day. That row of checks may be all you get for your money.

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