There’s a type of student in Paragraph City who regards a college course as a sort of prolonged date. He or she has scoured the options, selected a professor from a dishearteningly limited field of available profs, and is by the second week of the semester hoping that he hasn’t (or suspecting that he has) made a terrible mistake.
On the dating side of this metaphor, I see our character as decidedly male. He’s mainly hoping to get lucky and so has tried to select a date that’s easy. If it turns out his date is not going to put out, he hopes she’ll at least show him a good time and not bore him with lots of talk-talk-talk. Hotness is important, and keeping things superficial is just fine, preferred, actually. He also hopes his date is forgiving about promptness, attendance, and telling the truth: all things he will record in his little black book of a student evaluation and ratemyprofessor ranking. Like the easy girl at the frat party, these profs are immensely popular at the time but not much respected in retrospect. Fun, perhaps even worth a chili pepper, but not “good.”
However, on the student side of this metaphor, I find as many women as men with this approach to course selection. Who hasn’t heard the exchange in the halls that I heard last week as I was entering a building:
“Hey, Kath. I need to talk to ya.”
“Gotta go, Beth. Seth’s waiting.”
“Well you’re in Ms K____’s Childhood Psych now aren’t you?”
Listen: you can hear the eyeballs roll. “Yeah.”
“How easy is she?”
“She’s OK. She canceled class before spring break. Gotta go.”
So what is that? Ms. K___ lets you get to third base but not all the way? I’m too far out of the loop to know.
While it seems to me most students don’t rely mainly on this course-selection-as-date thinking to build their semester schedule, I think it occupies a dim corner of most students’ minds during pre-registration. Perhaps it’s hard to blame them, given the structure of choosing classes. So I’m trying to envision a different process, where the tables are reversed.
Instead of simply registering for classes in the last five weeks of the semester, students apply for admission. Professors review the students and – as long as there are more students than seats in the class – make a selection. In my case, I wouldn’t be as concerned with that obvious GPA as I would a grade in a writing class and a selection of courses that show a rounded – or even better quirky – range of interests. I’d like to see who has been penalized for plagiarism or cheating (out) and who has a weak high school background but solid grades now (in). I’d prefer a mix of genders, races, and ages. I have a high regard for Nursing students. And I’d welcome especially students who have seriously tried the course with me before and failed, as long as I had a sense of why they failed and a strategy to beat that cause.
Then students still seeking courses find what faculty want them in their courses and make a second round of applications. And a third. Those who are chosen last in this sandlot ballot (and I’d reserve a few seats in each class for these) might wonder what they can do to improve their contributions to the team.
Or perhaps colleges should take the NFL draft as a model. But we descend into folly (in addition to badly mixing our metaphors), or perhaps that happened in the first paragraph. Yet is the current system that much better, where – at least in the first and second year of college – many students build their college career, and even majors, based upon how easy an instructor is? Or where students, upset with a grade, fume “I pay your salary!” to their prof?
Paragraph city is in pre-registration now. We see students slinking off to the neighborhood where the faculty strumpets cluster, red lights burning outside their offices.