I spent a good deal of the last week considering how I might get on Kwame’s gravy train. I realized the futility of my quest when I discovered that he is no longer Mayor or King, but, then, I was able to resurrect my scheme by virtue of String Theory. String Theory basically asserts that we are all connected—past, present and future—low and high, cities and counties, planets and galaxies—hey, it explained gravity, didn’t it?—and, therefore,—be patient, English Major, and you will see exactly what all of this has to do with you—Trochee!—excuse my mind Tourette’s—Waterboard him!—we can connect three seemingly disparate ideas in order to realize a truth about teaching: Hamlet’s assertion that “the play’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King”, the idea of shaking down students in order to pass them and the realization that we should have and should enforce an attendance policy in our classes.
THE PLAY’S THE THING
Hamlet hopes to trip up Claudius by virtue of the latter’s conscience when he decides to stage the famous play within a play. Claudius, he suspects, has killed Hamlet’s beloved father in order to marry Gertrude, his mother. What is instructive for our present inquiry is the unfortunate truth that conscience is a largely subjective thing and is dependent upon factors both internal and external and generally too numerous to mention.
Therefore, Kwame allegedly was able to shake down vendors and contractors alike in his pay to play scheme. We can learn from this. If we were to develop an English Department Enterprises, we could encourage new instructors to shake down their students. Forget rubrics, forget learning objectives, forget common syllabi—Thesis! Discourse communities!—;new instructors might then be rewarded based on how much money they deliver to Composition Program who could then deliver the fistfuls of cash to the department administration so that they can stay at exorbitant hotels and go to spas when attending conferences.
The problem with not having an enforceable absenteeism policy—other than the obvious fact that we won’t get enough cash for English Department Enterprises—is that students are just learning how to be responsible for their educations or how to become successful students. Lack of an absenteeism policy allows too much freedom for young adults who may very well use that freedom for something other than class, believing that class is not that important or that they can catch up later. If we are true to our duties as instructors, we are working diligently to get students to begin to learn to think about what they are writing. Failure here is failure to move the student in any meaningful way—he or she is the same writer at the end of the class as he or she was at the beginning. We then open ourselves up to poor and largely untrue evaluations:
Student: I didn’t learn anything in that class. It was a waste of time.
Inquisitor: Why do you think that is?
Student: The instructor was an idiot. He didn’t know anything.
Inquisitor: Did you attend class regularly?
Student: I think so.
At the end of the day, if we enforce an attendance policy, we achieve the outward goal of getting the student to our classes. And ,at least, once there, we have given ourselves a chance to open that student’s eyes to the ever-changing world swirling around us. Quark!
Dave Mackinder received an MFA in creative writing and literary theory from Wayne State and has been an instructor of Technical Writing in the department since 1994. He is currently serving on the Composition Committee on Assessment.