You know those students who don’t come to class, don’t keep up their assignments, and have no interest in learning, but are always on time to pick up their college federal aid? I know you know, because we have talked about it often. It’s maddening. Why does the government keep giving money to these students who have no interest in education? Why can’t somebody out there see what is so obvious to us? Can’t they see when a student consistently fails all his classes that he is not a good investment for federal aid?
Well, I think I have one of the answers. They are not failing their classes. Whoever is supposed to be sending the government the message is sending the wrong one. What if we are the broken part of the system? What if we are the ones deceiving the financial aid agencies?
You know those students who come to you at the end of the semester after sporadically showing up for classes and sporadically doing their assignments, but who are now suddenly very concerned about their grades, usually coupled with heart-wrenching stories about why they have been such poor students this semester?* You know the ones. They want to know what they can do for “extra credit,” and they tell you they have to have a C in the class or they will lose their financial aid and their whole world will fall apart. "Oh, poor students," some of us say. “There, there, now, why don’t you just print some kind of report about Mexico for me, and we’ll pretend you have mastered all the verb conjugations, vocabulary, and structures we’ve been working on all semester, and that you are speaking Spanish at the expected conversational level for this course?” Then we smile. Our good deed of the day is done. We surely wouldn’t want a student to lose her financial aid.
Wait! Stop! I thought we did want them to lose it! So which is it? Do we or don’t we? The system has entrusted us with the controls. If we give those undeserved Cs, we’re telling the government to keep sending them those checks. If we are frustrated that the students are abusing the system, we must realize that it is only through our enabling that that’s possible. We need to either stop blocking the system or stop complaining that it’s broken. And if we didn’t have the opportunity to teach the student the course content, the very least we can teach her is a lesson in growing up.
*Note: Sometimes these stories are even true, but that does not excuse us from holding up the integrity of our course grades.
Related post: Compassion Belongs Outside the Gradebook