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What does the world owe you?

From the Desk of the Editor

Posted: July 17, 2008 11:16 p.m.
Updated: September 18, 2008 5:02 a.m.

A couple of summers ago I lucked into teaching an English 101 class offered by the Los Angeles Community College District's college-by-television program.

The class was a bizarre combination of online or televised video and in-classroom meetings held every weekend at four different district campuses. Gas was considerably cheaper then, of course, and the money was well worth the drive.

The instructor scheduled to teach the class had slipped and fallen on campus steps before the first class meeting; I inherited his syllabus and grading system, as well as four classrooms of confused students worried about their English transfer credits.

I remember one student in particular who showed up early in the summer session for the Saturday classes at Los Angeles City College. Later, his attendance became sporadic. I marveled that he had made it into English 101 because his writing skills were so lacking.

The scheduled instructor's grading system covered online quizzes, essays and, of course, the final exam.

But there was no credit given for journals they were to write weekly or for a practice final slated the weekend before the actual final.

I remember the syntactically challenged young man - I'll call him "Mr. Minimum" because the minimum was all he wanted to do - standing across the desk from me one Saturday, eye to eye, and telling me why he wouldn't be there for the practice final.

"There's no credit for it, right?" he asked.

"Well, no," I replied. "But it gives you a firm idea of what the final will cover, and it would be good practice for you. You still need to work on basic skills."

I thought to myself, don't the "D's" and all the red-lining on his essays mean anything to him?

"Well, if there's no credit, I'm not going to come," Mr. Minimum said firmly.

That was that.

Mr. Minimum also failed to do the journals. After all, they didn't count toward his grade.

At the end of each class session, there was usually time for one-on-one tutoring. Mr. Minimum never stayed for that, either.

He failed the final, unable to put ideas or even sentences together in comprehensible fashion. Following the grading standard laid out by the instructor who was supposed to teach the class, I gave him an "F" in the course.

Not long after, I received a call from a college-by-television administrator. Mr. Minimum's mom and Mr. Minimum wanted to meet with me and persuade me to change his grade.

Awaiting Mr. Minimum's successful completion of English 101, it turns out, was a fat athletic scholarship to a university.

I met with Mr. Minimum and his mother, grade sheet in hand, and explained why he received an "F." Then I changed his "F" to a "mercy D," the mark he would have earned had I set up the grading system.

Not a passing grade. He wasn't able to claim that hefty university basketball scholarship.

The hatred in the eyes of Mr. Minimum was obvious.

Of course, it was all entirely my fault.

n n n

I tell this story to introduce the topic for The Signal's Sunday, July 27, opinion section: personal responsibility. Has it gone the way of the dodo bird?

It's been said that we live in an entitlement era. At least one college where I've taught actually introduced a business model into the classroom: The teacher delivers a product (knowledge) for which students pay through meeting minimum requirements and, of course, forking over tuition money.

Having paid their fees and done the minimum, they're entitled to a passing grade, so the model goes.

It's an absolute disaster for education.

Other forms of entitlement surround us, as well. Not the political kind - as "I've paid into Social Security all my life. Am I not entitled to draw from it?" The social kind, in which people think they're entitled to all the perks and benefits of success without working for them.

Personal responsibility takes other forms, such as being accountable for one's own actions and not blaming others when those actions go awry. A mistake is only compounded by the lie attempting to cover it up or evade responsibility.

So I invite your comments, in the form of letters to the editor or columns, on the topic of personal responsibility. (See "Related Content" for a link to letters.)

Please be aware that all letters and guest columns must include the sender's address and phone number
so we can confirm content with the sender. We cannot publish anonymous comments.

Lila Littlejohn is editor-in-chief of The Signal. Her column represents her own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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