Midterms: The Source of my Despair

I think they’ll take 5 hours to grade.

They take about 20.  And it’s always the same problem… the high schools aren’t teaching students HOW TO THINK.

Oh, by the end of the semester, they’ll be better.  They’ll hate me for it (for the most part), but they’ll be able to frame an argument.  But at midterm time, 90% of my students answer the following basic question not like this:

Q:  Who makes a better argument, Madison or Winthrop?

A:  (example) If we look at Winthrop’s reasons for advocating local government, we find that a majority could in fact overcome the separation of faction doctrine that Madison suggests in order to run roughshod over any minority.    Winthrop in this case clearly has the superior argument.

A:  (example) While Winthrop carries some valid points (particularly those advocating for a Bill of Rights), we have seen time and time again both in contemporary life andin colonial life that local government did not necessarily mean free government — the Petition of the Regulators in North Carolina shows quite clearly that a government is not necessarily honest just because it is small and local.  Therefore, a strong central authority is needed if we’re not simply going to replace one large tyranny with 13 (or 50) smaller ones.

Rather, I get:

A: (students)  Winthrop is right because he says (x).

That’s not an argument.  That’s saying “Madison says ‘I like ice cream.’  Winthrop says ‘I like cake.’  Therefore, Winthrop’s arguments are clearly superior.”

AGGH….  (insert sound of professor clawing out his own eyeballs with a leftover staple)

By the end of the semester, they’ll be okay.  But every midterm I despair for the future of mankind, and wonder why I haven’t quit yet.

Leave a comment


  1. drteine

     /  March 19, 2010

    That’s the whole point of Education, isn’t it though?

    I don’t teach full time like you do, but I understand the frustration and used to feel the same way when I was a TA in grad. school when encountering such sheer ignorance. Time passed and it stopped bugging me. Either I developed patience or I just learned to accept that not everyone can make wonderful jumps of logic or get it on the first try. Every now and then I come across a brilliant student that is a joy to teach – they get it on the first time and come back with insightful questions after that. And other times it takes 5-10 times before they get it. But to be fair I’ve encountered adults that are dimmer than your average student so maybe that’s why I give students an easier time than working adults who really should know better.

  2. Bethany

     /  March 19, 2010

    From all the college courses I’ve taken so far, my tests have typically fallen into a Scantron™ format. That is, I cram everything into my head (A.K.A. My Volatile Memory) 24 hours before an exam, bubble in a bunch of A’s, B’s, C’s, & D’s, then promptly forget all the information once I leave the exam. Sadly, even some of my science classes fallen into this category.

    Along the way I have found a few classes that actually forced me to *gasp* Think, Reason, and Argue. But I have found that these classes have benefited me the most in the long run.

    I wonder if colleges will ever require their students to take (as a part of the “core curriculum”) a Critical-Thinking Class ?

  3. Yes. It’s called “History.”

  4. Bethany

     /  March 21, 2010

    True, History is a critical-thinking class. I think that Economics, Government, and Philosophy could also fall into that category.
    But not all students are guaranteed that their classes will teach them to think critically. For instance, one history class I know of focused mostly around facts like knowing key dates and the names of battles. Critical thinking was not actively employed.

  5. happycrow

     /  March 23, 2010

    Yes, I know a couple guys teaching like that. Let’s just say “don’t get me in more trouble than I’m already in.” 😀


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