Mar 16, 2009

A Tangent Addendum

So I had a lot of absences in one of my classes this quarter (about 5 unexcused). I probably could've gotten them excused, but I never feel really compelled to seek such excusals for some reason. Low and behold at the end of the quarter the Professor asked me to address why I shouldn't fail the class in my final essay. I probably could've made a pretty persuasive argument on an analytical basis, but the truth was I didn't feel the need. I wrote the final paper without addressing my absences in any direct way. Below is the short essay I wrote to him, entitled "A Tangent Addendum" and attached to my actual final. He was a pretty laid back guy, so I hope he takes it well. I genuinely didn't mean any offense, and every word of it is true. Here's lookin' at the world. – DC


A Tangent Addendum

I fancy myself a decent student, although perhaps I am not the iconic example of the ‘good student’, as my attendance during this quarter would seem to agree. Yet I’ve never seen my academic accomplishments as a simple and accurate representation of myself. As a child, my parents could never force me to do homework, and, as a an impertinent youngster, punishment only ever made me angry and never compliant. Humorously, participation was never an issue, and I never seemed to be troubled to do the work that was given to me while I was physically in class. This is how for most of elementary school I earned a hodgepodge of grades, one that reflected full effort within the classroom and hardly any outside of it.

To this day I’ll never be able to describe why upon entering fifth grade I suddenly decided to try. It sounds especially odd remembering that I had “tried” once before: During one week in fourth grade, I actually did all my work which resulted in the first time I was awarded the illustrious ‘Student of the Week’ award at Monday assembly. I immediately returned to old habits the following week.

For some reason the first day of fifth grade was different. Perhaps it was the fact that, at the time, fifth grade was the last year of elementary school, complete with a special overnight camping trip into the backwoods of our campus set between Cobb and Boggs mountains. Whatever the cause, on that first day of fifth grade in the course of that slow, winding drive through mountain roads on the way to school, the thought simply would not leave me alone; ‘What if I tried?’. What if I tried... would life be different? I did not know the answer, but it was precisely the not knowing that troubled me. As young as I was, perhaps it was my first real epiphany.

And ultimately it did feel different. Every night when I sat down at my parents desk with the greying old Apple Macintosh to do my Weekly Spelling, I liked the fact that no one had asked me to do it. From that point on my grades have more or less been a reflection of my own interest, desire, and application. I suppose I took and still take pride in high marks like any student, but there’s always been a distinct and yet difficult to describe sensation accompanying me in my academics: The sensation that it was not done for anyone besides myself. It may be because of this quality that I rarely bother to seek an excused absence. If it were not for this sensation, perhaps I would feel more compelled in reporting the reasons for my absences, and I would not be at this juncture in your class.

I never scoff at an A, the same way it is bad form to look a gift horse in the mouth. And yet at the same time I do not rely upon them. The truth is I took this class for me; I am not ethics or teaching major, and I do not require the credits towards graduation. The same mentality is probably what allowed me to declare as an anthropology major despite the knowledge that it may result in my living in a cardboard box. When I consider the ramifications of failing this class, more than anything my distaste for it stems mostly from the thought of having to go talk about it with some administrative official who barely knows me.

This is not because I am apathetic. Rather, it is precisely because I’ve enjoyed the class so much that I am unconcerned with the grade that I receive. Be it an A, or an F, or any of the other many letters available in the alphabet, it won’t really change how the actual process has affected my thinking, which for me has come to be its real value. At the end of the day, the mark I am given is a just shape that someone else will look at and attach meaning to. For me, the meaning of my time spent in this class stands apart from such a mark, and unlike a class I’d have enjoyed less, I do not need any particular mark to make it feel worthwhile.

Despite these feelings, I readily acknowledge that there may be a vested interest for students to attend class so that they may partake in discussion and mutually enrich one another. Under such a reasoning, it may be that my absences have somehow detrimentally impacted the class. I understand this, but I leave such judgments to educators such as yourself. I could only think of it as a kind of hubris were I to assume it myself.

Either way I feel no sadness in regards to my engagement with or performance in the class. Besides, I have always put my faith in people before edicts or statutes, and always will. My grade is in your hands, and I am comfortable with that.

I would certainly enjoy taking another course from you.
Sincerely,
Damon O'Hanlon

UPDATE: Final Grade for the class? B+ (and an A on the final)

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