Today is the last day of classes for the spring semester at Coastal Carolina University, where I am employed as a lecturer in the Department of English.
I teach five classes (or sections) each semester. I have about 20 students in each class.
As each semester draws to a close, some students have questions about the remaining assignments, papers, and of course exams. Many of these questions begin, "Do we have to...?"
This question is not usually asked as a whine. Usually it's asked out of a sincere curiosity for information and a reasonable concern for one's grade.
But the answer is, they don't have to do anything.
As far as I'm concerned, the students don't have to do anything in my classes.
I am against coercion.
I don't want to force anyone at all.
If they fail to turn in a paper, I am not going to call their parents. I am not going to sue them. I am not going to find their apartment or dorm room and kick in the door.
Students don't even have to show up for class.
I don't want to be responsible for high blood pressure in the academic hierarchy above me, and I don't want to give a poor reflection of the university, so I should explain myself.
Should students choose to participate in the academic work of the semester, I will grade them. I will rate and rank their efforts. I will give them feedback, too.
They might not like the courses I teach, but passing my classes is a means to an end for them. Most of them understand they have to fulfill certain requirements to obtain a four-year degree. Most of them have declared a major and want to do something with their lives.
At the beginning of semesters, especially the fall semesters, I often give a little sermon to freshmen in my English classes. With the last exhausting academic push ahead before summer begins, now might be a good time to recall it and to put hard work in perspective. My little sermon goes something like this:
"I understand if English wasn't your favorite subject in high school.
"You know what I don't understand? I don't understand people who bring the too-cool-for-school attitude to college.
"You all saw someone like that in high school, didn't you? Someone who was too cool for school?"
They always nod.
"You know what? I don't hold that against them. They can have the too-cool-for-school attitude in high school. You know why? Because almost everyone has to finish high school.
"Even if it's not a state law, you have to finish high school because mom or dad or grandma or grandpa or aunt or uncle require it of you. If you're living under their roof, and you're under 18, you pretty much have to do what they say. And they'll tell you to finish high school.
"But you know what? When you go away to college, most of you are legal adults. Most of you are 18 or older, and some of you will probably turn 18 this semester.
"You're a legal adult. You can open a bank account. You can buy a house. You can rent an apartment.
"You can vote. You can get a job. You can get married. You can get shot-up for your country.
"You can go into the military -- they have some great job-training programs.
"You can go across the street and get a two-year degree. Hey, some people with two-year degrees are making more money than I am.
"You're free. You can do what you want. No one can stop you.
"Now I understand if this isn't your favorite subject, and I understand that we all have bad days.
"I also understand that we all have different competencies and different appitudes. Maybe grammar and writing is hard for you. That's OK. If I can tell that you're trying, I'll respect that and help you out.
"But the one thing I don't understand is the too-cool-for-school attitude in my classroom.
"Because if you bring that attitude into my classroom, you're a coward.
"You're spineless. You're gutless. You have no balls.
"Because if you really hate being here, then you're an idiot for staying. No one is forcing you to be here.
"You're 18. You're a legal adult. You're free. You do not have to be here.
"So have some guts. Have a spine. Have some balls. Get out of here and do what you want to do.
"But if you want to be here, I'm going to do my best to prepare you for the next four years of academic writing and arguing -- because you've got plenty of papers and presentations ahead of you."
I'm grateful to their parents and their high school teachers because a majority of them seem to completely understand what I'm saying.
And no, they don't have to do anything in my class.
-Colin Foote Burch