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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Disciplining the Lazy Student

Perhaps the most aggravating thing about this profession is the attitude held by some students that the responsibility for their learning is on us and not them.  I encountered perhaps my worst example of such laziness in class yesterday.  I called on the student to analyze whether certain arguments for restricting marriage to heterosexual couples was "irrational," as held by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  The student declined to answer, claiming that he did not hear the question because he was typing on his computer; that he had no opinion on the matter; and that he could not develop any opinion because he had not been listening closely enough to the discussion and did not bring his book to class.  This was not the first time he was unprepared.

What should I have done?  I called on someone else and plan to call on the lazy student every day for the rest of the semester (or at least a suitably lengthy period short of the whole semester) plus decrease his grade one step for poor class participation, but I suspect such treatment is not nearly severe enough (plus it wastes the time of other members of the class).  Have some of you ejected students from the class for such inexcusable behavior?  If so, do you let them return for the next class?  What happens if they don't leave?  What other means are appropriate and effective?

Posted by Michael Dimino on October 5, 2006 at 10:53 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I struggle with this too -- and did specifically and explicitly in my last two classes. I've heard that some professors just walk out of class; but I think that recourse punishes everyone for a few bad apples. My sense is that if you call on enough people randomly in every class and generally assign a reasonable amount of reading for each class, the vast majority of students do their part. If they don't, we can decrease their grades, which is punishment enough. In any case, because I actually test on what I teach, students who read in advance and stay engaged get the most out of the course -- and will tend to perform best as well. That seems to be the way it should be.

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Oct 5, 2006 11:40:07 AM

Methinks you need a hobby. While you are being paid to stand there and talk (most likely about something that will have absolutely no bearing on the student's career), nobody is paying this student to attend class and participate. While the responsibility for learning is on the student, the responsibility for teaching is on you alone. The student, having paid a substantial amount of money for his responsibility, may shirk that responsibility to whatever extent he chooses. If he suffers for it, it should only be with regards to his understanding of the material and resulting poor grade on the exam. He should not suffer because some prof's ego is hurt when people don't participate.

Posted by: angry law student | Oct 5, 2006 11:38:30 AM

At the end of the day, if, as you say, the onus is on the student to learn the material himself, does it matter if he learns it in your classroom or on his own later?

Posted by: Frankie Avalon | Oct 5, 2006 11:36:59 AM

This is a fun line from Duncan Kennedy's How the Law School Fails, describing the "checked out" student:

"The almost comatose passivity of the student before even the most outrageous, or fascinating, statement made in class seems incomprehensible."

Posted by: FP | Oct 5, 2006 11:31:51 AM

I have a preliminary question: would you consider this course of retribution appropriate if the student had missed class?

Posted by: Bart Motes | Oct 5, 2006 11:19:17 AM

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