Friday, May 7, 2010

"F" Troop

It was the 1960s when a popular TV comedy, "'F' Troop" entertained the masses. They were corrupt, comedic and cowardly, the way they fraternized with Native Americans who were keenly smarter than the boys in the fort. It was a time of civil rights, Vietnam and aspirations for a better American day.

Today, I have a new "'F Troop," and I am not amused. These troopers are my failing or mediocre journalism students at Howard University in Washington. They don't know that mid-term elections come every two years, that 33 (or 34) U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs, that "ensure" means something totally different than "insure" -- and they don't care about their collective ignorance.

They just want a passing grade, to get them to some unknown next level of stupid oblivion.

I don't get it. I don't understand how we as Black Americans could have let this happen at Howard University, so called "The Mecca" of black higher education. If this is the Mecca, then Mohammed must be in Acapulco. Although my journalism class, called "Reporting & Writing," ended at 7:30 p.m. twice a week, I routinely stayed hours later to provide one-on-one coaching.
To no avail for many of my troopers.

They would rather watch "The Bad Girls Club" on the Macs in the lab rather than take in "The Elements of Style," an online news site or anything else that would enrich their learning.

I saw this early on, when my class was overfilled to 24 students; it usually only holds 16. But so intent was the administration to just take their money, clearly those higher on the academic food chain didn't care a whit about higher learning, either. Still, I provided coaching and mentoring, and warned those clearly failing -- frequently - that "fat meat is greasy" if they didn't believe that their sad ways would be enshrined as "Fs."

They didn't believe. They didn't do the work, either, despite the first page of my syllabus urging them to seek knowledge instead of just a letter grade. They skipped classes. It took extra effort to get them to read the bible of journalism, the AP Stylebook. It took even more effort and time to grade their papers, word for word, line for line, and pick up every little error for their own betterment. That was my weekend rigor these last four months.

Apparently, many never got the memo that I would not accept mediocrity or their collective BS. They got their "F" grades, deservedly and sadly for all America in this age of journalism that allows blogs to pass for the real deal.

They also lack ethics. One student had her parents travel from the South to plead her case to university officials. She somehow believed they could argue for her to receive a passing grade, despite my pronouncements that I would not be compromised. She even got the athletic department's academic advisor to reach out to me because she told her that I refused to engage in a dialogue to hear a final plea. Oh, and one final thought: Her final news story quoted her own mother as one of her news sources.

I emailed the advisor back that all this effort was 13th-hour drama, that the student had ample time and my attention during the semester and that I would not change the "F"." The advisor thanked me, explaining that she had not been told the whole story. And I never revealed to anyone except the department chair that the student had used a relative as a news source.

Credibility has nothing to do with them getting a grade, they believe. Doing the work has nothing to do with making the grade.

Yes, this is about the whole story.....for all the people. But who will accurately tell our story, I repeatedly asked my class, 90 percent of whom were females from Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and points in between. Sixty percent passed -- and I use that term loosely -- because they at least demonstrated some effort.

The "F" Troopers, on the other hand, will be back to take the course for a second, third and, yes, even a fourth try. They told me so in their personal tales of travail of having to deal with other professors who, they claimed, either wouldn't or didn't teach them what they needed to succeed.

Dear parents, please don't send your kids off to college expecting some miraculous transformation. Don't think for an iota that we professors have some magic potion that will allow them to drink in knowledge or that we can provide sustenance that will get them out of school and into a well-paying job. It's not so, because fat meat is greasy and I'm not easy.