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.


  1. You are a dedicated pro, Dwight. I appreciate your effort....and integrity.

  2. Dear Dwight, I know exactly what you are talking about! But we have got to soldier on!

  3. I think that your position against mediocrity in journalism and in general is an admirable one. I question whether this piece will have the desired effect. You've issued a warning and a wake-up call. Where is the encouragement? How do your recommend that parents (since you've pointed to them as enablers) help correct these issues?

  4. Wow. How pitiful :( And I'm sure really challenging for you. Saw this on a friend's FB wall and was intrigued. Thanks for sharing. Seems you and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor have something in common!

  5. As a collegiate journalist I think the source of the problem can be attributed to one main factor. That is the lack of accountability in writing these days. I work for a public radio station and I know there are consequences if I put bad journalism on the air or web. The higher powers at my station will make sure of that. But for students who blog instead of doing real professional journalism there is no consequence to their actions. I think students will get the picture if they see what really happens if you get into the business and don't know what you're doing. With that being said, I believe there should be more programs to motivate students to do internships and volunteer for media outlets. There is so much talk now about how bad the journalism business is today. We as students need motivation and incentive to get involved and jumpstart our careers forward.

    Great piece. These words needed to be said.

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  8. What was your top performing student like?

  9. As a graduate of the HU School of Communications in 1986, I am dismayed at what I am reading. I can't believe that many of these students will attempt to follow the likes of Fredricka Whitfield, Michelle Miller and Gus Johnson. This is very distressing!

  10. Hey Dwight,
    Loved your piece. I saw the link in a Mediabistro column, which will give it much wider recognition. One of the things I've done to get my students at Marymount Manhattan College here in New York City much more interested in reporting, wirting and even photography is to set up a class web page using Blogspot. But I ran it as a real news site, not a blog. I tell you, students really perked up when their stories were flashed on the screen and critiqued by the whole class. Yes, the edited was a little more work for me, but it is worth. The students actually get "clips" to use for internships, and they have a "real world" learning experience because they are not just writing a paper to give to a teacher. The are reportingm writing and photographing to be read by a much broader audience.I also set up a commentary page, to teach them the difference between editorial writing and newswriting and reporting. Here's the link for my class blog:

    Keep at it man...