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Learning & attendance

This Letter to the Editors was submitted by Brandon King, a senior at Concordia College.

During my first two years of life at this institution, I was a “good” student. I followed the rules. The rules that tell us it is “right” to attend all of our classes. The rules that tell us it is “right” to read all of the books. The rules that tell us that class involvement is “critical to a student’s success” (see the campus academic policies).

In a sense, the rules served me well. With them, I was pretty close to being a straight ‘A’ student. For my first two years at this place, I walked away from my exams on track to the Dean’s List. I rode the Holy Elevator of Student Success.

But there were problems. I was not able to understand news reports on CNN. I was not able to have discussions about religion. I was not able to evaluate the arguments around me. I was ill-informed. My transcript told me that I was a good student. I was not.

Until then, I bought into the assumption that good grades mean that you understand things. In reality, good grades mean that you can fulfill requirements. Last year, I decided I had had enough of this illusion, so I chose to ignore the rules. I stopped going to a quarter of my classes. I stopped reading the texts that were assigned to me. I stopped with the requirements.

Bad student, right? Wrong.

The time that I had spent in my first two years with the system, I transmuted. For every hour that I had originally spent sitting in a classroom, I decided to spend the same amount reading my own academic books. I had perfect attendance in my own mind.

This was an awakening. For the first time in my life, I actually liked to learn. I found myself looking forward to reading the textbooks in my dorm room. I was excited to have conversations about subjects that I never knew existed. Independent study gave me the free time I never had to play with ideas in critical ways. Never before had I ever actually tried to assess the logic of a published argument. What’s more, I never realized how fun that could be.

You would think that this would be a victory for education. Apparently not.

Instead, the institution punishes me for failing to satisfy ancillary requirements. I’m talking about the very policies that are themselves designed to facilitate learning. Even when I can verify my knowledge with an ‘A’ on an exam, my grades are squandered for missing more than two classes in the semester.

I wish that lectures worked for me. I wish that I could digest information in a classroom setting and consume it with enough depth to remember it forever. The truth is that I can’t. I am not able to take in lectured information in a comprehensive enough way for reasoned thought. But I have found something that does work, and the institution won’t have it.

The administration believes that “any absence, excused or unexcused, detracts from the learning experience,” and it uses it as a rationale for compulsory attendance. This is just wrong. It was not until I started being absent that I actually had a genuine learning experience. What may be true for a lot of students is not true for me.

Classrooms should be resources like the writing centers and student tutors. They should be available for use when the need arises. Students should not be required to see tutors if tutors don’t help them, just like students should not be required to attend classes if classes don’t help them. Why not let students study in the ways that work best for them?

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