“For the love of God, someone try to answer this question,” goes the typical banter between 20
resiliently silent students and their desperate TA in the section I sat in on
one warm Friday afternoon. “Say one. Word. Free associate. A single word that
relates, in some way, to the assignment. You don’t even have to justify it.”
One timid hand wavers just above the rows of unmoving heads.
“YES! You! What do you think?”
“Uh, I have to leave early,” the student contributes. The TA
hangs his head.
Rather than attempting to go against the grain of stubborn
student apathy, officials decided to change the name of discussion sections to
reflect what actually tends to occur. “We realized the teachers’ assistants
were shouldering more than their share of communicating desperation,” an
administrator reflects. “Maybe this message will help these young people who
are supposedly future movers and shakers of the world, who got in there because
they have achieved and are good at things, to at least feign interest in the
material. Or communicate their disinterest. We will take either at this point.”
As far as whether this will push students to be more
proactive, the TA I sat in with is enthusiastic about the potential results ““ more because TAs seem to be
endlessly enthusiastic rather than feeling actual optimism about student participation.
Once the student with the doctor’s appointment left, to our
TA’s surprise, another hand was raised thoughtfully into the air. “Yes! Please!
You”¦. you have something to say??”
“Long?” The student says. The TA is puzzled. “That’s the
word I thought of when I read the assignment.” The class snickers.
“Sucks!” Someone in the back volunteers.
“I didn’t buy the book!”
At a loss, the TA rubs the bridge of his nose. “Does anyone
want to elaborate?”