Thursday, January 27, 2005

Customer shirking 

A few of us, including some of my frequent commenters here at Scholars, have posited to the University that we should be able to drop students from classes when they don't show up in the first week. This would have really been helpful this year, where the scheduling gurus decided to start on a Thursday. Most students simply stayed out through the weekend and wandered up earlier this week.

The same debate is going on at Northern Kentucky University, where Prof. Jonathan T. Reynolds teaches and writes about the debate on Cliopatria. One student there is not amused.

I work 40 hours weekly, on top of being a full-time student, to be able to pay to come here, and even then I can just barely afford it.

To me, it's my choice whether I want to come to class or not. No member of the faculty on this campus, at least in my mind, has the right to tell me when I have to be here.

I can close my eyes and imagine that to be my son. If it was, I'd like him to have Prof. Reynolds as an instructor. He replies:

Education is an unusual commodity. It is the only investment where the customer wants as little in return for their money as possible. As such, there is something of a conspiracy between lazy students and lazy faculty. Students are all too happy when a class is cancelled: "Woohoo! I'm getting less education for my tuition dollar!"

The explanation for such economically irrational behavior comes from the fact that things are expected of students when they come to class.

It is demanding and frequently stressful work. But here too lies the logic behind expectations of attendance. Hiring a teacher isn't just hiring somebody to help you learn, it is also a process of hiring someone to make you learn. Think of us as very demanding personal "brain trainers." We are here to get your flabby cerebral cortex off the couch and whip it into a lean, mean, critical-thinking machine.

He's right: try searching for the phrase "customer shirking" in Google and you get no hits. Are there other examples? Please provide them in the comments. Perhaps that can give us ideas how to teach better.

UPDATE: Cold Spring Shops lays additional tracks. I took this question to my breakfast group this morning, and we realized that there are many examples of customer shirking: the doctor who tells me to lose weight; the financial planner who tells me to save more and spend less; the personal trainer ("if you can dodge a wrench...").

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