Sunday, March 2, 2014

Punxsutawney Phyllis let's a student know that he has at least six more weeks of failure

Slacker Sid, a "pre-med" taking my online course, writes:

I purchased an online version of the textbook so I could write my analysis essay due tonight. To find it, I copy and pasted the title directly from the syllabus into Google and purchased the first result from a textbook scam site. The book ends at chapter 3. So it doesn't have the readings from chapters 13 and 14 that we need to write the paper? I was just wondering if it was possible there was a mistake in the syllabus or if it is known that there is more than one version of the current edition and you didn't tell us which one to buy? I can't afford to take a 0 on a paper that is so critical to my grade and have no way to write the essay until you can get me the correct book information.

I don't usually answer email after hours--especially email from a disordered student who has a course average of 32%--but I couldn't pass this one up.

Dear Slacker Sid:

Your situation appears to be . . . unique.

From what I gather by reading your email, you have missed, to date, eleven (11) required reading assignments from our textbook, having just tonight purchased an electronic copy from a shady online vendor not associated with 1) an authorized textbook resale company, 2) the campus bookstore, or 3) the textbook publisher. Your concern is that the syllabus and/or I did not preempt the possibility of your obtaining a random and unauthorized copy from a clearly illegitimate Internet source. Now that you have obtained that random copy, you are troubled to learn that it was, you suggest, not as described and does not, in fact, contain the materials required to complete the assignment. Further, you plan to research, write, revise, and submit a full-length essay on a topic you've yet to choose within the next 3.5 hours, an essay that you should have been working on for the past two weeks.

If I've missed something, please let me know.

To answer your questions, there is a single, authorized version of the textbook in its current edition, available from the publisher and authorized vendors as noted--correctly--in the syllabus.

Good luck!

Dr. P

Punxsutawney Phyllis


  1. Good for you, that's an awesome answer.
    God I'm so sick and tired of students telling me that they "can't afford" the shitty grade that they're about to earn. What does that even mean, and how is it my problem?
    Also, Slacker Sid is identical to 98% of students in that he's a complete slack-jawed fucktard when it comes to using Google.

    1. No they're not. How come they always manage to find the videos they want to watch and the porn they want to look at?

    2. QMV: Because they're such broad targets. It's much more difficult to find out specific information about anything.

      Surly: I'd say just, "Also, Slacker Sid is identical to 98% of students in that he's a complete slack-jawed fucktard," and leave it at that. I feel really sorry for the handful of students who still want to learn: indeed, they're the ones who keep me going. If I were an undergraduate today, it would drive me even more batshit loco that high school did!

      Phyllis: A joke I remember from "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" is: Phyllis Diller teased her hair so much, it BIT her!

      But then, what can you expect, when you get students like this? Can you imagine this FOOL working at a JOB in the real world, with real RESPONSIBILITIES?

    3. Frod:

      I can well imagine fools like Sid working in the real world. Many of the bosses I had in industry behaved as if they were as thick as planks. For all I knew, they might have been like Sid while they were students. How they ever managed to graduate was beyond me.

      As proof, at one company I worked for, we in the lower ranks had a saying: it didn't take long from asking stupid questions to when we had to answer them. Membership in Mensa wasn't exactly a requirement to be a manager in that outfit.

    4. QMV: No, I don't mean management. I mean a job with real responsibilities.

    5. Frod:

      I can imagine Sid working at a job with responsibilities. I've had dealings with companies where people like him were on the payroll. Often, they were run by people who knew each other in, say, high school and they mainly hired their old buddies.

      It usually didn't take me long to figure out that they had no idea what they were doing. A lot of times, those companies went belly up. If they didn't, they hit the skids until they wised up and hired some managers who actually knew how to run things and, eventually, many of those firms survived and actually made a profit.

      Then there are those that had a streak of luck, showed some promise, and were taken over by a large corporation, which is what many people like Sid hope will happen. For some reason, they always thought they're the next Google or Facebook and that, some day, they'd be noticed and then bought out.

  2. I'm sympathetic to student complaints about the price of textbooks (and would be all for a new model -- say, open-source textbooks, with peer review before release, and perhaps some method of tracking what gets used most, and with faculty making the most useful contributions richly rewarded by their home institutions in terms of credit toward tenure, promotion, raises, etc.), but, for the moment, this is the model we've got, and buying and using the textbook is a non-optional part of the experience. Professors are not (yet) simply alternative delivery methods for the information in the textbook.

  3. I am deeply sympathetic to the cost of textbooks (having been a student and now being a mom to two college-aged kids myself). For this particular course, there are two copies of the textbook on course reserves in the library, and the previous editions of the textbook (available on Amazon for, like, $3 + S&H) have the articles we use in class (and that's noted in the syllabus). Because it's a CC, the college dictates the textbook, so I can't change the edition number, but the measures I've taken should reduce any financial burden on these students.

    The real problem with this kid--and so many others like this kid--is not lack of funds to purchase the text, but that s/he waited until the night before the paper was due to buy it! Hence the online purchase. I guess the bookstore and library were closed at 9p when s/he finally tried to buy the book.

    1. I suspect there's something of a vicious cycle: students can't afford to buy all their textbooks at once, so they get out of the habit of buying them at all, or at least until they're absolutely sure they need them (at which point the more affordable options are ruled out by time pressure). Of course, just a bit of reading ahead on the syllabus would obviate that problem (in fact, if it's a textbook made up of compiled articles and your institution has relatively decent electronic resources, they could quite possibly find the articles elsewhere for free -- or, rather, already-paid -- download, but that's a lot of work, and requires database-searching skills they don't have. They do, however, probably have the skills, and the equipment, to photograph the copy on reserve -- and, of course, the fact that they have smartphones, and smartphone contracts, is another reason I'm not as sympathetic as I might otherwise be to the textbooks-are-expensive argument).

    2. Cassandra, you're being too kind. The type of choice you describe (I always think of it as the "rent or textbook" Sophie's Choice) is not the choice for some of these students. Most I have seen arrive everyday with a $5 coffee and a $10 lunch from somewhere on-campus and have CHOSEN not to buy the book. And some of them will accuse their professors of "making money" off of them (because, obviously, the profs get a kick-back! ... or make JK Rowling-level money if they assign a book they wrote themselves!). Pretty soon, profs are gonna have to begin demanding a fee to provide a textbook added to the tuition! haha

  4. 1. Punxsutawney Phyllis is a delicious moniker, and that graphic is a keeper. Tasty, tasty smackdown.

    2. "I can't afford to take a 0 on a paper that is so critical to my grade and have no way to write the essay until you can get me the correct book information." You missed his point: it's all YOUR fault!