Thrown Under the Syllabus

Attention must be paid.

Attention must be paid.

Editor’s Note: A recent editorial in The Daily Dartmouth decried the fact that professors sometimes made students speak up in class and that medical exemptions for mental health must be made early in the term. Through our erstwhile contact, Mr. Irony Rothman, we have obtained an early draft of that piece, which initially focused on the scourge of illiteracy in the Ivy League. We present it (with minor edits for clarity) below.

After perusing — or more accurately, blankly staring at — approximately 33 syllabi during my five short terms at Dartmouth, I have always gotten stuck on a few recurring components: the persistent use of the alphabet and the assertion that illiteracy is not a medical condition. I believe that the former has sexist, ableist, and imperialist implications, while the latter is just plain mean. Though my acute sensitivity to everything remotely related to vague notions of social justice is clearly not meant to be offended by these policies, professors should nonetheless consider the disproportionate burdens these requirements might pose on their students.

Class consciousness — meaning here in-class participation — assumes that one can read. The assumption that I can read, however, is inherently problematic. A .gif on Tumblr that cited several reblogs and cat Vines, with subjects from different professions and reading levels, show that, all else being equal, literate people exhibit increased levels of confidence compared to illiterate people. Being surrounded by classmates with higher levels of factual knowledge (which can only come from reading the occasional book) could cause the unread like me to remain silent and intimidated by both the confidence and literacy of my fellow classmates. After all, it is egregiously difficult to get an “A” in class when you don’t even know what one looks like.

Because students from diverse backgrounds attend Dartmouth, it is important to mitigate the impact that individual upbringings can have on classroom performance. For this reason, it is particularly outrageous that professors require signed doctors’ notes attesting to my illiteracy before they make the basic accommodation of exempting me from all readings. Don’t they know that’s cruel and unusual to make someone who can’t read or write provide written documentation?

As a way to overcome these issues, professors could require non-evaluative methods to measure performance. For example, professors could ask students what color their day is (although — trigger warning — I worry that this could impinge on the educational experience of the colorblind). They could also assign each exam a non-carnivorous spirit animal that correlates with how each answer made them feel (though endangered animals will be interpreted as a macro-aggression). Finally, they could also just give participation points for crashing campus events and asking the speaker about his opinions on anal sex (but you can only do that to political figures with whom I disagree).

It is important to note, however, that none of this is to say that class participation should be completely discouraged; after all, few know the value of sitting around in a circle and talking about esoteric issues all day better than a social justice warrior like myself. For this reason, those who feel comfortable speaking in class should still be encouraged to do so. They just shouldn’t be allowed to use any sentences longer than what fits in a 140 character Tweet. Whatever those are.

It is important to realize that students can still contribute to class and practice sounding out big words without their grade depending on it. If students are under less pressure to conform to new standards immediately, it might encourage development at a similar pace. Professors, administrators, and other privileged students should realize that learning is a difficult process that requires an intimidating amount of work and persistence. At a school like Dartmouth where the oppressive forces of unisex bathrooms and Phiestathemed fundraisers are overwhelming, not all of us can be expected to make that time commitment. For that reason, the absence of grades should help foster a greater culture of inclusion and equality among everyone on campus, regardless of their educational background or reading level. After all, if no one is learning anything, no one can learn faster than anyone else.

The author, Mr. Buyers, is a very confused sophomore at the College and an unwitting contributor to The Dartmouth Review. Mr. Rothman is a super senior at the College and thankfully contributes sporadically, at best, to The Dartmouth Review.