Monday, September 04, 2006

If you can’t do, Teach.

Teaching is an interesting experience, especially the junior year cadets. Lemme esplain: in order for the ROTC program to recruit new students, we challenge them, but without placing much emphasis on classroom work. We’d rather they focus on their other classes. First and second year exams and quizzes are generally easy, both because of this mentality and because, simply, the material isn’t that tough. Thus, the cadets tend to get lulled into thinking it’s going to continue along these lines after contracting (signing a service obligation their junior year, which requires them to serve after graduation/commissioning.)
Fortunately, the boss and I generally agree that holding their hands their junior and senior years will not set them up for future success in the Army, and also does a disservice to them, the Army, and the soldiers they lead. We force them to make decisions, think critically, quickly, and decisively. We are treating them the same way I treated my greenhorn platoon leaders when training for combat.
This is seemingly 180 degrees from the former cadre regime, and the students are already grumbling. (I didn’t serve with the former group of cadre, so I’m probably talking out of my ass here.) The ROTC program is the toughest course in college, as it should be. No other course is going to result in people responsible for the lives of others. I force my students to read ahead for class, both to make my job easier in the lectures, and to get them in the habit of gathering and studying information before they need it. I give quizzes almost every class, and they are based (mostly) on the reading, and not just a hand-wave at it, the cadets have to understand the material covered, not just regurgitate it.
Sure, the students test the waters, seeing where I will bend. They are staring to find out that like my left ring finger, I am flexible, but not very, and getting me to bend is difficult at best, and usually painful. I don’t accept late assignments, and not-to-standard assignments are returned for re-do and ½ credit (if I’m in an unusually good mood/the meds have kicked in).
I doubt I’ll lose some of the contracted cadets because of this (they did sign a service agreement. If they quit, they still owe Uncle Sam some time.) It may, however, cause some folks to not want to join the ROTC program
The ROTC recruiters have heartburn over this, but we all agree (in principle) that someone who quits because a college course is too hard is not someone we want leading soldiers. The cadets we will draw into the program are the ones who see that this isn’t a “gimme” program and ROTC is a true challenge, worthy of all the hype.
One of the things that I truly enjoy about this assignment is the ability to relate, through my own experience, the importance of certain traits that make good leaders. The very first “war story” I shared was the one about getting blown up. I didn’t tell it as the wounded cripple; I used it to illustrate how a great, effective leader (Captain Jason Spencer) took control of a chaotic situation, saved my life, and went on to lead a company in combat without any formal military training on how to run a company. Jason used decisiveness, initiative, and his technical and tactical competence to lead the company after I was wounded. No one had to tell him what to do, or how to do it, he made on-the-fly decisions in a rapidly changing, extremely stressful, and emotionally charged environment. He’d just seen his boss (and friend) horribly wounded and near death. He had to contain the emotions he felt and take over leading the company. He had to make things happen.
I used this to illustrate why I redesigned the class to challenge them under much more difficult circumstances, to explain why excuses were unacceptable, and how actions, character, and responsibility were the core attributes of effective leaders. I may lose some students. I’m actually counting on it. I look across my classes and see some students who are just following the crowd, who do everything they can to meander through their courses, who try to play all the angles to take the easy road. I treat everyone equally, and my gradebook is as blind as the scales of justice. Unfortunately, I am unwavering in my standards of grading, so half-assed work receives an appropriate grade. As for myself, I figure if I can’t be with soldiers, I might as well make some.

Why do I tell you this? I see in these students the same decline in the discipline and standards I’ve seen in the university. Have you ever wondered why such blatantly stupid ideas come from academia? Apparently, this is a self-licking ice cream cone. The professors hold their students to little if any standards, the students do minimal work to get through the coursework, and the professors harvest their student’s original ideas (if any) and spout off as if their new “wisdom” is gospel. Okay, that’s really cynical, but it does explain why there are so many complete boobs in front of, and behind, the lectern. (Yeah, myself included. If you can’t do, Teach, right?)


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