Why Professors Have to Deal With Students Making Excuses

This podcast on student apologies is funny and depressing at the same time. Filip Noterdaeme, a college professor, collected a bunch of emails from students making all sorts of excuses about why they can’t or couldn’t come to the class. Getting a barrage of these emails is apparently a big problem for professors.

For me, the reason this problem exists is really obvious. It’s something that has always bothered me about school and education in general. In fact, I’m puzzled as to why nobody seems to talk about this big white elephant in the room.

Our education system is founded on the assumption that people do not like to learn. Teachers’ primary role is to act as a disciplinarian, like a personal trainer, because people know they should learn but they don’t want to. It’s like eating vegetables. Somehow our society has decided that this is the norm and that the schools should be designed with this assumption. But why?

To me, learning is like eating ice cream; I don’t need anyone to discipline me. So, the fact that schools are designed to discipline students into learning, and that they have these commitment devices like degrees, grades, and exams, were distracting. Imagine a parent constantly nagging his children to eat ice cream and donuts. It would not only be a total waste of energy but also could make the kids dislike ice cream and donuts. I always felt like saying to my teachers, “I’m not paying you to make sure I learn, so, whatever time you are spending to do that is a total waste of my money.”

If there is a school where all the students felt learning is like eating ice cream, none of the problems Filip discussed in the podcast would exist. Teachers wouldn’t need to grade anyone. There would be no need to keep attendance. No students would bother any teachers with any excuses. If you want to learn, stay and have fun; if not, leave!

One time, I was talking to a professor at a dinner and said to him that as a student, your ultimate goal in college should be to have as much fun as possible. He immediately dismissed me because he could not imagine any student whose idea of “fun” was learning. That’s how jaded teachers are. Equating “fun” with learning was the last thing on his mind.

In college, I attended many classes that I didn’t sign up for because they were fascinating. Those four years were some of the most fun years of my life. Being able to entirely focus on what I felt passionate about was like a utopia. These days, there are parents who encourage kids to skip college. To me, that’s crazy. Why deprive them of the opportunity to know how fun life can be? Those years can serve as the foundation of the hope and optimism for the rest of their lives.