August 25, 2009

"Personally, I preferred huge classes with curved grades."

"My theory was those classes always had a bunch of people who had no real interest in the subject, signed up because it was a core subject, and could be relied upon to slack off and make the curve easier for the rest of us."

From the comments on a post at Volokh Conspiracy that advises law students that "An Easy Way to Improve Law School Grades" is to take at least one course where the grade is based on a paper and to involve the professor in commenting on an early draft — a strategy one commenter mocks thusly:
Professors love it when students ask for advice.

"Tell me what to do, oh wise one."

That's the most effective form of brown-nosing.
Believe it or not, some of us lawprofs hate brown-nosing. But I almost hate to say that because I'm afraid of scaring off students who resist the advice that you should talk to your professors so that they get to know you — which helps when you need recommendation letters — and because you can have some interesting and enlightening conversations outside of class. I don't want them to think oh, she hates brown-nosing and she's going to think I'm a brown-noser.

21 comments:

Robt C said...

I teach undergraduate US History at a large university. I am amazed every semester at how few students take advantage of what I offer to improve their grades (such as pre-reading potential essay questions for the midterms). I tell them the first day of class that being intelligent isn't the key to success in college, being smart enough to take advantage of what's offered is. There aren't very many smart ones out there.

Big Mike said...

In your early twenties you don't understand that an experienced professor can tell the difference between brown-nosing and pursuing additional knowledge outside the classroom and the strict limits of the syllabus.

michael farris said...

IME the great majority of teachers of all kinds _love_ to give advice (probably part of the personality profile of those liable to join and stay in the profession).

They also have (or like to think they have) finely tuned brown-nose detectors for weeding out the genuinely curious from the merely obsequious.

vw: bedeante, obscure Italian musical term for musical dynamics meant to mimic human bodily functions.

Scott M said...

I don't know about graduate-level classes, but it kills me the way classes are spoon-fed these days.

I went back to school at 35 in 2003 to finish up a second degree and my oldest is now a freshman. I was shocked, when compared to my own freshman experience a-way back in '88, how the teachers are basically laying everything out, nearly giving them the final in the syllabus. Add to that the near complete lack of comprehensive finals and what you have is a cakewalk to A's and B's.

traditionalguy said...

It is good to know that Curves still affect grades. I never doubted that brown nosing still affeted grades, but I worried that the female student's curves were being overlooked.

Original Mike said...

Even if you are brown-nosing, it's awfully hard not to learn something in the exercise of discussion and questions, so what does it matter? And the one's who are in it for the knowledge are obvious, because they do it all semester long.

G Joubert said...

Believe it or not, some of us lawprofs hate brown-nosing.

The artful brown-noser can brown-nose in such ways that the object is so flattered and/or smitten that he/she is blinded to the fact that they've been brown-nosed.

Bissage said...

Ever since kindergarden, I did well in classes where I admired the teacher and did poorly in classes where I did not.

Read into that what you will.

MadisonMan said...

I think a good teacher is able to impart knowledge during the brown-nosing. So whether you like brown-nosing or not, and whether or not you can detect it, it's a win for student knowledge and that is after all the raison d'etre of a professor.

Pogo said...

" I don't want them to think oh, she hates brown-nosing and she's going to think I'm a brown-noser."

And that's why I think you're the best blogger evar!

Ann Althouse said...

".. so flattered and/or smitten that he/she is blinded..."

You are flattering yourself or flattering somebody, because, in fact, I am never in this condition with students. The point is to discuss the subject matter of the course, and I'm hardly soothed/blinded if the focus is on me. I'm uncomfortable and feel pressure to get onto the appropriate subject.

G Joubert said...

You are flattering yourself or flattering somebody, because, in fact, I am never in this condition with students.

I'm not talking about you, because how would I know? I'm talking about as a general proposition based on what I have seen with my own eyes.

traditionalguy said...

I can recall having an occaisional question for a Law Prof when something puzzeled me. When going up after class to inquire, there would be the same 3 or 4 brown-nosers hogging his time. But I learned a lot by listening to his responses to them anyway. The saying that a stupid question deserves a stupid answer was a wrestling match worth watching. The arguing instincts in Law Professors may just enjoy the challenge of the brown-nosers.

kathleen said...

"you should talk to your professors so that they get to know you — which helps when you need recommendation letters — and because you can have some interesting and enlightening conversations outside of class."

but that is exactly what brown nosing IS!

Bruce Hayden said...

It is good to know that Curves still affect grades. I never doubted that brown nosing still affeted grades, but I worried that the female student's curves were being overlooked.

Law school is fairly unique as a graduate school. I think that business school may be in this situation too. Many/most of the classes are curved, since many of the the students compete furiously for grades. Class rank can be very important in getting the best jobs, and they are the ones that could potentially pay much, much, much more over a career. And, it is hard to accurately compute class rank (or determine who gets on Law Review, or Order of the Coif) if everyone is getting A's as seems to be the case with most graduate schools today.

Most classes have anonymous grading, so that cute girl sitting in the front row may get extra help prepping from the male profs, but won't have that much help on the tests. I liked it, because it let me be outspoken, as is my want (and I paid for that in business school).

On the other hand, I did just what some of the posters suggested, taking a number of seminar classes, where grading is based on a paper, to get my grades up. A friend of mine preferred teaching that type of class, and I took everything he taught. I wrote chapters for his books, and got A's for writing them.

G Joubert said...

Most classes have anonymous grading, so that cute girl sitting in the front row may get extra help prepping from the male profs, but won't have that much help on the tests.

Yeah, that's what I thought too until I found out the sneaky ones have their ways of tipping off the professor about whose exam it is he is looking at.

Synova said...

If the purpose is to get a little face time and show that you are engaged in the class... I think that is smart because it *is* flattering to the instructor BUT I don't think that is up to the level of brown-nosing.

Not in moderation, at any rate.

I'm giving my son advice for his first ever "class" (jr. college) since he was home-schooled up to this point. I'm telling him to sit near the front of the class (but not in the front row) and to act alert and interested, mostly because most of the students will *not* be alert or interested. I'm telling him to participate in class but not *too* much... again, to make sure that the teacher knows that he's paying attention and is engaged. I'll tell him, if his teachers seem at all approachable to (on his judgment) go to them and explain that he's not been in a *classroom* before and would appreciate advice on how to do well. It might be a good idea to ask for feedback on an early paper, just to be sure he's on the right track.

It's the old "stand out but not *too* much" balancing act.

And besides... doing those things will require *actually* paying attention in class. Getting advice on an early draft of a paper means *actually* writing the paper ahead of time and not at the last minute. Reading the assigned reading in order to be able to answer a question for class participation *actually* requires doing the assigned reading ahead of time.

So it's sort of sneaky advice. ;-)

I don't think that something qualifies as "brown-nosing" until it goes beyond that and into personal favors and interaction. A student shouldn't know how the instructor takes her Starbucks.

Dr Dre's Underpants said...

Damn, I thought brown nosing what this blog was all about.

William said...

I am currently reading a biography of Walter Lippmann. At Harvard, he was an extremely bright student with a gift for ingratiating himself to teachers. Perhaps such behavior can be characterized as brown-nosing, but it might just as easily be described as networking. I go along with Joubert. The higher forms of syncophants are courtiers and do very well in life. We all wish to be flattered; some flattery is sincere; some flatterers are both sincere and deft.

veni vidi vici said...

"Yeah, that's what I thought too until I found out the sneaky ones have their ways of tipping off the professor about whose exam it is he is looking at."

That was very true in my legal writing seminar. The "instructor" got a handle on people's style from early drafts, invited her personal favorites to visit with her, and then gave out the grades according to her personal preferences and brown-nose factor. It was crassly obvious, even more so in the context of moot court, where she was a judge of the briefs: out of the 6 judges who eval'd my brief, all were in the 90's, but her's was in the low 60's. As a result, I petitioned the administration to make the "randomness" of the legal writing program truly random by re-assigning students in the second semester, and used as evidence of the corrosive personal bias (my instructor hated me and another guy in my class b/c we were older, from LA, had long hair and talked like we'd lived a little (which we had, in the 1980s/90s rock wars of the Sunset Strip)) the moot court briefs scorecard (the other judges were all also L.I. instructors, in whose classes my writing would've netted me A's and B's, rather than C's).

I cost that lazy, incompetent bitch her job, and it's something I'm very proud of.


wv: "loaseds" -- losers with a speech impediment.

veni vidi vici said...

As for brownnosing having a salutary effect on grades, I'll say this:

In law school, I got two A+'s. One was in a seminar class where I enjoyed the material and wrote a paper on something no one else had ever written about, where the law was very new, and the citation material was almost exclusively from stuff like Wired and other web sites/news sites. Never discussed the paper much with the prof aside from the topic proposal, which he thought was interesting.

The second was a lecture class on First Amendment Law, with a prof I really admired. Unfortunately, that semester I had a bunch of other classes I was putting tons of effort into. In fact, I went to 1st Amendment lecture once every week and a half, never read the material, and got by by occasionally raising my hand to analogize something to a case from the previous year's ConLaw class. During exam week, I had all my other exams in a 2 day run, with one day's respite before the 1st Amendment final, and hadn't read/outlined jack shit.

I bought a "nutshell" book, read through it 3 times with different colored pens and post-it tabs, and outlined on my computer as I went, stripping down the outline with each iteration. After spending the evening reading the outline a few times and then having some great sex with my *ahem* moot court partner/girlfriend, I got up the next morning and walked into the final. Mind you, I had prepared my balls off for the other finals I had that semester, and had been highly confident of myself in those classes and finals. For 1st Amendment, it was the sacrificial class, the one I expected to maybe squeak out a B or B+ if I was really lucky.

Turned out that semester I got all B+'s and that one A+... in 1st Amendment.

That's when I stopped worrying and learned to love the randomness of law school grades.


wv: "stemoli" -- the horticultural equivalent of a wise-assed surfer dude.