Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Flashback: Flunking

I have alluded in an earlier post to the fact that I nearly flunked out of my first semester of college. Perhaps it is time for a more complete telling of the story.

As the end of the first semester approached, I realized that, if nothing changed, I was headed towards an F as the final grade in my first college math course, Math 141, "Intro Calc & Anal".

This was a problem, because I expected to major in Mathematics. The high school year book even records my goal, at that time, of being a math teacher and researcher.

It was also a problem because I had earned straight As in high school*, in all of my subjects except Physical Education (where I barely eked out Ds). As an aside, four PE courses were required for my undergraduate degree, and I managed: Social Dance, C-; Latin-Am Dance, D; Folk Dance, B-; Bowling, B+ (yay!).

In high school, attending class was enough for me to do well on tests, and so I didn't do homework. In college, homework had to be turned in, and was part of the grade. But, I continued my old high school work habits, and thus deserved the F.

I woke up to the situation in time to spend the last few weeks differently. First, I let all the other classes slide. Second, I spent hours studying the textbook and taught myself calculus.

I thought that I did well on the final exam, but was shocked, when the results were posted, to see that I had earned the highest score of anyone in the class. Needless to say, the instructor was astonished that one of his F students had executed the best final exam, and he called me into his office for an interview. We discussed various things, including my study habits, and he was finally satisfied that I hadn't cheated in some way. I ended up with a C+ in Math 141 and a GPA for the semester of 2.77.

The next semester was actually worse. Math 142 (with the same instructor) went well, with me handing in all assignments and finishing with an A**. However, the next highest grade was a C in Physics 121 (when I had won a provincial prize for physics in high school), then two Ds, and three Fs (one earned by oversleeping and missing a final exam and then being too shy to go talk to the instructor about it). GPA for that semester: 2.13, and loss of scholarship. Ouch!

I did get my act together, including giving up science fiction reading and chess playing. Not to mention starting to do homework, going to class, and waking up in time for final exams. The lowest semester GPA for the rest of my undergraduate career was the third one, at 3.32.

There is a back-story that is a bit interesting, especially in view of my depressing little poem on inner voices.

As a youth, I owned a tape recorder. One evening, before going out to do my chores in the barnyard, I set it up, recording, in an inconspicuous place in the kitchen. Sometime later, I must have listened through the tape--my first and last attempt at surveillance. At one point, my parents were talking about me, and my mother said something like, "he'll probably flunk out of college." I remember being struck by this; not angry or anything, just pondering it. Of course, I didn't confront my mother about it, that not being my style. I also knew that she had been trying to get me to do homework for the past twelve years, without any notable success. At the time, I had no idea that doing homework was actually important, or that it could be of value in learning a subject, or getting a college degree.

Now that I have a been a parent many times, I understand how easy it is for a parent to see a child's weakness. How easy it is to want them to change this or that, so that they can be more successful in what they actually want, themselves, to accomplish. And yet, how ineffective nagging is as a method to achieve this.

Looking back on this incident, I feel myself splitting into two points of view. The parent who knows what is best for the child. The child who thinks that the parent doesn't appreciate how much everything is really under control. Perhaps the only way is to let them learn by their own experience.
*actually, in Canada, the highest grade was an H, for "honor". But this is the equivalent to an A in the U.S. system.

**a couple of years later, I found out that a missionary companion, Elder Drury, had been in that class, and had been jealous of my--to him, apparently easy--success.


Myrna said...

Hah--my second semester was worse than yours. I didn't want to go to school--I had stupidly signed up for some really early classes, and getting there just wasn't happpening. I wanted to withdraw and go home. Mom and Dad said no. So I was like "Well, you can make me stay here but you can't make me go to class." So...the only class I finished with a grade (C) was American Heritage because I didn't want to have to retake that. I just got a whole string of UWs to go with that C, for some fabulous GPA of--I don't even know--low enough to put me on Academic Probation! I love it that I have Two Masters degrees--a walking testimony that you CAN recover from Academic Suicide.

Nancy said...

Wow. I would have DIED if I got grades like that. Seriously.

Thanks for all the hours you spent tutoring me in math so that I could get an A-. Lots of hard work and patience on your part!