The Folly of Traditional Education

[Warning: If this article sounds like a rant, it’s because it is.]

I was penalized today for publishing a story I wrote for my journalism class. My teacher works as a journalist full-time, so I thought he would appreciate the effort I put into crafting a serious story and submitting it for publication. Frankly, I treat every story as one I’ll potentially submit for publication — even on my silly little blog.

Let me make one thing clear in case you are reading this, Skip (that’s what I call him sometimes). I technically failed to finish the assignment on time. You aren’t wrong. I am not asking you to improve my grade or provide any leniency. Frankly, the only reason I need a good grade in the class (other than to boost my own ego and sense of self-importance) is so I can serve in ministry at the college. I’m merely proposing that your approach to empowering future journalists may be wrong.

I write for the school paper and fell into (quite reluctantly) the most important news thread going on several weeks. I’m not a great writer. I was just in the right place, at the right time, with plenty of support from various advisers, faculty, staff, and students. I also work with great editors. I have spent a ridiculous amount of time and energy writing, editing, interviewing, and researching the thread — far above and beyond what would get me an A in any single class (and probably far and above what would get me an A in all of my classes combined). Because of this opportunity, my skills as a journalist have skyrocketed in a very short period of time. I don’t receive a grade for the stories I write for the paper. It is purely voluntary after I put in three hours per week. The truth is, my time is split between seeking a grade in my classes and learning to polish my skills as a professional.

I wrote an article that covered a major news story in the school paper which I modified slightly and turned in as a major project. My teacher told me that because I used the article in the school paper that I would need to put my article aside and write a brand new one from scratch. It was similar, he said, to using a paper I had written before and submitting it to another professor’s class for a grade. Honestly, even if I was to do this, I don’t see a problem if the paper was good enough that it could be submitted for multiple purposes. It’s not like I plagiarized anyone else’s work. Journalists in the real world do it all the time. I also don’t see a purpose in writing an article that won’t go to be published later on. Is my work going to do me or anybody else any good if it gets graded and subsequently gets thrown in the trash can? If it isn’t for other people to read and benefit from, why write it in the first place?

I suppose I can understand if I was writing for the Times that it would not be appropriate to submit the same article to the WSJ. But given that none of the articles I submit to my classes are articles I am being paid for (frankly, I’m paying to take the class), I don’t see why I should lose ownership of my own work.

We had several weeks to work on the project due. I attempted to rewrite the article from scratch from a completely different angle in a single day. I failed to finish. (In my professor’s defense, I actually had a week — it’s just that I didn’t expect his editing notes to include the instructions: “start over.”)

When I asked for a few hours’ extension on my deadline, given the fact that I had to write an article from scratch, I was denied, he said, because it would have been unfair to the other students. Is it fair that I had to rewrite my project from scratch because I also submitted it for publication? Is it fair that I got the top grade in the class on the midterm and because everyone in the class with the exception of me and maybe a couple others did so poorly, that you threw the grades out? Are the other students who submitted their papers (their first copy with the help of your editing marks, not their second copy written from scratch with zero feedback) on time publishing anything in the media?

This is the problem with schools and teachers in schools. They forget the reason they are there to begin with. Schools are meant to train people in a discipline to go out into the real world and exude excellence. It is not meant to have students complete assignments that might be theoretically useful with the purpose of getting a letter grade. The incompetent sheep in the classrooms are coddled and given every excuse in the world so that they can get a passing grade. The game changers are being penalized for going the extra mile and making waves.

Teach (I call him that too), if you are reading this, I’m probably going to get an F on the unfinished work I submitted today (though if you had given me a couple hours extension as I asked, I would have easily finished). I accept full responsibility for failing to finish on time. I fully understand your point of view, but couldn’t disagree more. I implore you to rethink your purpose in teaching this class or at least the next iteration of it. If you stay the course, your intelligent students will be frustrated. I guarantee you, they already are.

The world needs more leaders. It doesn’t need more sheep.

I’ll take my F.

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