For those who happen to stumble across this: “Sins of the Fathers” is a document I usually include in my online course material for the college courses I teach. It is one of two documents that support each other. This is the harsher of the two, but together with Education Manifesto, it is designed to help college students get both realistic and motivated about their time in college in general, and my class in particular. I have done very little to edit this in order to make it make sense outside the context of a Learning Management System (at the time I wrote it, we used WebCT; at the time I posted it here, we were using Desire2Learn), so keep that in mind as you read it over. It is here simply to make it easy to share with educators who express an interest in it. It actually lives inside a walled garden normally accessible only to my own students, and certainly only to people with a login at my college.


Some might view this as a negative document. I don’t intend it to be. I just want to be clear so you know what’s expected.

(For perspective, be sure to also read “Education Manifesto.”)

It’s not that I expect you guys to have problems with the things in this document. It’s that I have come to expect everyone to have problems with these things, because I have been trying for years to get people to understand them and act in their own self-interest for purposes of learning. It hasn’t worked. So because of other people’s lack of awareness, I’ve decided to institute clear rules for you and subsequent classes. Explanations, if any, will be short, because explanations have made no difference previously. I just need to be clear so that later I can say, “Didn’t you bother to read ‘Sins of the Fathers’?”

Why “Sins of the Fathers”? Exodus 20:7 says, “He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” I think that means someone’s actions affect a lot of other people for a long time. Take some comfort in the notion that what you do will affect other students in subsequent semesters.

Here’s the summary: “This is college, for crying out loud!” The short form for “This is college” is “TIC.” In fact, this is where the term “ticked” comes from: professors who get ticked with their students who can’t seem to take responsibility for themselves, which you would expect from someone who recognizes the difference between college and high school. (Note: I am joking about the word origin, but not about being ticked.) So we will refer to this as “TIC.” I can’t wait for the first time I’m asked what “TIC” means.

  • If you don’t put your name on it, I won’t try to figure out whose it is. You just get no credit. If you don’t have sense enough to label it, you don’t have sense enough to get credit for it. TIC.
  • Assume you will have technology problems and plan for them. If you miss a deadline, you miss a deadline. I don’t care if it’s because your computer got a virus, or because your grandmother died, or because the Fed raised interest rates. Get it done on time, or don’t whine when the announced penalties are imposed.
  • Post stuff in the right place. If you post something to the discussion board that should have been in a dropbox, I will simply delete it. In effect, it will be the same as not turning it in. If you post something in the wrong dropbox, then I will grade it as if it is for the labeled dropbox, which will likely result in a bad grade since it won’t address that assignment.
  • Label stuff correctly . If it’s for the Speech to Convince, label it “Convince.” If you label it “Speech 2,” I will use my judgment as to which unit it is for and evaluate it accordingly. If I guessed wrongly, tough. In any case, it will cost you 5% of the assignment’s points for the extra trouble and for not following directions.
  • When you ask a question, put “Question” in the subject line of your e-mail. The biggest waste of electrons is to put your name in the subject line. It’s email, for crying out loud. I can immediately tell who it’s from. Put something descriptive in the subject line.
  • I do everything I can to make the course practical as well as academically sound. That means I don’t give you busy work. It not only wastes your time, it wastes mine, and I don’t have time to waste. Everything in the course is here for a reason. So don’t treat the assignments like technicalities. For instance, you are supposed to do your outline before you speak because you are supposed to have prepared and rehearsed. So don’t offer to send me the outline after you’ve given the speech, because it’s useless at that point and turning it in would be a mere technicality. Do things in order, and you will doing things better and ultimately do a better speech. Turn them in out of order, and you get no credit. I don’t accept late assignments.
  • Read the articles and FAQs on computer file formats. If you submit a computer file in the wrong format, I will send one e-mail telling you. If you don’t respond with a corrected format by the assignment deadline, you just get a 0 for that assignment. I don’t have time to keep bugging you. TIC.
  • Don’t tell me that you don’t need sources because you’re an expert on your topic.
    1. If you’re really an expert, you’re going to have printed sources stacked up under your bed. You’ll be able to cite sources from the top of your head. Just saying you’re an expert doesn’t make you an expert. Prove you’re an expert by citing other sources that support your point.
    2. This course involves teaching you how to research and organize information as well as how to present it orally. If the topic you picked doesn’t allow you to accomplish that, we have two options: a) You can pick a different topic, or b) we can change the entire course. Which do you think makes more sense? If the criteria say you need at least three sources then, surprise! You need three sources.
  • If that’s not concrete enough, let’s put it this way. No sources? Automatic D—and that’s assuming the organization and delivery of what you do have is decent.
  • I assume you can read. If you can’t, you’re not going to read this anyway. Nevertheless, that is the assumption, which means we expect you to not only read this document, but also the course materials, the textbook, the syllabus, and all bulletin board postings. If you don’t like to read, then don’t take an online section of public speaking.
  • We’ve specified certain requirements for taking a course like this, such as “you must know how to use your computer; you must have the textbook; etc..” So don’t e-mail me (especially after it is too late to drop the course) and say, “I didn’t read the syllabus, I don’t have the textbook for taking the quizzes, and I just learned how to turn on my computer and I don’t know how to access the online material. Is this a problem?” Because the answer will be, “Yes. Yes, it is a problem. And it is your problem, not mine. Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part. So since it’s your problem, you solve it.”
  • On the other hand, when you run into a problem, tell me immediately. “I couldn’t because…” is no excuse when it’s too late to do anything about it. If you don’t earn the credit, you get no credit. Period. I will sympathize. I will even be nice about it. (Remember, I’m not trying to be mean—just clear). But I will not “give” you credit, because credit is not something I can give. It is something you earn.

In a way, I can’t blame you for that last one. You have survived a system that treats points like rewards and hands them out like doggie treats to make you feel better. Grades were never supposed to be that way. They are feedback mechanisms to help you figure if you’ve absorbed what you were expected to.

College is not a hoop for you to jump through, and a degree is not a ticket we punch after you put up with the certain amount of academic hazing. Therefore, it not only does you no good to get points you haven’t earned, it actively hurts you.

“I’m paying for this” is a frequent refrain usually indicating the claimant believes s/he deserves a grade or a degree because s/he has swapped money for it. Let’s correct that notion.

In the first place, you paid for part of it. The State of Tennessee paid for most of it. If you insist on approaching education as if it were Kmart, at least get the analogy right. You’re not the customer. The state is. You’re the product. The customer pays us based on the number of people we help mold into more useful citizens. If we produce inferior products, the customer is going to stop buying. Think about the implications of that for your education.

Having said that, I need to tell you the Kmart analogy is wrong to begin with. You don’t pay for a grade or a piece of paper. You pay for having your mind stretched. A more accurate analogy than customer/retailer is client/professional.

You can’t expect your doctor to tell you you’re just fine simply because you paid him. You pay for his/her professional opinion and expertise, and that’s what you’re going to get. If you don’t like the advice, you can ignore it or go to a different doctor. You can’t force the doctor to say what you want him to. If you have any sense, you wouldn’t want him to do so anyway. The same is true for your lawyer and your accountant. Certainly, there are unscrupulous doctors, lawyers, and accountants who will take your money and tell you you’re fine. They rip you off when they do so. They certainly do not determine the norm.

The same goes for your instructor. When you get what you pay for, you don’t simply get a grade for showing up (and some people expect a grade even when they don’t show up). You get an education, which will make you uncomfortable and take you places you don’t really want to go (on some level). If you just wanted your ticket punched, you should have spent your money on a diploma mill.

For more on this, see “Education Manifesto.”

Note: if you continue in this course, your continuance indicates that you have read/are reading everything in the course and agreed to abide by the instructions, requirements, guidelines, and deadlines, whether you explicitly tell me you agree or not. That includes the syllabus, the academic dishonesty policy, the calendar, and everything else in here that comes from your instructor. Ignorance is no excuse, because it’s all right out there in the open.

Most students will have no problem with any of this—they do it anyway. For a few, this will be a useful set of instructions. Frankly, for others it will simply be one more thing to ignore. My hope is that the first two groups will be gratified; my reluctant certainty is that the latter group will simply be mystified.


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