Mid-Term Apprehensions

According to ND’s academic calendar, this coming Friday is the last day for “course discontinuance.”

Basically, I understand that to mean students can withdraw from a course they’re having problems with, without taking a grade or receiving any credit.

In some cases, withdrawal is probably the best option. If a student has done everything possible to succeed in a class — regular attendance, homework assignments, out-of-class studying, even tutoring — yet can’t seem to grasp the material, that student probably shouldn’t be in that class anyway. Perhaps the interest level isn’t there; perhaps the necessary background from high school isn’t there; perhaps it’s as simple as a bad time of day for the class. Regardless, students shouldn’t be penalized by having to stick it out in an unpalatable situation.

My Favorite Domer is one of those First-Years already withdrawing from a class. He tells me he’s certainly not alone. While that doesn’t really come as a surprise, it does tend to sadden me a bit. After all, these kids have invested eight weeks of their early college careers struggling to comprehend a particular subject — often at the expense of their other classes, social time, physical exercise, even sleep. And don’t get me started about how much stress that’s added to their lives — and to their parents!

I’m generalizing here, but I imagine most of the First-Years admitted to Notre Dame are like MFD — high achievers, with the A’s through elementary and secondary school to prove it. Yet now that they’re in college, they’re struggling to pull C’s. Don’t tell me they suddenly became “average” or “lazy.”

I prefer to lay the “blame” for this angst at the high school, and even middle school, level.

Certainly there’s a BIG difference between high school and college, particularly when it comes to test-taking. In high school, students are expected to soak up the material like sponges, then regurgitate it back to the teacher on an exam; in college, students are expected to think, to apply what they’ve learned to new situations, and to solve never-before seen problems. High schools are big on extra credit (it’s that “everybody gets a trophy” mentality); in college, tests might be few and far between, there aren’t any “do-overs,” and even your best effort might not be sufficient.

Those are hard lessons to swallow for kids who haven’t been prepared. Unfortunately, even a typical “college prep” curriculum in high school doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to preparing kids (even the “best and brightest”) for college.

How come? Why don’t high schools (who can tell right away which students are going to continue their educations) require college-bound students to take a “transition to college” course of some kind? Such a course could carry a simple Pass/Fair grade, thereby eliminating the “sucking up” too many kids engage in; it could be more loosely structured, typical of a college class, and require thought, discussion, and application. It also could help them learn how to learn!

I’m not an educator. I’m not an administrator. I’m just a mom who wants the best for her kid, and I’m going to be watching and doing whatever I can to make sure he gets it.