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Commentary

Dear Student: I Don’t Lie Awake at Night Thinking of Ways to Ruin Your Life


     
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“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 (KJV)

One of the popular myths of higher education is that professors are sadists who live to inflict psychological trauma on undergraduates. Perhaps you believe that we pick students at random and then schedule all our assignments in such a way as to make those students’ lives as difficult as possible. The older I get and the longer I do this, the more I recognize that we (the professors) need to be more transparent about our philosophies of evaluation. How does this work? Let’s clarify a few things.

First, I do not “take off” points. You earn them. The difference is not merely rhetorical, nor is it trivial. In other words, you start with zero points and earn your way to a grade. You earn a grade in (say) Econ 100 for demonstrating that you have gained a degree of competence in economics ranging from being able to articulate the basic principles (enough to earn a C) to mastery and the ability to apply these principles to day-to-day affairs (which will earn an A). I’ve hurt my own grades before by confusing my own incompetence with competence and my own (bare) competence with mastery, so trust me: I’ve been there, and I understand.

Second, this means that the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that you have mastered the material. It is not on me to demonstrate that you have not. My assumption at the beginning of each class is that you know somewhere between nothing and very little about basic economics unless you were lucky enough to have an exceptional high school economics course. Otherwise, why are you here? You might say that the course is a prerequisite for other things you want to do, but if that it is the case and you know the material, you’re more than welcome to simply show up for the exams, ace them, and be on your way.

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Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and Assistant Professor of Economics at Samford University.
Full Biography and Recent Publications






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