Allow me to tell you about one of my former students, Rick. In reality, Rick isn’t one student but rather a composite of several types. Aside from that little detail, he’s completely real.
When he first walked into my composition class at the beginning of the semester, he meant well. He intended to do his best and earn a good grade. For the first week or so, he did all of the reading. When I required some brief writings, he finished them on time. All was going well in the realm of Rick. But then his old habits came out. He began to procrastinate. The temptation to go party with his friends rather than reading about the nine methods of development got the better of him. He wrote his first rough draft in about ten minutes, sitting outside the classroom. Rick’s ship was sinking.
His first ploy came about a third of the way through the semester. His first paper wound up as a C rather than an A. “Do you have anything we could do for extra credit?” he asked one day toward the end of the class period. Students are funny about extra credit. People who will resist spending a half hour studying for an announced quiz worth fifty points won’t bat an eye at spending two hours getting ten extra credit points. I don’t understand it.
Next, Rick became a bit belligerent. When his second paper wound up as a C-, he came to my office loaded for bear. “My girlfriend’s brother has this friend who is an English major, and he said that he didn’t think there was any way that this paper was a C-.”
“An English major, eh?” I noted. As I talked with him, I stood and sat on my desk so that my head was lined up perfectly with my diploma, the big one reading “Doctor of Philosophy—English.” I continued. “I’m sure this friend is a great guy, but that’s not really important today. Would you like me to explain why he’s wrong and I’m right?”
Failing in that bid, Rick resorted to the oldest scam a student can play. He turned in his research paper, an absolutely brilliant effort sporting a host of sources he couldn’t possibly have found. This clearly wasn’t his work. “Rick,” I asked. “Are you sure that you gave me the right paper?” He picked up my meaning and reclaimed the plagiarized paper, replacing it with something of his own a couple of days later.
Finally, after a good deal of work, Rick finished the course, earning a C for his efforts. On the day of the final, he asked me about his final grade. When I told him the mediocre news, he glanced around and said, “If I give you a hundred bucks will you change it to a B?” I hope I don’t need to say that I didn’t take him up on that.
What’s wrong with students that they’ll look for help anywhere except where they can find it, in themselves and their work? What’s wrong with people that they’ll look for help anywhere but in God? That’s Amos’ question of the day. Lest we cluck too much at the Israelites, let’s remember that there’s a bit of Rick in all of us.