This work is available here free, so that those who cannot afford it can still have access to it, and so that no one has to pay before they read something that might not be what they really are seeking. But if you find it meaningful and helpful and would like to contribute whatever easily affordable amount you feel it is worth, please do do. I will appreciate it. The button to the right will take you to PayPal where you can make any size donation (of 25 cents or more) you wish, using either your PayPal account or a credit card without a PayPal account. |
Pet Peeve: Students Who Say “I Don’t Know What You Are Looking For” When students say “I don’t know what you are looking for”
that implies they think there is no real answer to the question, and the
enterprise is just a game to try to figure out what the teacher wants to hear,
whether it is reasonable or accurate or not.
Consider the following question, which is from a logic
course in which the textbook explained there are three different mathematical
meanings which are all commonly called “the average” – mean, median, and mode
[which I will explain shortly, and I apologize for using a semi-math problem to
introduce this but there is a reason for it that I will explain in a minute
before also giving a non-math example]: In a certain course the mean, median,
and mode IQ of the students is 120.
[Hence, no matter which form of average is mathematically calculated for
this particular group of students, it will come out to be 120.] If students with an IQ of 120 or more will
easily pass this course, then does it follow that none of the students in this
course should have any difficulty passing it? [We are presuming they aren’t ill
and don’t have some other external issues, etc. and that IQ is all that is
relevant to their success in the course.] [For those who do not know what the terms mean, median, and
mode mean, here is a quick simplistic explanation which will serve for purposes
of the point I want to make about student answers to this question: The mean is what we most commonly
refer to as average: the sum of the values divided by the number of
people/objects in the sample. So if
there are 10 things whose weights together total 1000 pounds, the mean average is 100 pounds for each of
them, even if none of them actually weighs 100 pounds – e.g., suppose there are
5 at 90 pounds, and 5 at 110 pounds. The median is the value of any of
the objects for which there are an equal number of objects which have a higher
value as the number of objects in the group which have a lower value. So if we have five objects, costing
individually $2, $5, $10, $98, and $200, then the median price is $10 because
there are two objects that cost less and two objects that cost more. The mode is that value, if any,
which appears the most frequently in the group.
The two samples above do not have modes, since no number appears more
frequently than any of the others. But
if you add one more $10 object in the second example, then two objects would
cost $10, so $10 would not only be the median but it would also be the mode
because there would be more objects with that price than with any other single
price.] My students often give the correct conclusion that there may be some students in the question who have
a much lower IQ who will have trouble in the math course, but that the averages
still work out to be 120 overall, because there are some with higher IQs that
offset the lower ones. But the conclusion is only part of the problem. Students
need to justify their conclusions by giving the evidence for them, and the
evidence needs to be true and relevant.
They try to prove this by giving three different examples – one for each
kind of average; e.g. for mean (three students: 80, 120, 160), for median (85,
88, 120, 125, 128), and a third example using mode (80, 81, 82, 83, 120,
120). In all three examples, the
students with IQs in the 80’s could have serious problems completing the course
successfully. However, as I point out to them, the problem says that in
the particular classroom at issue, all three forms of average are 120, so the
above explanation does not meet the conditions of the problem, and does not
show the answer is true. They have used
averages for different groups of students, not for a classroom of all the same
students. How do you know that when all
three forms of average are the same for the same group, that there can be
someone with a significantly lower IQ?
How do you know that having all three averages the same for a single
group doesn’t force the numbers to have different properties from when the
three different kinds of averages might be the same for different groups? One student who gave the separate answers wrote back: “I
answered the question the way it was asked, and I didn’t know you were looking for us to use the same
set of numbers for all three forms of average.” No, she didn’t answer the question the way it was asked,
because the way it was asked required using one set of numbers that represent
all the IQs in a given class in which all three forms of average come out the
same. If you can create such a set of
numbers that do that, and at least one of the IQs is much lower than 120, then
you have shown there could be someone in the course who would struggle to pass
or do well. Otherwise, just giving the
answer above with different sets of numbers doesn’t rule out the possibility
that all three averages’ being the
same somehow prevents there from being the range of numbers that would put
someone too low to easily pass. So this wasn’t about what
I was looking for, but was about giving the right answer with sufficient
actual justification for it. Now, for those of you not mathematically inclined, I
apologize for using a math example, but I wanted to show how this works about
something clearly objective and yet difficult enough that the right answer was
not necessarily immediately obvious. I
could make the point the following way just as well, but the problem is when I
use a really obvious example, it will seem no one would give a wrong answer or
say “I don’t know what you are looking
for.” So to do this same kind of thing without math, consider this
question, which is not immediately obvious, but still fairly clear once you
know the right answer: We know that your mother’s mother
is not your mother (she is your grandmother). We also know that your cousin’s
cousin is not always your cousin, because she could be your cousin through her
father, but a cousin to her from her mother’s side of her family might not be related
to you at all. But, here is the
question: Is your sister’s sister also
your sister, or not?” Now suppose someone answers, “Yes, your sister’s sister has
to be your sister, because you are all siblings and you are all girls in order
to be sisters – so any girl sibling you have will be your sister.” And suppose I say: “What if you are a girl?” “What if
there are only two children in your family?” If the person says “I don’t know what you are looking for” then they are not seeing the objective
problem with their answer. This is not
just about what I am looking for; it
is about helping them see the truth, without just telling it to them – that if
your sister’s sister is you, then
your sister’s sister is not your
sister because you are not your own sister.
Now, if the student were to say, “I don’t see what you are
trying to get me to see” that would be correct and okay. But saying “I don’t see what you want” gives the impression there is nothing actually to
see or know other than trying to figure out what I have in mind, which might be
almost anything, real or not; as if the student thought I was asking them to
guess my favorite flavor at Baskin-Robbins when they are going to treat me to
an ice cream cone, and I had said “It is not strawberry.” Then it would be reasonable for them to say
“I can’t tell from that what you want.” The problem is compounded in a subject that students
consider to be subjective, such as ethics.
So they might say something like “You should always do unto others as
you would have them do unto you.” And if
I say “So then if I want you to kiss me, it is right for me to kiss you” they
will say “No, that is not what I mean.” “Then what do you mean? Or why do you think the Golden Rule
is right if it doesn’t work in that kind of case?” “I don’t mean you should be selfish and just kiss whoever
you want to.” “Okay, then let me take a case where someone is not selfish
but they use the Golden Rule. One of my
students one time was dating a girl who loved any kinds of objects that had to
do with frogs. She collected all the
frog facsimiles she could. She had frog
shaped erasers on the end of her pencil, frog-shaped lamps, a frog-shaped
corkscrew, frog paperweights, frog fridge magnets, stationery with frogs and
tadpoles on it, frog ornaments all over, etc.
For his birthday, she gave him frog bookends. He told the class ‘That would make a great
gift for her birthday, but what do I want with frog bookends?! I don’t want them.’” Or suppose I ask “You have a friend in the hospital who is
dying. Should you go visit him?” Student answer: “I don’t know what you are looking for.
Your former student could take the bookends back and exchange them for
something he wants or he can just be nice to his girlfriend and tell her he
loves them, and just use them. It’s no
big deal. And of course I should visit
my friend. I would want him to visit
me. That is the decent thing to do.” “But what if your friend doesn’t want any visitors and
doesn’t want people to see him like that.
And suppose he just wants to come to terms with his own mortality in a
reflective way and just wants the peace and quiet and solitude to do that? Do you still think the Golden Rule is how to
tell what is right to do? Or what if you want someone to share their drugs with
you, does that make it right to give people drugs?” “I don’t see what you
are looking for or trying to get me to say.
No, there is nothing wrong with using the Golden Rule to figure out what
is right. Do you treat people in ways
you wouldn’t want to be treated? Doesn’t
that make you an insensitive jerk? And I
don’t want to do drugs, so why would I want someone to share them with me? And if I did do drugs, sure, I would want
someone to share them with me, and I would share mine with them if I
could. But I am not into drugs and none
of my friends are either, so what are you
looking for me to say?” The point of course that is being made is that it would be
clearly wrong always to assume that what someone else wants is the same thing
you want, or that even if you both want the same thing, it is right to do
it. You need to take into account, at
least in part, what the other person wants, not what you want. But even then you need to consider also
whether what they want is actually good for them, and that has nothing to do
with what you or they want. That point
should be clear, and it should show that the Golden Rule is not the right way
to determine what is right. This is not
just about what I am looking for but
about something objective they should be able to see about blithely using the
Golden Rule as if that were all they needed to do in order to do the right
thing. Now, of course, if you take the Golden Rule to mean
something very general such as “treat people right because you would want them
to treat you right” then it has merit as a motivating
principle to do the right thing when you know what the right thing is, but that
does not tell you what the right thing is in the first place. It just says, once you know what is right,
that is what you should do. Or asking about a totally different topic, suppose, as
happened again just last night in an NFL football game, where their video
replay rules gave the wrong result, defeating the purpose of having a video
replay rule: a player for one team appeared to fumble the ball, which was
scooped up by an opposing player and run back for a touchdown. Instant replay clearly showed the initial
player was down before the ball was stripped from him, so the touchdown should
have been called back, and the offense would continue to have the ball at the
point on the field where the tackle was made.
But the offensive team’s coach had already used his allotted timeouts
and/or challenge, so under the rules, he could not make the challenge. Also under the rules, it does not matter what
we all know to be true, because at that time in the game, the coach has to
challenge the call on the field in order to have instant replay be officially
used. Doesn’t that show there is
something wrong with the way the NFL uses “instant replay review”, since
everyone watching the game except the refs knew the wrong call was made? “Aggghhhh!! It is not
about what I want you to say. It is about what you ought to see is
problematic with the NFL’s video replay rules – objectively problematic with it. You can reasonably say ‘I don’t get the point
you are trying to make’ or ‘I don’t understand what you are trying to get me to
see,” but don’t make it sound as though this is a course where the grade just
reflects humoring me because I am the teacher or guessing what is on my mind,
as opposed to your figuring out what is reasonable or actually true. |
This work is available here free, so that those who cannot afford it can still have access to it, and so that no one has to pay before they read something that might not be what they really are seeking. But if you find it meaningful and helpful and would like to contribute whatever easily affordable amount you feel it is worth, please do do. I will appreciate it. The button to the right will take you to PayPal where you can make any size donation (of 25 cents or more) you wish, using either your PayPal account or a credit card without a PayPal account. |