Is Convenience Overrated?: An Educational Fable

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So let me tell you a story:

The English instructor was in a rush that day, like too many other days, and she needed convenience. She hadn’t eaten much, and as a Type II diabetic, she needed to, but there was no time to go in, sit down, and have a decent meal, or so she thought. She decided, against her better judgment, to stop by a fast food place. She had heard that some places were offering more healthy options and that nutrition information is listed for the customer’s convenience, so she could just quickly get in line and get a salad or something.

That wouldn’t be too bad, would it?

The first place she saw she just passed on by because the line was so long. The next two places were no different, but the fourth place was a charm–short line. She got up to the board and found out why. The choices were limited–not really any healthy options as she had hoped– and the service was extremely slow and unfriendly. She didn’t blame the worker, though. Who wants to work for $7.25 an hour at a burger joint? And with the staffing problems these days, probably working double shifts as well.

Finally got her food. A Combo #1 because she mistakenly thought that would be the most convenient. Not exactly the healthy option she had hoped for. On top of that, it wasn’t really the kind of food that she could safely eat while driving, so she pulled into the parking lot to eat it while sitting in the car.

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She thought it might be good to check her work e-mail while she was eating in case a student had a question or concern. For the convenience of the students, the faculty had been told to answer questions for students as soon as they can, you know. She reached over to grab the phone, accidentally hitting the lid of the container that held her food, including the three packets of ketchup that she had squirted out to put on her French fries. All of the ketchup and some of the greasy fries ended up on her skirt and blouse.

Therefore, when she returned to the college, she had to go to the restroom to clean up. Fortunately, she thought, she had a convenient little emergency laundry pen she carried in her purse for just such occasions that would take care of that ketchup in a jiffy. However, once she got to the restroom, she couldn’t find that little pen anywhere, even after searching through her purse for a few seconds, so she just gave up and did the best she could with a wet paper towel and a bit of soap.

Smelling still a bit tomatoey, she headed to her English composition class for workshop day, an opportunity for students to read each other’s essays and ask for advice, but before the workshop could begin, one student informed the instructor that he would have to leave in thirty minutes for a doctor’s appointment. Two students came up together saying they were up late the night before closing at the restaurant where they worked, so they didn’t have time to write the rough draft. Could they have an extension?

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The instructor, having been told by her supervisors to do everything possible to accommodate the customers and to “find a way to say ‘yes,'” took the first student’s essay and told him that she would do the workshop herself, scan her feedback, and e-mail it to him, and of course, she would give the other two students their extensions. Then, they packed up their computers and began to leave, saying it would be more convenient for them to work on the essays together at home since they had the same work schedule. Of the remaining ten students in the class (there were 18 enrolled), two had partial drafts written in their notebooks and four students had rough drafts without the required in-text citations and works cited list. Only four had completed rough drafts with the proper documentation.

The instructor passed out the workshop worksheets and went to the computer closet down the hall to bring two students who had forgotten to bring computers despite numerous convenient reminders during class and through the LMS (Learning Management System). She came back to find that another student had packed up and left. “They said their hand was raised but you ignored it and then just left the room, so they went to ask last semester’s teacher for help,” said another student.

Then, there was Greg. Unbeknownst to the instructor, the previous day Greg had worked until six as a pharmacy assistant. He had taken the job to see if he was interested in becoming a pharmacist. It wasn’t easy balancing the job with all of the other things he had to do, but he was saving up to transfer to UNC-Chapel Hill, his dream school. After work, he had gone by to pick up his little sister who is a junior at one of the local high schools. She was at basketball practice, and his mother, a widow, didn’t get home until late some nights, so he was glad to help. He had to wait for his sister a little, but it gave him time to check on his classes. He saw the reminder from his English instructor that the rough draft of one of the class’s major essays was due for a workshop the next day. He hadn’t even started.

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At home, he and his sister whipped up some whole wheat spaghetti noodles and heated up a bottle of his mother’s homemade spaghetti sauce that she had canned the previous weekend since she knew it was going to be a busy couple of weeks. They made a salad with some fresh vegetables from the garden to go along with it. Since their dad died, they were on a pretty strict budget, and the vegetables from the garden their mom started saved them a pretty penny. Even better, working in the garden was a good chance for them to relax and be together as a family. His sister loved it so much she was planning to take a class in horticulture at the college in her senior year. Right now, though, she wanted to concentrate on doing well in her high school classes, playing basketball, and helping out around the house.

Their mom got home about the time Greg and his sister sat down to eat. She joined them and they had a nice meal, talking about their days and laughing together, but Greg could tell how tired his mom was. She was a nurse and the long hours at the understaffed hospital where she worked were really getting to her. Plus, she was still grieving for their dad. They all were. His sister had some tough discrete math homework to do, and he remembered how hard that was, so he volunteered to do the dishes while his mom went to watch some TV and have a little downtime. His sister sat at the table and shot him questions when she ran into a tough problem. After he finished, he sat down beside her to help some more. It felt good to get off his feet.

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He had some other homework to do and a test to study for, so it was getting close to midnight when he finally started working on the essay, but he knew it was only a “messy” draft, and as long as he met the basic requirements, a complete three pages, double-spaced with at least two sources cited in the text, and works cited list, he would get full credit. He was pretty tired and tempted to just not worry about the draft, but then he remembered his dream of going to Chapel Hill and becoming a pharmacist like he promised his dad he would. He went back to work and finished the paper around 1:30 am.

The next day in class, Greg waited patiently for his English instructor to look at his essay, but time was running out. Finally, she came around to him with about five minutes of class left. “I’m so sorry, Greg,” she said, “Now that classes have been shortened again for the convenience of students, we’re almost out of time.”

“That’s okay.” He tried to sound cheerful but was a bit disappointed. She had been an English teacher for a long time, and he valued her opinion.

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“But I feel bad.”

He believed her.

“Listen, do you have time to stay and come to my office? I could take a better look at the essay and give you some feedback.”

“Sure,” he said. “If you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind at all.”

They went to her office, and she spent thirty minutes with him talking about organization, sentence structure, and word usage. He even started understanding comma splices better, finally. He was definitely sleepy from staying up late the night before, but in the end, it was worth it.

After Greg left and his instructor turned to the dozens of assignments she had to grade before she could allow herself to go home, she smiled, thinking the same thing. Definitely worth it.

The End

And the moral to the story: A homemade education slow-cooked with care and concern by students, faculty, and staff beats a fast, “millions sold per day” credential designed, not to satisfy, but to placate. That kind of education wears off awfully fast, leaving the “customer” malnourished, yet ravenous, once again.

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One thought on “Is Convenience Overrated?: An Educational Fable

  1. This story sounds all too familiar. It will sound so to anyone who taught college in the last decade or two, though the pandemic, I hear, has exacerbated problems. If our society valued teaching and learning as it should, or even understood the processes, so many of these problems could be alleviated.

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