Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Philosophy Corner: Mild Rant Ahead

At lunch yesterday I had a debate with a colleague and friend of mine about fairness. We were first talking about students doing group projects. I said I always hated them in school because I ended up doing the work while others loafed, and that I thought of them as inherently unfair. That’s one reason I never assign them to my students. My friend said that’s one reason he does assign them. He felt that students needed to learn now that the world is unfair. In other words, that’s just the way it is.

Damn but that phrase and that argument bother me. Any reasonably intelligent and experienced person knows the world isn’t fair. But the fact remains that the world should be fair, and it’s important—I think—to say so. It’s important to strive for fairness in our dealings with the world, and people who work toward fairness can make a difference in that world, sometimes small ones, sometimes big ones.

Although I’m sure that not everyone who has supported equal rights for women, minorities, and gays over the years has done so without ulterior motives, I firmly believe that many have done so out of a sense of fairness. It’s simply not right for women to be paid less than men for equal work. It’s not fair for African Americans or gay couples to be discriminated against because of their skin color or sexual orientation. Yet, there have been times (and sometimes those times are now) when such discrimination has happened. Did the fact that women once lacked the right to vote mean people should have accepted it because that was “just the way it was?”

I don’t typically think of myself as an idealist, or even a liberal. I’m certainly no saint. And I don’t really care if my friend assigns his classes group projects. What I do reject, though, is the attitude of that’s just the way it is. I refuse to accept it.



AvDB said...

Blind acceptance leads to sheepledom, and you, my friend, are no sheep.

I never liked group projects because I don't play well with others, but I liked ending up doing all the work because then everything was done my way and I didn't have to care about diplomacy and hurt feelings.

Anonymous said...

I with you there, Charles. Those things have bothered me and I'm glad you wrote them down.

Richard H. Fay said...

Yeah, the world isn't fair, but that doesn't mean you have to set out to deliberately perpetuate the unfairness. School group projects suck. One student always ends up carrying more than their fair share of the burden, and contrary to what some educators think, these group activities don't really prepare you for the real world (at least in my experience).

Obviously, you must work with other people in the real world, but in the vast majority of the jobs I've had (several in a variety of fields), I was personally responsible for my own work. Even in a group setting, individual jobs are often divvied up between coworkers.

And what is this attitude of "life isn't fair" telling the lazy students? Is is justifying their laziness by teaching them that someone else will always be there to pick up the slack? Is that what we want to pass along to our children, our future?

I think I ended up ranting, too.

Lisa said...

I guess there are several questions this issue raises. My first would be, what is the educational point or goal of assigning group projects? Does the nature of a group project have a benefit directly related to the course of study that isn't there with individual projects? If the lesson to be learned is that life isn't fair, I'm not sure that's an academic lesson, but based on the discussion you reiterated, I think your colleague is citing it as a simple truism and it's not relevant to the project or the course at all. The only environment where I think a group project (and the inherent group dynamics that come into play) being of value is either in a study of group dynamics or in a course on leadership. But the lesson wouldn't be to prove that life isn't fair. The lesson in such a scenario could be to insist that each member contribute, so that the natural inclination of the most motivated to take over and do it all and the lazy to sit back and watch had to be managed. This happens in "real life" business environments all the time. The "life isn't fair" maxim doesn't seem to have much value in and of itself. It's a good explanation for why some people are born wealthy and some into poverty, etc., but I don't see that it teaches anybody anything.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I completely agree. But I know that this is part of my own personality which people have pointed out to me time and time again that is problematic. I always want everything to be fair and injustice kills me. People, like your colleague, always seem to be pointing out to me that life isn't fair and that I need to get over it. Why do I need to? I never understood the point of telling me this. I don't need to get over it. What I have to do is make fair what I can make fair. Simple as that. And what is not fair that I can't change, I want to point out to everyone and incite change for. Of course we can't do this for everything, but blindly accepting that life is unfair and we just have to live with it is completely unacceptable.

I teach my kids that yes life can be unfair, but in our house we play as fair as we can and that is how we will always treat others. That's what we can do. And that's something!

Heff said...

I agree with you as well. In the example of YOU doing the majority of the work in the past for your group, WHO learned the lesson of unfairness ? Only YOU - the guy that did all the work in the first place.

Leigh Russell said...

Oh dear. I set occasional brief group projects to encourage pupils' collaborative skills and communication. These tend to be after exams or at the end of term. A few pupils take projects seriously but many treat them as a social event. I'm not against that as an occasional relaxation of class rules. And - going from bad to worse - I do tell pupils (when they complain about something) that 'life isn't fair' - because it isn't. But I won't tolerate ANY injustice in my classroom, of any description, and am fiercely protective of everyone's right to be the same or different or whatever - as all intelligent people are. Intolerance of any kind is senseless, because we're all different.

Leigh Russell said...

Sorry - didn't intend to go off on a rant - seems to be catching. It's such an interesting topic, Charles, and one that we should all feel strongly about (even those of us who tell youngsters that life is unfair - I hope I'm still welcome to visit here . . .)

Sidney said...

I think when people say: "Whoever said life was supposed to be fair?" There is an implied "Just accept it," and I'm with you. I admit life isn't fair, that it has obstacles, but here's what I don't believe in. I don't believe in "Just accept it."

Middle Ditch said...

It's the easy way out. I like a good argument and I like a good fight (with words, not fists)

Cath said...

It is the way it is, but it is not the way I have to operate.

Therefore, I would do exactly the same as you and would likely not assign group projects because they are unfair. I may assign them for another reason, but I definitely would NOT assign them just to teach students that life isn't fair.

As you assert, we already know this. I reckon by the time we are out of nappies, we already know this. It does not need to be taught.

It is the way it is, but not the way I operate and I seek justness and fairness in everything. I have just had this minor battle over school team selections - and they have agreed they had overlooked something and the process was unfair. They have changed it as a result. That, I reckon, is progress.

Blind acceptance as Avery says, is sheepledom. You are the least sheepledom like person I can think of right now!

Angie said...

I agree, there's no reason to deliberately add to the world's unfairness.

I've had teachers argue that when you're in the "real world" working, you'll have to do group projects and won't always be able to choose your team mates. This is true, but in most actual work situations, there's a team leader or a manager somewhere whose responsible for seeing to it that the project is successful, and who has the authority to kick butt on anyone slacking off. People who are working to pay the bills and feed their kids have an incentive to do a decent job that students don't necessarily have, and if you're working on a class project, there's no one who's willing or able to kick butt on the slackers. Classroom group projects are more unfair than actual team projects at work, which means they're pointless as well as unfair.


steve on the slow train said...

It seems like there are at least two kinds of cynics--the frustated romantic idealist, in the H.L. Mencken mode, and the kind who says, "It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and I wouldn't have it any other way." Too often, the "That's just the way it is" people are of the latter group.

Somehow I escaped group projects for the most part, probably because I didn't take a lot of science classes. But my kids had to do them, and they had the same problem. Only a couple of people in a group of, say, five, ever did anything.

Your argument holds. Just because life isn't fair, there's no reason to go out of one's way to be unfair.

Greg said...

well said. if everyone thought like your colleague, we'd still be living in caves and talking in grunts. progress (good progress, at least) is made by trying to make the world better.

Lana Gramlich said...

The eternal Libra you are, honeydumplins! And a damned cute one, at that. Mrowr!

Craig Clarke said...

Yes, we know that life's not fair, but kids will discover that on their own. I don't think we need to accelerate the process by injecting it into the few lives that haven't already experienced it.

Steve Malley said...

I have the same gripe about the 'that's the way the world works' crowd that I do about the Amish:

Both groups want to freeze human society at a certain point. For the Amish it's about resisting technology, except when it's technology of the 1800's, and all the technology of the previous 10,000 years that built us to that point.

For the 'Way of the World' folk, we should tolerate the current unfairness, but by all means let's keep the previous reforms that put them in a privileged position.

Seems to me both are bollocks. If tech's really that bad, should you be wandering naked somewhere, eating what you can dig out of the ground with your bare hands? And if changing society to make it more fair is all that soft-headed, shouldn't I be able to knock them over and take whatever I want from them?

I like to believe our world's headed in a good direction, with more voices being heard, more lives fulfilling their potential. We're a long way from perfect, but we're better now than we were in 1909, 1809, 1409 or 9 A.D.

I wonder, is your colleague from such a privileged background that his kind have *always* run things? Or should he perhaps have done a twelve-hour shift in the mines or the mills before school, because that used to be how the world worked?

Charles Gramlich said...

Avery DeBow, I didn’t really think of that but you’re right. At least the work was done to my satisfaction. But it really chapped my ass when the really lazy ones still got credit.

Jack, thanks. I’ve given a “fair” amount of thought to this over the years. ;)

RHFay, I’ve found there is a weeding out process. As an adult I’ve had to work on group projects with others, but most of them were the same people who in high school and college did all the work for their groups. Thus they helped out in the new project. I believe that bosses should make the effort to evaluate people’s individual contributions rather than just lumping a group together. I agree with you about the justification that lazy students can get from the “life isn’t fair” scenario.

Lisa, group projects may be more relevant in his world because his background is business, but it still bothers me that anyone would fall back on “life isn’t fair” as an excuse. I think he was citing a truism without giving it much thought. I agree, it certainly isn’t teaching anything, other that maybe “give up trying.”

Ello, I’m the same way. What is wrong with saying “it isn’t fair” and calling attention to it? That’s the only way things get changed it seems to me. My colleague was basically laughing at me because of that, but I felt rather sad for him in actuality. I do try to apply fairness in my dealings with folks, and though it may not always work to make the world better at least there is the potential for it to do so.

Heff, yep. The others learned to get by with as little effort as possible, and since the teacher didn’t really seem concerned about that their behavior was reinforced.

Leigh Russell, lol. Yes you are still welcome here. I think my somewhat passionate response was more about fairness as an issue in general. I do believe, actually, that group projects could be set up that would achieve good aims like those you mention, but I imagine those would actually be “more” work for the teacher than not. People do need to learn cooperation and collaboration, but the teacher really has to be on the ball I suspect to make sure that some are not skating by on someone else’s work. I’ve told people in my weaker moments that life isn’t fair myself. Ah, the sins of those who set themselves up as pure. (meaning me, of course). ;)

Sidney, I completely agree. We can know that something isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to make it more fair. Yet, it is often tough sledding.

Middle Ditch, I agree. It’s a cop out. I enjoy a good verbal sparring match myself.

Cath, thank you for the kind words. Yes, I do believe most kids learn that life isn’t fair pretty early, but what is sad is when they stop trying to improve it and just say: ‘that’s the way it is.”

Angie, good point. One problem with classroom projects is that no one is really “in charge,” and therefore no one has any real authority. The students are too close to each other in authority. I hadn’t really thought of that but that’s a good counterargument to use against my friend. Thanks!

steve on the slow train, I’m of the first kind, I think, but I try not to let my frustration overwhelm me. I agree too, that the dog eat dog folks are the ones who usually say “life isn’t fair,” and I’ve heard it from several folks who I know are politically in that camp so I believe you’re right.

Greg Schwartz, exactly. Even if we don’t succeed, or succeed only minimally, we need to make that kind of effort.

Lana Gramlich, and you are my sweet little cynic with the heart of gold. Well, it’s pretty close to gold. ;) Back at you with the Mrowr.

Craig Clarke, excellent point. Why are we in such a hurry to disillusion everyone about any possible good in the world? Thanks for visiting.

Steve Malley, I suspect that my friend is probably parroting the party line, so to speak, and that if I pointed out such “little” things as civil rights he’d begin to see my argument. We didn’t really have time at lunch to get into a lot of the underlying issues in the “life isn’t fair” scenario. And you are right. The actual point of what they are saying is “freeze the world now” but keep all those older reforms. I do believe that culture is generally improving, although it’s not a linear climb unfortunately. There are ups and downs and what has been gained could easily be lost.

Erik Donald France said...

Right on, man!

In addition to completely agreeing with you, I strongly approve of your use of the word
"loafed." It's even better than "skulked." And it has a kinship to "oaf."

Yes, what are we without strving toward a fairer world? Besides which, most group projects are indeed a joke and a sneaky way out for lazy instructing.

laughingwolf said...

charles, i'm in agreement... perhaps it's a libran thing? i sure hope there's more to it, though....

Cloudia said...

I agree 100%

steve on the slow train said...

I guess I've lived in Amish country too long.Yep, I'm defending the Old Order Amish. They really don't reject modern technology. They ride trains buses,and vans, take advantage of modern medicine, work in factories, etc. The main reason they don't use the technology directly is that they see it as a way to preserve their communities. And it's worked pretty well

ivan said...

Having excellent teachers in grade school, and graDuating with high marks, I followed my more vocationally inclined friends
and went to a really rough high school where students were singled out and beaten by teachers, just to show an example. Yield to Authority! Yes! even in the l950's. The cane!
I somehow avoided the cudgels but having fair academic aptittude, it seems I was somehow a challenge for the teachers, some of them physically crippled, and I suppose, mentally. Talk about Oliver Twist! I tried to apply G -force, or gravity to explain a part of calculus and was thrown out of the class. There was mental brow-beating too. Maybe it was just a weird school Everybody had on Masonic rings. And I was Catholic. Dunno. I couldn't get out because I didn't have French, something required in a normal academic curriculum in Canada. To leave that school, I would have had to drop down a grade.
Well, I somehow tied it up, and after a spell in the Air Force, attended university. Migod, what a fresh breeze. You could smoke in the class in those days and challenge your instructor if you had the facts to back you up.
When I myself became a teacher, I tried to inculcate in my students that each is a unique and creative individual, and yes, in your words, "people who work towards fairness to do with themselves or others can make a difference in the world."

And still it is a dark age.
Not teaching any more, I am not convinced that the techno-gay future of the current social engineers is something everybody wants.
Timor the Straight over here has had the crap kicked out of him too.
Once by a gay guy who said next to fellatio, he really enjoyed fighting.
Is the truth often couched in humour?

Scott said...


1) I also hated group projects.

2) Things will be different when I'm king. :)

Angie said...

I am not convinced that the techno-gay future of the current social engineers is something everybody wants. Timor the Straight over here has had the crap kicked out of him too.
Once by a gay guy who said next to fellatio, he really enjoyed fighting.

Ivan -- no one's trying to say that all gay men are saints. More to the point, are you assuming that all gay men are violent jerks who want to beat you up, just because one did? It kind of sounds like it, although I hope it's just a communication foul-up.

Being seen as a representative of all your "kind," with all your actions good or bad reflective of how people see and treat everyone else like you, is a point of oppression and bigotry. People who are members of the dominant groups, whether they're white or male or straight or abled or whatever, don't have to carry that burden of representation; they have the privilege of being regarded as individuals, for good or ill.

I assume that the other people who beat you up were straight -- do you think therefore that all straight people have a thing about violence and hurting others? Or only the gay people?


JR's Thumbprints said...

I've quoted "The Whale Theory" to my students on many occasions.

Why does a whale have a small throat?

It's just the way it is.

Some of my students are doing more time than others based on which county they did their crime in. It's just the way it is.

ivan said...


Case of Crow Jim here.
Because of political correctness, gays are now the dominant group.
And in our fogbound society, no one dare say the emperor has no clothes.
I think I saw the phrase sheepledom somewhere above.
Worse still,not being able to get a joke.

the walking man said...

There is no fairness in the world, never has been, never will be. There is always a need in the human animal to have prey. That the prey changes from generation to generation is the only change that occurs.

What I learned in any group project was to the let the loafers loaf and I'll do the work, because I always enjoyed working but what they learned was it is a dog eat dog world and at the end of the day I had my lunch.

So now I live as a despised minority in an an overwhelmingly large majority community, do you think that because of the past history of abuse from the once majority I am going to let this new majority population have at me with impunity? Naww brother, in the end of the day, I will treat them who set themselves against my minority position as the fools they are.

The world isn't fair...never has been, never will be.

Vesper said...

Yes, Charles. I'm with you. There's no such thing as "team work" except, maybe, in a very few cases.

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, one of the other faculty members even said in our discussion at the table that he assigned group projects because he had a large class and couldn't grade them all if he did them individually.

laughingwolf, Lana says I'm the consumate libra. You never know.

Cloudia, thanks.

steve on the slow train, quite a few religions separate themselves based on cultural practices, the Amish included. I've never actually met an Amish person myself so I can't speak with any authority.

ivan, except for in math, I had some really good grade school teachers also. And in college I really enjoyed the fact that we could challenge many of our teachers ideas, although I seldom took advantage of that ability myself.

Scott, I'd probably like that world. Manowar would be the American poets laureate.

Angie, I see Ivan responded.

JR's Thumbprints, I think your situation there is a bit different in that you're dealing with many folks who were themselves horribly unfair to others but now want fairness for themselves.

Mark, I agree absolutely. The world isn't fair and never will be completely. But despite that given, I still insist in my own dealings with the world that I be as fair as I can be.

Vesper, in some sports, on occassion, there is team work. But even there it is probably the exception rather than the rule.

Chris Benjamin said...

your colleague's argument, if i understand correctly, is this: I'm treating my students unfairly to demonstrate to them how unfair the world is. That's like kicking your dog to show it humans can be mean. Or using racist language to prove it exists. He is creating the unfair world he wants them to know about. Nice piece of circular logic.

As for grades and such, I think they are inherently unfair, subjective and of little value. Group work does have the advantage of teaching us to work with others, rather than do everything in isolation, which is not traditionally a very human way to live or work. It's when you introduce grades to group work that it becomes unfair.

writtenwyrdd said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you, Charles, although I hated group exercises because I am, at bottom, a real control freak and wanted to do things my way without quibbling with others.

But to perpetuate unfair systems, practices, and attitudes by saying the world is unfair is really just saying, "I'm comfortable, and I don't care."

Now, it's okay to be blase if that's your shtick, but it's not taking any moral high ground. Seeing as it's a rare person who constantly inconveniences himself to retain said moral high ground I figure that everyone picks their moral battles, and finds ways and means to discount the ones that are deemed inconvenient.

However, it is certainly important to recognize things like the unfairness you mention and not outright dismiss them.

We all probably do it at various times; but this is an example of such a dismissal that gives me plenty of food for thought. Like how often do I do this myself?

We should strive to be fair in our dealings with others. Especially when it's a bit gray and difficult.

Travis Cody said...

"That's just the way it is" is a defeatist's argument. That's the way it is, why work at trying to change the dynamic or make something better?

I can never go to college because no one in my family has ever gone to college. That's just the way it is.

Ppppffffftttttt I say to that!

As to group projects, I never liked them. I don't think those are the best ways to help students learn how to cooperate.

Charles Gramlich said...

benjibopper, he was probably hoping the students would find some way to work out the issues on their own, and that can be OK, but little actually gets accomplished when all are responsible. Too often that means either none or responsible, or 1 is. I think you
re right about grades. I really wish we could dispense with them.

Writtenwyrd, I'm a bit of a control freak myself, although I'm getting much better about it these days. I think it's important to recognize that the world is unfair, but I'd hate to get "comfortable" with that thought.

Travis, exactly. And I don't think humans should let themselves be defeated by what are essentially cultural rules that we made ourselves. If I claim it's unfair that I can't walk on the sun's surface then that's just silly. But cultural practices we can change.

BernardL said...

Having an aversion to group method makes you a reasoning human being, Charles. When my kids wanted an example of Socialism/Communism, I told them to think of all their experiences with group assignments in school, which they detested. The high achievers in the group would as you discovered yourself – do all the work – while the underachievers shared in a higher grade while sabotaging any chance of the highest grade through indifference. The teachers always championed them saying the group would uplift the lowest. The opposite happened in every case. The only lesson in group assignments for real life is if you plan on working in a union the rest of your life, where achievement is limited to the lowest achiever on the line. Group think is the death of achievement, hopes, and dreams.

Lisa said...


I hear you... I do not think it teaches anything but stress when you purposely put students in unfair situations.

Can't 'unfairness' just be discussed as a topic?

I think it can. Kids have enough stress and unfairness with their peers throughout their school careers. They learn unfairness all the time... why would a teacher throw more at them?

I have always hated when my kids were put into group situations. They hate it too. The only ones who don't hate it are the students who don't do their own work, let alone help others do theirs...

jaz said...

This is my first visit to your blog and I probably shouldn't be contrarian but what the hell. I think there are two threads here--accepting what is unfair, and working in a group. I agree with everyone who says fight unfairness with every breath in your being, wherever you find it. But as for the group projects, I think there can be a lot of good that comes from collaborating, from bouncing ideas off of one another, from seeing things from another perspective. I also think there is a huge difference between people who WON'T carry their own weight and just let someone else do it, and people who need some help. I hate the idea of a child struggling who wants to learn, who could learn from working with a more gifted student and the idea that we just can't be bothered, that we have no obligation to help. Isn't that part of fighting injustice and unfairness? What if your socioeconomic background hasn't provided the same opportunities? What if because of race or gender you've been discriminated against, as you mention in your original post? You don't need to carry a truly lazy soul, but is it so bad to help a less fortunate one?

G. B. Miller said...

I think I lucked out when I was in school (high school, no college), in that I never had to suffer through a group project of any size.

Shoot, I had enough problems dealing with partners who basically shut me out and did the work themselves, let alone doing a group thing.

It's probably why I still have such a hard time playing with other "children" at work.

j said...

Well said.

I can't say that I haven't used the phrase "That's the way it is kiddo" while parenting because kids tend to fixate on fair and unfair. Sometimes it is beyond my control to please everyone. But I don't ever set out to be deliberately UNFAIR to teach them about life.

Great post.

Charles Gramlich said...

BernardL, one of the worst things for me was that in doing group projects the teachers hardly ever seemed to actually adress the issue. They really let the groups sink or swim without any real guideance. Psychological research shows pretty clearly that unless everyone's work is measured individually, many, many people will loaf.

Lisa, I think by the time a kid is in college he or she has had lots of experience of unfairness and a good discussion as a topic, as you say, would probably carry far more weight than giving them another example of unfairness.

Jennifer, thanks for visiting. I see my students helping each other all the time by essentially volunteering their efforts rather than being "assigned" to help, as might happen in a group project where some members are weak. But you can really only help people who want to be helped, and a major problem in group projects is that the lazy ones can basically hide. I don't find that the lazy ones ever ask for help. I imagine assignments could be better designed for the kinds of worthwhile goals you're talking about. I don't think the typical group assignment works very well for that.

G, I've always been something of a loner anyway, and college group projects, even group studying, really reinforced that tendency in me

Jennifer, well all bets are off with your own kids. I know I used that line when Josh was growing up. I should have taken the time, though, to show him why in many cases he actually was being treated more than fairly. He just didn't see it that way.

SzélsőFa said...

Great thoghts, Charles.
You know, I try to live along the lines that most of the things we encounter in life must be accepted, so as not to create a non-wanted havoc in the pursuit of something new (like a new home when you just got bored of the old, a new pair of breasts etc.), - but inequality and unfairness is certainly NOT among these.

the walking man said...

I will strive to treat amicably with everyone I encounter, there is no need for me to be "victorious" over another, no desire for competition. But I will never allow myself be taken for a fool unless it is what I desire at the moment in that situation. That is about as fair as I can get.

J. L. Krueger said...

I never liked group projects in school either. I think it teaches the loafers that there is always some sucker who will pull them through. In a way, it's part of what's wrong with the West in general right now -- the attitude that simply by breathing we are somehow entitled to things.

I worked on one group project once where each individual had a defined role within the group and got graded for their contribution. There wasn't a group grade and two members of the group failed. Three of us got "A". The ones who flunked complained that everyone should have gotten a "C" know...sharing the wealth.

I don't think we should ever cop the attitude about "life isn't fair" as an excuse to permit injustice. However, I do take exception to those who whine about life not being fair, but who do nothing to make it better.

For myself, I often take the attitude of "sheet happens man" when bad stuff happens to me. Then I just pick myself up and get on with it!

Oh crap...I ranted too!

Charles Gramlich said...

SzélsőFa, yes, much has to be accepted in the world. Or maybe should be accepted. But as you say, inequality is not one of those.

Mark, I've actually been taken advantage of quite a bit because of my approach to things, and man it is pretty hard to deal with. But I have to tell myself that I set myself up for it.

J. L. Krueger, a lot of people who rant that it's unfair, to them personally, really aren't making their own luck through effort. That's one of the things that can foster the attitude of that's just the way it is in other. But I think most of us recognize unfair when we see it.

Merisi said...

I agree, life's not fair. However, the logic of your friend is flawed, to say it kindly. He is actively and unnecessarily inflicting unfairness on his pupils who are, after all, not leaving in a bubble.

I am grateful that there are teachers like you in this world. I owe them a great deal. Thank you!

writtenwyrdd said...

Reading the comment thread, Ijust wanted to add that it occurs to me that we are focusing on the unfairness that is manmade.

But I think that saying life is unfair is true at times. Sometimes, like when you discover your loved one has a maybe-fatal condition through noone's act or failure to act, there is that sense of fate and unfairness.

Just saying.

Mary Witzl said...

I'm with you 100% on this one, Charles. And I'm as namby-pamby as all get out.

In our university, it drives me wild that some kids are passed to the next level because, when all is said and done, their parents' money baled them out. This makes a mockery of the hard work of others and greatly offends my own sense of fairness. Just because the world isn't fair doesn't mean that any of us shouldn't try to even things out a little. Sheesh. Your colleague is probably just too lazy to grade a whole bunch of assignments.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Not that you need my comment at the end of this long line, but I quit taking any classes where I saw group projects on the syllabus. Fairness is not best learned in a classroom. What you learn from this sort of thing is hatred of your fellow students.

ZZZZZZZ said...

Charles my dear how are you? It's been a long time with no blogging for me! Glad to see your writing is doing well!!!

Charles Gramlich said...

Merisi, thanks for the kind words. Yes, I think my friend's logic is badly flawed.

writtenwyrdd, yes, I'm talking only about unfairness that is human made. I know there's nothing I can do about the unfairness of nature, s in who gets a disease and who doesn't. I do think we can do something about human unfairness, though. Good point.

Mary Witzl,yes, there probably always will be that kind of unfairness with us too. Because humans are humans. But how does knowing that it's probably going to happen mean that we should just accept it. It's sort of like, rage, rage against the dying of the light. Or the fairness. eh?

pattinase, I think you're exactly right. It just tends to make you more and more cynical, and often times leads you toward more isolation rather than less.

Sheila, long time no see! Hope you are well.

David Cranmer said...

Amen brother. I couldn't agree more.

Aine said...

Just gotta through in a thought from personality theory. ;)

For introverting folks (which many of us bloggers are) group work makes no sense. We prefer to reflect inwardly. We do our best thinking by ourselves. Extroverting types, however, think out loud. They prefer bouncing ideas off others-- they aren't as effective when forced to think alone in silence.

Just my two cents about group projects and team work....

But I'm with you on the "life is unfair" idea. That should not simply be accepted.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

You really hit close to home here! I hated group projects for that very reason and while understanding that the world is vastly unfair, I agree with you about doing everything in your power to not make it be so. I'm no saint either, but damned if I'm going to let stupid shit be without at least saying something about it!

Charles Gramlich said...

David Cranmer, thanks.

Aine, good point. My colleague is definitely an extravert. I wonder if it is the introverts in a group that end up doing the work? Quite possibly.

Michelle, exactly. Someone has to speak up or nothing will ever change.

Virginia Lady said...

What an excellent way to put it. I always hated group projects as well, but they can serve the purpose of learning how to work with others, which one often must do in real life. But assigning them because you're teaching that life is unfair seems idiotic. I'm pretty sure kids realize life is unfair long before they reach college.

Charles Gramlich said...

Virginia Lady, yes, I'm sure they do.

Dal Jeanis said...

It depends upon whether you are primarily trying to teach your subject (Math, History, etc) or whether you believe that students need to learn interpersonal skills, leadership skills and project skills as well.

Sure, solo projects are simpler for you and the student. But life isn't, and you aren't teaching them anything about dealing with people if you're not having some kind of group participation.

That being said, I always hated those things too.

Another thought - you could have the group members assign part of the grade. Heh.

Angie said...

Dal -- Sure, solo projects are simpler for you and the student. But life isn't, and you aren't teaching them anything about dealing with people if you're not having some kind of group participation.

Maybe so, but then we're back to the teachers not putting enough thought into it. It might be reflective of "real life" that my being randomly grouped with four morons means I get a D on an assignment despite having known all the answers, but when I'm looking to get into college, the folks looking over my transcript don't care that I had however many teachers who gave badly designed group projects.

I've had two teachers who designed group projects correctly -- from my own POV of course. With all the others, and yes, there were quite a few, they were sloppily (and I'll go so far as to say lazily) thrown together. And the way one teacher was grinning, I'm going to guess that he enjoyed watching us flail. [sporks]


Charles Gramlich said...

Dal Jeanis, no one class or teacher can teach a student everything they need to know. I focus on content and on communication, both written and verbal. Those things pretty much fill my time.

Angie, I think far too often group projects work out just the way you indicate here. I'm sure they can be designed better with some effort from the teacher, but like I said to Dal, no one teacher can teach everything. We all have to focus on those things that we do best and can really put our hearts into.