Thursday, November 07, 2013
When Unwritten Rules Change
How hard can that possibly be…?
How am I supposed to do it?
I can assign class presentations and tell the students to dress like they were going to church or a job interview. What about the students who don't own a coat and tie or dress shoes? Am I supposed to deduct points for it?
What do I tell my dean when he (rightfully) asks: "What the hell are you doing? How is this related to science?"
These are honest questions on my part. I'd love to hear some honest answers.
@Anon-7:15pm, you can tell the dean that this is related to science because students need to understand the work environment in which science is conducted. When I was a researcher at Large American Company (I'm sure readers everywhere would recognize the name), we once had a summer intern who chose to wear shirts for the first week that exposed her belly button. While it was a popular style of that time (late 1990s), it was a fashion choice in a science/engineering environment that Was Simply Not Done. If that intern was in marketing, it may have been just fine; I don't know since that isn't my field.
We incorporate presentations throughout our R-1 engineering program. The students we see do seem to be comfortable with such presentations. Written communication is a bit different. I have sometimes contemplated requiring a weekly "journal" assignment in which students write a 1-paragraph summary of what is going on in class. It would make them write, and as a bonus I would learn about what they are understanding about the class. I admit that I haven't tried this yet due to the negative (yet another thing to grade).
The other soft skill I would add to the list is marketing and self-promotion. That seems to have become a yet-more important part of the world than it used to be. (Maybe I'm just noticing?)
I've done this. The way to make it not punishingly difficult to grade is to assign it through your LMS, track completion only and make comments on about 10-15% of them each week. Students love the attention! If you announce a prompt for the assignment in class, it acts as an incentive to attend.
You won't be teaching them to write but it will force the kind of post processing that helps in absorbing complex ideas. Also, make it worth about 5% of their total grade. It will reward the diligent and help push them up a third of a grade if they do poorly on an exam but it's not so many points that if they miss one or two it will really matter.
You tell him that you can't do science unless you're hired and get grants to do so. And you can't get hired, or get the exposure to get good grants, without being able to give a good presentation, part of which includes dress.
Or, you could ask him if he'd hire a PhD who showed up for a job talk in ratty jeans and T-shirt, even if the science content of the talk was great.
Either way, I think you're on track that the best thing you can do is to have them give a class presentation. You don't have to deduct points for dress, but you can still give suggestions.
You also tell him that the stakes are different--and much higher--for women and people of color.
Given this, "Or, you could ask him if he'd hire a PhD who showed up for a job talk in ratty jeans and T-shirt, even if the science content of the talk was great."
I'd say it very much depends on the applicant's gender and ethnicity.
I'm basically plagiarizing @TressieMc, so here's the link, because I could never say this as well: http://tressiemc.com/2013/10/29/the-logic-of-stupid-poor-people/
Your comments have set me thinking about the soft skills engineering colleges teach because engineering companies expect them: things like following directions, right down to details like where your name appears on a paper. I should be starting the process of pushing those ideas even before they get there, but we are usually so happy that they turn in an assignment that we don't want to take off points for format errors.
One thing I've been noticing is that even students with an obviously upper middle class background (quality of clothing or comments about a parent's career during various discussions) lack many of the skills DD mentions from the 60s and 70s. Boomers appear to have done an uneven job of teaching skills at home that they learned at home.
I agree that schools have to be very respectful of students' cultural and class backgrounds. But they can start by identifying behaviors that are troublesome in the majority of work environments (or social environments for that matter). K-12 teachers are well aware that some behaviors that are common among youth bother lower income and minority/immigrant parents just as much as they bother "the man." These parents want some back-up when trying to coach their kids into mature behavior, not what they see as an "anything goes" attitude from teachers.
And the teachers have been beaten into that "anything goes" attitude by other parents who make a fuss, and administrators who won't back them up when they try to enforce standards.
The thing I find rather infuriating in retrospect was that a lot of the advice they gave was bad and made me stress out about the wrong things. Like, I remember a young woman asking about nylons (this was definitely still in the Nylons Era) and whether it was OK to wear colored nylons that matched your suit, or if they needed to be "nude." The woman running the orientation said that they absolutely HAD to be nude, that suit-matching colored nylons were something you ONLY wore if you were interviewing for a RETAIL job, and went on about this for some time.
1. I was interviewing in a black suit. I decided that a black suit with nude nylons looked stupid, and wore black ones.
2. Which was fine because NO ONE CARES ABOUT THIS. They want you in conformist business clothes: in 1995, that meant a women's suit with a skirt and jacket, nice shoes, and pantyhose, if you were a woman, and a men's suit with a tie and dress shirt if you were a man, but if you were a guy no one particularly cared whether you were wearing a black, gray, or navy suit, whether you had a striped tie or a solid tie, and whether you wore a white shirt or light-colored shirt. If you were a woman they didn't care if you accessorized, they didn't care about the color of your pantyhose (in fact, a pants suit would have been fine, it wasn't freaking 1967), as long as your clothes basically matched and you looked like you were making an EFFORT to abide by the business norms.
(I wore a skirt to work my very first day and then switched to business casual -- the company had a business-casual dress code -- and never looked back. At my next job interview I wore a pants suit.)
Anyway. On one hand, I feel like there's information that needs to be communicated to students; on the other, I feel like it needs to not be boilerplate, because "appropriate" at one job is "ridiculous" at another. A good rule of thumb is to look at what your coworkers are wearing, and wear something similar. (CONFORM, in other words. Sigh.)
Should K-12 schools be agents of socialization? Now *that* is a fascinating question...
"Socialization" can mean different things. It can mean teaching kids to conform in a way that benefits employers but maybe not themselves. And especially if certain children are picked out to be "molded" that way, and those turn out to be poor children (or women, or people of color) then we rightly reject the idea. But socialization can also mean helping children develop maturity, self-directedness, respect for the community, and awareness of the fact that there even ARE norms that the adult world operates according to. Schools are far from the only institutions that do this sort of coaching -- family is first (and show me a family that wants its kids to stay child-like forever!), after-school and summer jobs to the extent that they even exist any more, teams, churches, etc.