Vendredi (Friday, 2011 February 18)

February 18, 2011

Fridays are the worst. I don’t think it’s really Fridays that sucks — Terminale is my first class on Fridays, and they’re beginning to get it a little bit — but specifically Première. I don’t know if they’re specialized at pissing me off or what. I’d like to call what they do refusal to learn — which sounds closed-minded and ignorant of the difficulty of the material, but they always say they understand and then always utterly fail to successfully perform in the lab, on paper, whatever. So let’s call it refusal to learn.[1] Between the refusal to learn, refusal to think or even look for themselves, and just general insouciance and rudeness (they tore up their own attendance roster), I always want to stab someone by the end of the day.

Today was especially wonderful because when we went to the lab to practice, M. Dinesso and M. Domtchom were there hanging out. M. Dinesso started things off on the right foot by telling me that we should go back to my place after class and drink whatever whiskey I had, "because you guys [white people? Americans?] only drink whiskey", and M. Domtchom (in between writing correctly the answer to the exercise without ever having seen the programming language before) told me that he didn’t like Python and that Pascal is much easier to learn because "it doesn’t have conversion functions" — which is just so face-palmingly ignorant and incoherent that I’d have to teach him for three months just so we could even talk about it. SO ignorant that I had to respond in English, "Actually, that’s complete bullshit". And even if it weren’t — seriously, not during class.

The exercise was to write a program that did a thing, and naturally the students passed their time variously:

  • Asking me "What do we do?"
  • Telling me that the computer they’re seated at is broken because it doesn’t have Python on it
  • Opening random other programs, like "Tux Typing", out of confusion or desperation?
  • Typing in random programs that we’ve talked about in class
  • Studiously not finding the errors in the programs that they’ve just typed in and asking for help. Yes, I know it’s hard when you don’t know the language, but matching parentheses isn’t rocket science.
  • Trying to find someone else whose program seems more correct, so that they can copy them.
  • Asking me if they’ve finished, without testing whether their program does a thing, or after seeing that it generates an error, or just flat out does something else.

OK, sure, programming is a little confusing, especially if you don’t have practice at learning how to learn or being creative. But the terminales are doing so much better than they are! Is this the same phenomenon I’ve seen in 4e/3e, where the 3es just seem to understand so much better seemingly by virtue of merely being a year older?

I’ve long since given up on the scheme of work — which was basically bullshit anyhow, since most of the stuff in this year is boring or useless — and just focused on this one simple thing, programming. Input, output, variables, if statements, while loops. I’ve had lectures where we just do drills of reading and writing programs, and they bomb quizzes and lab sessions. I’m reminded of my last job, where I told my co-worker that if we wanted our client to fail, all we had to do was build exactly what they asked for at a reasonable pace. I can probably keep teaching this one thing for the rest of the year and they’ll still fail every test. I’m starting to look forward to it.

After class I went to the nearest bar and drank a Fanta, then bought bread and made a peanut-butter and banana sandwich (thanks, mom). I’m studiously ignoring the whiskey sachets that I do, in fact, have in my house. Fridays. I’ve been counting down Fridays to spring break. No other day really gives me trouble. I was also counting down to next Friday, when I was going to Yaoundé to see someone, but it turns out that she might be coming up here instead, as early as Wednesday (though personally my money is on Thursday). So let’s focus on that instead, shall we?

[1] I’m willing to grant that maybe there’s some fundamental misunderstanding. But I’ve explained the fundamentals over and over again, and they always say they understand. I was just thinking that maybe they didn’t understand the idea that they had to write a program, like create from scratch using writing, but we had exercises like that in class and they did OK! Augh, I just don’t fucking get this.

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