Professors don’t understand Jack

Why show up to write an exam you are bound to fail in a course you will certainly bomb?


Professors are good at figuring things out, but there is one mystery we have not been able to crack.

Consider the case of a student I’ll call Jack. Jack comes to the first class or two at the beginning of the semester and then promptly disappears. He turns in no assignments during the term, never contacts the instructor, and, as far as the prof knows, has dropped off the face of the earth.

But then, on the day of the exam, Jack returns. But why? He can’t possibly imagine he will pass the exam, what with, you know, not knowing any of the material. And even if he did pass the exam, he couldn’t possibly think he would pass the course without handing in any of the assignments. Why does Jack even bother?

Several ideas have been suggested to solve the Jack conundrum:

1. The personal dignity hypothesis. Jack knows he will not pass, but as a scholar and a gentleman, cannot bear to finish the course having done absolutely nothing. He takes some solace in going down with his academic ship.

2. The good-behaviour conjecture. Jack hopes that his professor will be so impressed that he has finally shown up to do something, that he will be given a passing grade. Jack would be mistaken, of course.

3. The illiteracy proposition. Jack hasn’t read the syllabus and hopes that the exam is worth enough for him to pass without the assignments. Wrong again, Jack.

4. The Shakespeare theorem. Jack believes that since it is an English exam, and English is just your own opinion, he can get a good grade without knowing anything. Sorry.

It is hard to know which, if any, of these is correct. Perhaps different explanations apply to different students. Perhaps it is a combination. Perhaps loyal readers of The Hour Hand can suggest other explanations.

Clearly, more research needs to be done on this. I’ll get on it after I’m done marking exams. Fortunately, Jack’s won’t take too long.

Filed under:

Professors don’t understand Jack

  1. Wow!

    Sadly, I am one of the students you are refferring to here. I had some problems this term with keeping up with classes because of immigration issues that sent me back and forth between my country of residence and Canada. Some of it involved legal issues so I didn’t inform the professors so as not to complicate issues. However, I took a different turn from the students you speak of and didn’t show up for the exam.

    The excuse I gave myself was that I was saving my academic honor (I am a good student ordinarily. I am regularly on Dean’s list). In my mind, I thought, I would rather have a “requirement not completed ” on my transcript (even with the grade consequences) than have a fail. I guess its a personal thing.

  2. I had a class like this. I’m a pretty open minded guy, but I had a Political Science class where the prof quickly demonstrated that opinions other than his own were not permitted in the classroom. If you questioned his points, he attacked the studetns on a personal level, belittling them in front of the class. I stopped going after the second week, showing up for exams and to hand in one report. I passed, but was very disappoitned as I had been looking forward to the class. I was not the only one whose attendance changed dramatically after 2 weeks.

Sign in to comment.