Professors don't understand Jack -

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.

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