student sues school over poor results
October 1, 2001 11:46 AM   Subscribe

student sues school over poor results i could think of some of my teachers who sucked at the Univ! i wonder if any of our US schools (private high school or college/university) have been sued for poor teaching.
posted by m2bcubed (22 comments total)
Poor teaching allows (or necessitates) a student to learn on his/her own. I don't see this as a bad thing seeing how we don't always have someone available to teach necessary skills in the working world. The poor grades reflect almost entirely on the student and not the teaching.
posted by mau at 12:17 PM on October 1, 2001

A would-be successful corporate lawyer could have talked her way out of the failing grade, no? :)
posted by jennak at 12:25 PM on October 1, 2001

I've come to the conclusion that nearly all (yes, some exceptions) college professors know very little about their own field. They can talk for hours on end about a million topics, all an inch deep, but this just leaves us feeling like we've learned something. Perhaps I feel this way because my field (comp. sci.) changes so much that it isn't fair to expect *anyone* to really know it all, but I think there's at least a seed of truth in it. The reality is that experts work, and sub-experts teach.
posted by paddy at 12:43 PM on October 1, 2001

In retort to paddy: note at the end of the article, it mentions that the teacher had left the school, and is working "in industry".

Questions this brings up: 1) What does industry need latin teachers for?
2) What do lawyers need to know latin for? If they just need the buzzwords, just give them a list, it's really not that long. It's not as if they are going to be reading the briefs of Imperial Rome.
3) Does this mean it actually takes more knowledge to teach latin than to "do something in industry"?
posted by meep at 12:57 PM on October 1, 2001

Although my natural reaction is to scream, NO, may be there is something in this. The family paid, and thus they expected for the school to do its job. If it didn't then isn't there a breach of contract? Money changed hands for a service and that service wasn't delivered.

I'm not talking specifically about this incident, I'm just questioning in general; should it be ok to sue a school if they don't provide what you paid for? I think yes, with huge reservations.
posted by Wet Friday at 12:57 PM on October 1, 2001

Her father, Robert, said Kate was a very bright girl who had worked very hard and had been predicted a grade A in Latin.

"They didn't study the syllabus - it was a new teacher and he didn't seem to know what he was doing," said Mr Norfolk.

"They were told they would be sitting two exams, but then one of them happened to see a note stuck on a noticeboard saying there would be a third exam on Friday.

"But they weren't individually contacted or given any explanation - it was chance one of them saw it.

I find this part a little alarming.
Maybe I am picturing the situation wrong, but doesn't it seem strange that a deviation from the syllabus would be a basis for a "writ"? I can't think of one class that followed the syllabus so closely.
Were they not attending the class? Do they expect a prof. to call them at home to notify them that a test is coming up?
I must be missing something culturally here.
posted by Jeffy at 1:09 PM on October 1, 2001

If this is allowed then schools should certainly be able to countersue students for being poor students. "You induced us to expend time and effort on you by your promise to attend class regularly, stay awake, take good notes, and do your assignments on time and thoroughly. You did none of these things."
posted by jfuller at 1:21 PM on October 1, 2001

i actually found the article disturbing.

i imagine that the cost to sue the school is high, therefore the folks that are suing are the ones that can afford it, as a result the rich are the only ones to be taught better for fear of being sued by them.

also, i had so many teachers that sucked. in my book to teach badly in school is to not:1) be able to inspire a student to learn, 2) to assist the student when the student is doing badly, 3) to offer to extend the teaching 4)to question why they are doing badly, 5)to actually care for a student. have you really had many of those kind of teachers though? the ones that actually cared enough to get you to do well?

and jeffy, it's a private school where the rooms are smaller i imagine. "Class sizes in the first three years are around 16 on average. In the Sixth Form, 10 is the norm" to be exact. hurstpierpoint college.
posted by m2bcubed at 1:24 PM on October 1, 2001

The family paid, and thus they expected for the school to do its job.

I think when you go to a school you pay for the opportunity to learn. Certainly it is up to you in which direction to develop and what subjects to pursue; no one can force anyone to learn anything.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in a 4-year liberal arts school in America -- the majority of students drink and party more than anything, and take maybe a handful of courses seriously.
posted by mattpfeff at 1:29 PM on October 1, 2001

The reality is that experts work, and sub-experts teach.

Experts in what, precisely? Are you counting Donald Knuth in your litany of sub-experts?

A bit of background here: as they're unregulated by the local authority, private schools in the UK have a habit of recruiting staff straight out of university, who are "between jobs", and have no vocational teaching qualifications. (A friend taught A-level Physics and PE at a girls' boarding school in the year after she finished her degree.) Were it a state school, this probably wouldn't have happened, since you normally need a PGCE to get a job. Oh, the irony.

As for the "loss of future earnings as a top corporate lawyer": sounds like someone whose parents have tried to buy her the crammer-school ticket to "Oxbridge and riches" hat so many middle-ranking private schools promise. (That she's now studying at Exeter speaks volumes.) In short, bollocks: I mean, who the hell wants to be a corporate lawyer at the age of 18? All my lawyer friends had idealistic notions of becoming defenders of human rights, and fell into corporate law when they realised how badly-paid and soul-destroying criminal law can be, even as a barrister. Talk about vicarious living: I blame the parents. ;)
posted by holgate at 1:48 PM on October 1, 2001

I'm shocked at the anti-customer service orientation of many in higher ed. students are in so many cases expected simply to take whatever they are handed - whether that's random changes in classes, schedule, tuition - the insane cost of textbooks (in what other world does a 200 page paperback cost $100?!) - lackluster service & major attitudes from employees.

and yes, professors/instructors are employees, and their job is to educate. (or at least to try.)

my husband is going back to school after a several year haitus, and after dealing with the school where he was originally getting his bachelor's, we decided it just wasn't worth it. so we're checking with another school, which hopefully will provide a more focused education w/out all the bs of this particular wacky institution.

<quietly stepping away from her high horse />

(this is all in the US, and obviously does not apply to the situation linked above)
posted by epersonae at 2:07 PM on October 1, 2001

At the university where I had taught, a young woman later sued because she had been given wonderful grades but later assumed she knew very little and that, therefore, was the fault of the school. She lost.
posted by Postroad at 2:07 PM on October 1, 2001

she had been given wonderful grades but later assumed she knew very little

some days, when I look back at my own college education - or worse, high school - I'm inclined to think that myself. I find myself questioning, quite seriously, the value of my degree....
posted by epersonae at 2:16 PM on October 1, 2001

as a student, i know that there are individuals out there who simply should not teach. they have neither the passion, nor the patience to help others learn, let alone the content knowledge.

as a teacher, i also know that one of the lingering problems in american school systems (and perhaps, by connection, in america itself) is the students' habit of eschewing responsibility for their own choices and lack of effort by blaming the teacher.
posted by ronv at 2:16 PM on October 1, 2001

i can't fathom why people actually think they're learning stuff exposited by course titles; school, especially public, is about learning (corporate) work ethics.

Poor teaching allows (or necessitates) a student to learn on his/her own.

we all auto-learn stuff. the function of a teacher is to point students in a certain direction and thus speed up the learning process. poor teaching isn't necessarily lack of direction, it could be misguided direction, might even be forceful.
posted by elle at 2:22 PM on October 1, 2001

Postroad, ronv - as (former?) educators, what do you think makes good teaching, and do you think it can be taught?

mau - what if poor teaching means not teaching? what if it means teaching incorrect facts? is it fair to pay for education, or to be forced to it (public education) and then have to teach yourself? what the hell is the instructor getting paid for?
posted by epersonae at 2:25 PM on October 1, 2001

what is the instructor paid for?

to do an adequate job?
maybe it's to babysit the class for that 45 minutes?
or maybe it is to hand out a syllabus to set the plan to self learn?
or maybe it's to alert the educational system of troublesome students by failing or barely passing them?
i have seen too many smart people do badly in our school systems.
posted by m2bcubed at 2:42 PM on October 1, 2001

Generally in the life sciences, and especially at medical institutions, the primary purpose of the professors is NOT education, but research. They bring in millions of dollars in grant money which covers a lot of the operational costs for the university (and associated hospitals in some case). That being said, it is awfully nice when they are also able to teach (which to my mind is presenting facts and methods of fact discovery in a manner which allows the student to recall the facts/ able to learn more on their own).

If it can be determined that the teacher singled out the student or otherwise actively prevented her from passing, then I'd hope the girl wins. However, it looks to me that the teacher is getting the raw end of the deal-- it looks like they fired him (or asked him to resign) as a result of this fiasco-- just because some rich girl failed a course. Bad teaching? How'd the rest of the class do? If there were no A's, or only those that slept with the prof got A's, then maybe she would have a case.
posted by LabTroglodyte at 3:11 PM on October 1, 2001

As a teacher, I would say that this girl needs to take more responsibility for her actions. This reminds of the fight that some policymakers are waging for merit pay for teachers, a measure that the union is against. Merit pay assumes that the responsibility of student achievement rests solely on the shoulders of educators. Nevermind that student acheivement is largely determined by student effort, parental involvment and community support. This is the same idea...people refusing to take responsibility for their own actions.
posted by CraftyHotMelt at 3:26 PM on October 1, 2001

Ok, I =know= there are British people here. How do the A-levels work? And why would an A-level in Latin be important?

The only thing that might be comparable to the U.S. would be the Advanced Placement Tests, right?
posted by meep at 4:26 PM on October 1, 2001

meep, briefly:

There is no "law school" in the UK. You study Law as an undergraduate, or you do an undergrad degree and take a one-year "law conversion course" (known as the CPE).

You get a place at university based upon your A-level grades. It doesn't matter what subject they are. In fact, from personal experience, Law undergrads have a habit of doing fairly bizarre combinations of A-levels. (French, History, Biology anyone?) This often impresses Law admissions tutors, because it suggests the kind of eclectic mind that marks out yer Law students. This is where Latin comes into the equation: it's precisely the sort of off-beat subject designed to appeal to Oxbridge Law tutors.

The girl has a point, that if you don't have a Law degree from Oxford or Cambridge, many City law firms won't even bother interviewing you. This misses the point: you do your Law degree or take your CPE, then you do a year's professional exams, then you work for two years as an underpaid trainee before you qualify as a solicitor. It's only then that you have a chance of making decent money. But many City firms release their trainees after those two years, so there's absolutely no guarantee that you're going to be a rich corporate lawyer.

So: she may be losing out on the slightly greater salary that comes from being a trainee in London rather than a "provincial" firm. But that's beside the point, as the cost of living in London means that law trainees can pay the rent and that's about it. It certainly doesn't amount to £150,000 in lost earnings.

(Believe me, I have enough friends who walked out of Oxford with good law degrees, and needed all that expertise to deal with the landlords of the shabby places they were forced to rent in London...)
posted by holgate at 5:00 PM on October 1, 2001

Any employer who hires this person is asking for trouble.
posted by Loudmax at 9:33 PM on October 1, 2001

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