Intercultural Comm Syllabus
  Home Page | Intercultural Comm Syllabus | Course Schedules | Artifact Safari | Film Analysis | Cultural Experience Assignment | Resource Links | Text Chapter Summary Assignment | Travel Dossier | Final Reflection Paper | Value Analysis Assignments | Quick Writes  

Our plan for a semester's study of intercultural communication.

Intercultural Communication



Monterey Peninsula College

Department of Speech Communication

Spch 4, Spring 2003


Professor:  Daniel S. Fox, Ph.D.

Chair of the Department of Speech Communication.

Contact info:


Office Phone:  (831) 645-1305


(1)     MWF 10-11:00.



Office Hours : MWF 9:00-10:00, MW 11:00-12, and by appointment.

Office: BH 103F

(No assignments, papers, etc. are to be put under my office door; the Humanities Division box under my name is for that purpose.)


General Scope of the Course: 

This is an introductory course to the processes and principles of intercultural communication (discourse between diverse peoples). This semester we will look primarily at cultures within the United States. We will analyze cultural factors and variables of Intercultural Communication (perception, language, verbal and nonverbal systems, values, attitudes, beliefs) and how they are expressed.  We will examine skills and competencies necessary to increase our intercultural communication effectiveness.


Course Relevance:

Because we live in a society that is increasingly interconnected with visual, audio and computer communications, and the resulting awareness of the interdependence between diverse peoples, the ability to share and understanding meaning with others of differing backgrounds grows in its importance.  The larger social, economic, and political influences certainly play a part in these changes, but the fundamental level of contact is in person-to-person communication.  Thus, this course holds great value for the learner wishing to expand their repertoire of communication skills, especially as these skills are used to connect with others in spite of cultural obstacles. 


Course Objectives:

1.       Increase understanding of the relationship between communication and culture and its impacts on interpersonal communication and relationships among culturally diverse audiences (i.e., employees, clients, students).

2.       Explain the role of cultural patterns, verbal and nonverbal codes in the development of intercultural relationships and understanding.

3.       Gain the ability to compare and contrast variations between values, beliefs, and attitudes.

4.       Develop cognitive, affective and behavioral skills that would create and/or improve cultural awareness, sensitivity, appreciation and intercultural communication competence.

5.       Identify barriers to competent intercultural communication as well as problematic issues resulting from cultural differences such as concepts of time, personal space, body language, family, and social behaviors.


Required Texts: 

Lustig, Myron W. & Koester, Jolene. (2006). Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication Across Cultures, 5 th ed.  Boston, MA: Pearson.


Supplemental readings:  as assigned.



Other requirements:

                Other costs will be incurred during the course, for such items as presentational materials (i.e., overhead transparencies, poster board, copies for participants), and materials for construction of projects.  Est. need: $10.  You will need to immediately purchase a pack of 3”by5” index cards for use in taking attendance; one card will be turned in each day the class meets.  These cards will also be used for other exercises throughout the term of the semester.


Course Activities/Expectations

1.        Text Chapter Summary (2 @ 200 pts.):  In groups designated by the instructor, learners will summarize the content of a chapter within the textbook and share that with the rest of the class.  A written summary will be required as well, which will be distributed to the class.

2.        Film Analysis (100 pts.):  Learners will analyzed and evaluate the content of a film of their choice in terms of its cultural themes, messages and values.  A brief summary of this analysis will be shared with the class.

3.        Cultural Experience (200 pts.):  Learners will be in pairs or groups of three and immerse themselves in a cultural experience that is other that what they are used to, reflect on that experience, then write up their field notes into a paper.  Those experience will be shared with other member in class in small groups.

4.        Value Analysis: Others (100 pts.):  Learners will evaluate the congruence of values and beliefs of another person or persons, as either individuals or as a corporate body.  Those field notes will be shared with other members of class.

5.        Value Analysis: Self (100 pts.):  Learners will evaluate the congruence of values and beliefs of themselves.  Those field notes may be shared with other members of class (if the person wishes to do so).

6.        Travel Dossier (100 pts.):  Learners will construct a dossier of information, cultural factors and influences, brief historical background, and other relevant data for use as a traveling handbook for others.  They will choose the culture/country.  These will be shared orally in class with other students.

7.        Reflection Paper (200 pts.):  A reflection paper is assigned that examines the various experiences, lessons, principles, and new ideas that the student was exposed to during the course.  It is a summative paper, and should reflect the student’s best writing, best thinking, and best organizational abilities.  This paper is designed to give learners the opportunity to (1) apply the course material to their experience, (2) reflect on the experience of being in other cultural contexts, and (3) make decisions about their future behavior in similar circumstances.  A high level of writing ability is expected in this paper; it is recommended that the student successfully complete a basic English composition course before attempting this course.  College-level writing is expected in this course for all assignments.



Assignments and grading


Note:  assignment sheets are available for each of these activities.  Assignment sheets describe the task(s) involved, purposes and/or learning objectives for the assignment, special considerations for accomplishing the task(s), and the criteria for grading your performance.


Points Possible

Points Earned

Text Chapter Summary group presentations



Film Analysis



Cultural Experience



Value Analysis: Other



Value Analysis: Self



Travel Dossier



Reflection Paper



                                                                                Total:                       1000

Last half of the Syllabus

Grading group projects:  Each project will have approximately 1/3 of the points assigned via peer evaluation.  Learners evaluate one another to some degree, based on the quality of their input to the product; this is intended to create some peer accountability for individual performance in the groups.  After the project in completed, a score will be given to each other peer in the group; these will be tallied and averaged to provide each member with a peer evaluation score, which is added/averaged into the overall project score. 


Peer Evaluations:  A peer evaluation consists of four parts: (1) your name (at the top of the page); (2) the names of each other member (in a column to left); (3) a score between 1 and 10 (1=low, 10=high) for each peer; and (4) a rationale statement next to each score, explaining why they gave that peer the score they did.  These rationale statements MUST be: (a) complete sentences, and (b) give specific reasons for the score.  The criteria for evaluation include: overall contribution to group product, overall contribution to the teamwork in the group (group process), and collegiality in interpersonal interaction.  This document MUST be typed, and MUST be turned in the class period following the presentation.  The consequences of: (1) No peer evaluation = no credit for that assignment for the person failing to hand in a peer evaluation; (2) Late peer evaluation = 10% reduction in points for that person’s grade for each day late up to 3 days; after 3 days the peer evaluation is considered not turned in, and the student receives no credit for that assignment.  In the event of a “no credit” member, all peers will receive 100% in place of that member’s score.


Group Membership:  (Applies only to Spch 2) Another element of peer accountability is the ability of a group to “fire” a poor-performing group member.  This can be done only by group consensus, only with prior notice to the instructor, and only for reasons of sub-standard performance, such as a pattern of failing to make meetings, a pattern of uncooperativeness, or pattern of not doing the work assigned to them.  The procedure shall be that after the person has been let go by the first group, that person has then to seek another group with whom to join, essentially “applying” for a position with another group.  This is the last chance the student has to bring their performance up to standard; if a second group justifiably “fires” that same student, they shall receive an “F” grade for the course.


Letter Grades:  All assignments will receive a raw score.  Final letter grades will be based on a 90-80-70-60 percent scale. “A” indicates outstanding achievement and performance that consistently exceeds expectations.  “B” indicates high quality and performance that consistently meets expectations.  “C” indicates average quality and performance that is below expectations.  “D” indicates poor quality and performance that fails to meet minimal expectations.  “F” indicates failure.  In order to aid students in keeping track of their point totals and grade, a Grade Monitoring Form will be provided for students.


Turning in Assignments:  Most assignments will be turned into the professor during class; on occasion assignments will be accepted by turning them into the Humanities Division office, in my boy marked “Fox.” Assignments should not be submitted under my office door (there simply isn’t enough room between door and carpet, and the papers can get drenched by water and wax from hallway cleaning).


Criteria for Written Assignments:

Superior:  A superior paper will address the requirements of the particular assignment.  Though the paper may have occasional weaknesses, it will be well-organized, detailed, and generally well-written.  Where appropriate, concepts from the course materials will be integrated into the arguments of the paper.  Claims will be well developed and substantiated.


Above Average:  These papers will be well-handled, although weak in some aspects of the superior response.  For example, it may slight one of the parts of the assignment; it may not be as clearly organized as the superior paper; it may not be as grammatically consistent as the superior paper; it may have minor weaknesses in the structure of the arguments.  Otherwise, the paper should be competently well-written.


Average:  An average paper is one that:  (a) only describes the relevant concepts; (b) does not apply concepts to the paper's premises; (c) only describes a limited number of concepts, (d) only touches upon some requirements of the assignment; (e) is general and superficial; (f) is poorly proofread or edited; (g) makes incorrect applications of concepts; or (h) contains faulty and inconsistent reasoning.


Below Average:  These papers exhibit serious weaknesses in structure, syntax, word selection, development, style format, or critical analysis.


Failing:  These papers show very little understanding of the assignment, understanding of the relevant concepts, understanding of critical analysis, or suggest incompetence in structure, syntax, word selection, and style format.      





Approach to this course


The textbook is a resource:  We will summarize and discuss each chapter, but we will work harder to synthesize its content with the other readings, group projects and individual assignments you will be completing in this course.


The instructor is a resource and facilitator:  While the professor brings a certain amount of practical experience to this learning event, that experience is not nearly as important as the experience learners apply to their own discoveries; the professor will serve to facilitate the greatest depth and breadth of learning possible in the learners.


Experience of group communication & reading about group communication:  It is assumed in this course that there is a difference between practiced knowledge and discussed knowledge.  Based on that assumption, the course is designed to maximize both types of learning, the experiential and the analytical, theoretical and practiced.


Multidimensional view of self, learning, and instruction:  This course is also designed to avoid a uni-dimensional approach to life.  Rather, it embraces a multi-faceted, multidimensional approach. Group communication will be examined from cognitive, affective, and volitional dimensions.  Communication will be examined from multiple theoretical perspectives, and will challenge the learner to arrive at a synthesis of theory which aligns with their world view, value set, and personal beliefs.


Performance oriented: this course is intentionally designed to maximize the amount of investment that learners put into the learning experience.  This approach (called Active Learning) engages learners more effectively than typical passive modes, such as strict adherence to lecturing.  Toward this end, Problem-Based Learning is utilized as an instructional method, incorporating case studies, group discussion, team-based projects, action research, as well as lecture/guest speaker and panel presentations.  Projects are designed to allow the learner to apply course principles and theory to what they are doing.  Be advised:  It is not an easy course when approached from a presumption of knowledge-absorption (i.e., learner sits and passively absorbs their “education”).  This course is intended to get the learner to ENACT communicative skills, and participate in solving common human interaction problems so that you will experience realistic interaction and the strategies we utilize for successful communication.  This approach is oriented toward knowledge-application and performance.  When it comes to using what you learn in this course, perhaps in a future job or life situation, that which you have not embedded as a skill will probably not be available to you.  Besides, theory is just that -- unless you know what to do with it.


Some things you should take to heart


If these apply to you, then you might want to pass on this course.


·          You don’t have basic college-level skills in writing English – it’s recommended that you acquire these skills first.

·          You anticipate being absent frequently – being in excess of the allowed will result in you receiving a 200-pt. deduction.

·          You anticipate being frequently late to this class – for same reasons as above; it is considered both rude and unprofessional to show up late to an activity for which you made a prior commitment.  A sufficient amount of tardiness will result in your being asked to discontinue attendance.

·          You believe that a professor gives grades – the reality in this course is that you, the student, earn your grades – only by performing at the standards set by the syllabus.  Grading is not done on a curve.  There is a “bar” of sorts, in the amount of 1000 points, only given to those students who perform at the required levels.  Student performance results in student points.

·          You cannot afford the textbook and/or the basic materials required for the course.  You will need both.

·          You do not like connecting what you learn in area of life to new learning in another area – this course is about synthesis, making connections between areas of knowledge, advancing one’s understanding of the world by becoming more holistic in one’s thinking.  This learning experience is less about remembering facts and figures, and more about acquiring skills, competencies, and the cognitive ability to apply knowledge.

·          You do not like problem-solving.  If facing challenges and problems is something that bothers you, this course is not for you.

·          You prefer to be given all the information required to solve a problem – rather than exercising the initiative to go get the information.  Personal initiative is required to succeed in this course.  Those without it will be visible early-on, will receive lower peer evaluation scores, and lower grades.

·          You don’t like other people as a rule.  This course is about transforming your mind, equipping you to see interaction among humans in better, sometimes more sophisticated ways – but you must come to the course with your own willingness to be with people and try new things.

·          You don’t take professionalism in the college classroom seriously.  You will be expected to behave professionally, with consideration for others, with respect for the subject matter under investigation, and to abide by fundamental rules of learning.  Those failing to rise to this level of professionalism will be asked to leave.



Additional Notes


Safety issues:  If this is a class which meets into the evening hours, then please make yourself aware of your surroundings as you leave, and walk in well-lit areas.  If you need the Campus Security Service, then please call them at 646-4099 from any phone, including the campus emergency phones.


Students with disabilities:  Every effort will be made to accommodate students with disabilities.  Please let me know early on so that I can make arrangements.  There are some excellent support services on campus for a wide range of disabilities (physical, perceptual, learning).  Let’s talk and I’ll point you in the right direction (Services for Students with Disabilities, call 646-4070; for Learning Assistance Centers, call 646-4176).  Letting me know EARLY ON is emphasized here because the professor cannot offer much assistance without prior knowledge, and is less able to make adjustments in the course later on.  In the case of Public Speaking, it not recommended that you take the course if you currently have anxiety related issues in your life; public speaking is consistently ranked near the top of people’s list of fears, even above the fear of death.  A student must be prepared for that experience in order to maximize the gains of the training.


International students and Reentry students:  If you are experiencing the stresses of adjusting to campus life, the “load” of academics, or the culture, then please take advantage of the student services on campus.  International Student Programs can be reached at 645-1357.  Re-entry students (anyone 25 years or older and who has not been continuously enrolled) have support systems created specifically for their needs; programs in this area can be located at 646-4276. 


Have fun.  You are here to learn about human communication.  Although we communicate all the time, and have been doing so for years, we sometimes lack the skills to communicate as effectively as we would like.  In this case, you are here to improve your understanding and skills.  You are not presumed to have been born with this: we will develop them together, and enjoy the process as much as possible.



Course policies


Acceptance of Policies:  By remaining in this course, you are accepting the policies established in this syllabus. 




Attendance will be taken daily by use of a sign-in sheet.  This sheet will be made available at the beginning of the period, and retained by the professor from then on.  No signatures will be allowed after the instructor collects the sheet. 


The student’s signature establishes their attendance.  This sign-in sheet is the student’s only record of attendance, and it is their responsibility to get to class on time and register their record of attendance with their signature. 


If the record shows excessive absences, it is the sign-in sheet that will provide that record.  If the student claims they were actually present in classes which the record shows them absent for, it is the record that wins the decision (unless we can establish their attendance from an in-class instructor evaluation form, in which case it will be counted as a tardy).  View the sign-in sheet as a type of time card.


Allowed absences: The total number of unexcused absences allowed for the course equal the number of times the class meets each week, or three (3) instructional hours (i.e., MWF = 3 absences allowed, TTH = 2, M = 1).  This means that the student may miss a total of one (1) week of class without penalty. 


Absences:  If a student is absent for a total of one week beyond that allowed (a total of two weeks absent), they will forfeit 200 points from their earned total, which effectively lowers the current grade by two levels (i.e., from A to C, or from B to F).  50 points will be deducted for each additional absence.  Students should be aware of the drop deadline established by MPC for the current semester.  Students registered for the course who are absent for more than two weeks prior to the drop deadline will be dropped from the course.


About absences and missed assignments:  The reason for an absence does change the FACT of the absence.  The reasons may be very important, perhaps life-threatening.  However, like a train that is ever moving to its next destination, so is this course.  We cannot reverse course so that a member can re-do the experience; no points will be assigned, for whatever reason.  The student will have to take advantage of any extra credit assignments offered throughout the semester.  If the points provided by extra credit assignments will be insufficient for the grade desired, the student should drop the course and retake it later.


Excused absences:  Absences may be regarded as excused by the instructor only if an agreement has been made between the instructor and student.  It is best for the student to make these agreements with the instructor before the absence.  Generally, the nature of the circumstances must, in a way acceptable to the professor, be verified within two weeks of the absence.


Tardiness:  Three (3) tardy days accumulate to equal one absence.  Leaving class early is considered the same as a tardy.  A tardy may be excused by the instructor by the same terms as an absence.  Notes: 

1.        If you come in late with the rationale that your last class got out late, realize that this behavior – as a practice – is not a valid excuse.  There are 10 minutes of transition between every class, which is sufficient for any cross-campus trek at MPC.  This campus is simply not that expansive. 

2.        If, as a practice, you come in late with the rationale that you were detained with the assignment of some other class, then you simply should not be in this course; your priority is obviously with that other course.  Your priorities will have been established by your enrollment in this course, and by the agreement sheet that you sign upon starting this course. 


In summer course sessions (M-Th for 2+ hours daily over six weeks) two class sessions are approximately equivalent to 5-6 hours of instruction.  Therefore, in summer courses, two class session absences are allowed.  For students absent two sessions beyond that allowed (total of 4 class sessions, or two weeks absent), they will forfeit 200 points from their earned total, which effectively lowers the current grade by two levels (i.e., from A to C, or from B to F).  50 points will be deducted for each additional absence.




Changes clause:  This syllabus is designed with the caveat that the schedule and procedures for this course are subject to change in the event of extenuating circumstances, or in the event the instructor deems those changes an advantage to the learners.  An example of such a change is the need to adapt to the actual number of students in the course: groups may be re-constructed, or time for presentations may be adjusted accordingly.





Following Instructions:  Fairly detailed instructions are provided for each assignment.  It is intended that student follow them; points will be deducted from an assignment for failing to do so.  For example, no papers are to be turned in by putting them under my office door (a provision for after-class submissions is made at the Humanities Division office).  If assignments are received under my office door, assuming I even find them, they will not be counted.


Scholarship:  Both written work and oral presentations are expected to reflect a high level of scholarship.  Specifically, you are expected to use correct syntax, grammar and spelling.  Please take advantage of the spelling/grammar programs in your word processing software.  Refer to an APA (American Psychological Association) manual, or similar manual for acceptable paper citation formats.  All assignments are to be typed, double-spaced and stapled, unless otherwise stated by the instructor (some exceptions will be made for certain assignments).  While MPC policy allows open enrollment (meaning, anyone can enroll in a course, whether they have prepared sufficiently for college-level coursework or not), college level writing skills are a minimal performance standard for this course.  If the student does not yet have the ability to write at the college level, then they should not expect to do well in this course.  If you cannot write at the college level at this time, it is recommended that you acquire those skills first before you take this course, as your writing performance will be evaluated based on the assumption of this fundamental ability.  Bottom-line: You will be graded on writing skills that you should have acquired prior to this course.


Plagiarism, cheating:  Plagiarism, or the use of another’s work without giving due recognition of the work’s source (i.e., presenting information as if it were your own) is unacceptable.  The “currency” of the College, like the currency of the marketplace, is original thought (rather than money).  To plagiarize or cheat destroys the trust so necessary for our learning community. To avoid any appearance of ethical misconduct, intentional or otherwise, use footnotes and endnotes to cite sources in any written work you do in this course, or any other course for that matter.  In your presentations you must orally cite sources and clearly distinguish your ideas and words from theirs.  This applies to what might be retrieved from the internet as well.  See the College catalogue for specific policy details on plagiarism and cheating. PLEASE TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY.


Standard format for papers:  “Standard format” for papers in this course shall refer to the following criteria: typed, double-spaced, stapled when pages exceed two, paginated when pages exceed two, bold and/or underlined headers as organizers for the themes within the paper, name+date+course# at the top of the first page, references section on the last page (if other sources are cited within the paper’s text), and 1” to 1 ½” margins.  No cover sheets are required or requested.  Font size should be 12 point, and the style should be something readable, preferably Times New Roman, Courier, or Arial.




Mutual respect and courtesy:  “Respect for the rights of others” is third on the list of operating principles for Monterey Peninsula College (MPC Catalogue of Courses, 2001-2002 p.35).  See the MPC College Catalogue (pp.35-37) for more in-depth discussion of this topic.  Whereas, original thought and ideas are a type of “currency” for the Academy, mutual respect is the prime currency of interpersonal and classroom interaction.  Without it, we cannot proceed effectively.  We will have opportunities in class for exploring the important ethical and communicative implications of mutual respect, trust, acceptance, and openness. 


By proceeding in this course, you agree to manage your own behavior in this course.


Rude and distracting behavior might include (but not be limited to):  side conversations, sleeping, eating in classroom, cosmetic activities, pencil tapping and pen clicking knuckle cracking, cleaning out your notebook, receiving cell phone and pager messages, and working on projects unrelated to this course.  Based on the ethical and legal principle of free access to education, the rights of a student to express themselves freely do not extend to the disruption of learning opportunities of others.  The freedom to learn without the negative influence of such things as threats, ongoing distractions, or disrespectful behavior must be preserved for the students who come with the serious intent of learning. 


The policy of this course shall be that when the instructor observes that the behavior of a student is disruptive to the interpersonal climate of the classroom, the learning environment, or to direct instruction, the instructor can either remove that student from the course, or give that student an “F” grade.



Students are expected to maintain professional, courteous conduct in all activity associated with the course (in-class, in groups, coursework out-of-class).  The professor reserves the right to drop any student who does not meet the course policies, including student contravention of courtesy, professionalism and respect, whether it is student-student oriented or student-teacher oriented.  If, for example, a student knows that they have on-going issues with authority and/or finds themselves unable or unwilling to resolve task and relational problems in a professional and courteous manner with persons in authority, then they should not take this course.  The service-learning project in particular may require the student to do work as part of an agency or organization, and the student is expected to behave civilly and professionally with all participants in the course, including those contact persons at their service-learning organization.


Entering this course is not unlike hiring on at a job, in that there are certain demands made on the student’s performance.  There is a behavioral contract in effect:  Employees who don’t show up for work generally do not get paid.  Employees who cause their customers undue grief are generally not retained.  Employees who lack initiative or perform poorly are generally not promoted to higher levels of reward or responsibility.  In this sense, there is no distinction between academic performance and the “real world” of work.  There is the real world of work-life, and there is the real world of academic-life; both demand professionalism.


Recovering missed material:  When a student misses a class, for whatever reason, it is their responsibility to recover the material missed.  It is recommended that the student utilize their colleagues in the classroom for this, by getting contact information for them so that notes can be shared, material recovered, etc.  In some instances, where one-time quiz or test preparation information is provided, the instructor will not give it out a second time (unless there are special circumstances where that student is concerned).  It is recommended that learners do what they can to keep track of what goes on in class while they are gone.


Late work and Timeliness:  No more than half credit (50%) is available for late assignments (unless special arrangements have been made with the instructor).  Planning is an essential skill for a college student.

Last-minute requests that should have been made at an earlier, more appropriate time, need to be addressed as well:  Procrastination on the student’s part does not constitute an emergency on the instructor’s part. 


Classes with groups:  It is the student’s responsibility to stay in contact with their group members during group projects.  This is why the one of the first tasks of the first group meeting is to share contact information for each person.  Most students live very busy lives, and to lose track of the work load in a group project can sometimes leave a person without points for that project, seriously affecting that person’s grade.


Retrieving course products:  Tests, papers or other assignments are retained for a limited time after the course.  Students wishing any material (other than exams) must provide a self-addressed, stamped envelope (sufficiently large for that material) at the final exam period with instructions about which assignments they desire.


An essay about differing educational paradigms:  As we will discover when we talk about communication theory, a person’s paradigm can be defined as a “mental map of reality.”  Our mental map of reality tells us how things work, how we believe they should work, what we expect when engaged in that dimension of living.  When we apply that concept to education we observe that there are different assumptions about how learning works, and what is involved in getting an education.  This essay contrasts a “stamp book” paradigm with a more internal, personally-driven model.  Check it out, and we’ll take some time in class to discuss its implications.


The Experience of Education

(June 2003)


Viewing your experience in this course as a job, a working environment with its requisite tasks, schedules, and personal responsibilities is less of a literary metaphor and more of a reality of living.  Timeliness is required.  Work is required.  Quality of work is required for quality rewards.  There are no free rides, free lunches or grades owed to a student simply because they are enrolled.  There is no sympathy reserved for the one who begins the course knowing these facts and opts-out later with the poorly formed idea that they didn’t get what they paid for.


When you interview for a job you may foot the bill for a new suit or outfit, a plane ticket to get to the job site, and funds for your meals, resumes, and hotel.  This investment gets you in the door.  If you choose to stay in this course, you are likewise “in the door.”  Staying here is up to you.  Doing well is up to you.  Not guaranteed to you.


This attitude is a helpful prerequisite for the course.  It is helpful because the world will continue to operate by these principles whether a person decides to live by them or not.  To those who prepare their attitudes sufficiently for success, and add effort to it (good work, best performance), are usually rewarded with that success.  As a rule, people do not stumble onto goals; they achieve them systematically, and it begins from the core of their being (first as a value for that goal, then as an attitude toward achieving it).


Of Stamp Books and Stamps


A contrasting attitude among some students (and teachers) today is what I call the stamp book perspective.  This view considers education in tangible terms – it is what you get at the end when the president or chancellor hands you a diploma.  Education, in this view, is what we hang on the wall, what we show to others with a class ring on our finger, what we put at the top of our resume, and the next thing we say at a party when introducing ourselves, “I went to the university of _____________.”  This sort of student views the process of getting their education in much the same way the middle class consumer uses a stampbook.  The “Subway Sandwich” deli recently used this approach, where for every six subs you buy, and six stamps you collect on a card, you are rewarded with a free foot-long Subway sandwich.  Gas stations (when they were service stations) used to be famous for giving customers a number of stamps for the number of gallons pumped.  The object was to fill up as many stampbooks as possible in order to collect a prize.  Once the stamp book was full, the customer turned it in and received a gift of some sort, such as a BBQ, a bike, or picnic basket.


Students subscribing to this view equate coursework with stamps, their transcript with the stampbook, and their diploma with the prize exchanged at the end.  Part of the fallout of this blatantly economic view of education is that the student also views the process of getting that education as one of entitlement.  That is, they have forfeited a certain amount of money, time, resources and effort to receive a good or excellent grade, and like any other consumer transaction, they then feel entitled to receive that for which they paid.  It is education in economic terms, a view of the world as bartering transactions.  What they gave up must necessarily result in good grades, according to this view.


Where this worldview becomes a problem for its subscribers is somewhere in the discovery that the world does not operate exclusively by this one principle.  Yes, economic rules work, and in the realm of money its principles are strong.  Some even try the bartering method in interpersonal relationships: I’ll do this for you, if you will do that for me.  It sometimes takes people years to learn that true romance is not a commodity.  Sadly, there are students who never learn that true education is not a commodity.




One problem arises where students conceptualize learning knowledge as the mere memorization of facts, concepts and generalizations.  Fifty facts = 10 points = “B” grade = course “stamps” for my book.  Education also involves internalizing values, adopting attitudes, acquiring mental skills, mastering physical skills and developing better habits.  We can attempt to quantify learning by observing behavior, but much of what we call education occurs inside a person, and translates into the quality of thinking, reasoning, choosing and appreciating.  There is truly a romantic element to education, and is better expressed as poetry and prose rather than point averages and pie charts.


Another problem arises where the attitude of entitlement becomes normalized between student and teacher, or between student and college.  This attitude is evident in the working world, and it has made its way into academics.  Someone has observed that “we’ve now got a managerial class that thinks the world owes them a Mercedes, and a working class that thinks the world owes them a pickup truck” (Richard Marcinko, 1996, Leadership Secrets of the Rogue Warrior, New York: Pocket Books, p. 35).  One’s preference for reality does not by itself change reality.  When a student comes to the academic experience expecting that their fees, books and time will necessarily produce – must absolutely result in – good grades, only to discover that their effort was insufficient, or their aptitude in that field of study is insufficiently strong, or that they were ultimately unwilling to sacrifice for the discipline required to develop certain skills or habits, then the student can become discouraged.


This is a problem because no student should have to suffer a failure experience of this sort.  If there is to be failure at all, let it be an honest one: I simply don’t have strengths in the area of genetics, let me go explore my graphing and math capabilities and see what can be done there.  The discouragement translates almost immediately into more learning and persistence to explore ways to achieve mastery.  Instead, when the entitled student fails, it can translate into offense, resentment, even anger.  And the results?  The results usually are continued poor performance, even worse attitudes, and a lack of achievement.


Here is yet another estimation of what it means to be educated:


“Do not mistake acquirement of mere knowledge for power.  Like food, these things must be digested and assimilated to become life or force.  Learning is not wisdom; knowledge is not necessarily vital energy.  The student who has to cram through a school or a college course, who has made himself merely a receptacle for the teacher’s thoughts and ideas, is not educated; he has not gained much.  He is a reservoir, not a fountain.  One retains, the other gives forth. Unless his knowledge is converted into wisdom, into faculty, it will become stagnant like still water.”  (J. E. Dinger)


Professor's email address:

Link to Speech Communication home page
Speech Prof homepage