It’s common practice, as far as I know, for colleges to alternate 50-minute M/W/F classes with 75-minute Tu/Th classes. The Point is a little different, and has an elaborate alternating class-day schedule of 55-minute classes. Cadets are (over-)scheduled from early morning formation, physical training, and meals through business-day class times into athletics practices, evening meals, and mandatory evening study times — and, over the past two afternoons, I’ve just met my sections.
They’re amazing. They’re forthright. They volunteer, and offer information in response to questions without needing to be called upon. And, yes, even this early, they’re pushing the limits, testing the boundaries, trying to see if they can punch my buttons, and I’m happy about that.
One of the questions I asked in my initial writing survey exercise was this: “What rumors have you heard about this class?” There’s a (likely self-fulfilling) persistent rumor among the Corps of Cadets that all instructors fail every cadet’s first essay assignment, and so the best course of action for said assignment is to blow it off and not waste any time on it. Sure enough, a couple cadets mentioned that rumor, and characterized it as advice from senior cadets in relation to the ubiquitous overscheduling. Which makes me wonder: have the senior cadets dutifully read their Foucault and decided to exercise Power at the capillary level in their advice to plebes? Is this brilliantly counter-curricular counter-hegemony?
Sure, maybe I’m overthinking things. But consider the circumstances: every class period begins with the cadet section marcher calling the class to attention and rendering the report (“Cadets Smith and Snuffy unaccounted for, Sir”), at which point I come to the position of attention, return the salute, and we start. Cadets live together, and fully know how overscheduled they are: in fact, one of my duties is to log on to the computerized attendance management system each day and note who was absent, late, or departed early. The information goes to the cadet chain of command in the cadet barracks, who deal with it wholly out of my sight — which is actually quite refreshing, and makes matters much easier for me. The cadet chain of command knows which absences are excused (sports, medical) and which are unexcused, and the cadets know they have to arrange with me ahead of time to make up missed work. No end-of-semester tales of heartbreak and woe.
Today, two cadets were absent: one I knew ahead of time had already resigned from the Academy, and the other was unaccounted for. I appointed my section marcher when she walked into the classroom at 2:46 (somewhat arbitarily: she asked me if she had missed any pre-first-day homework, and I figured if she was asking me that, she likely had her act together), and by 2:54, she had the procedures down and had taken a backup attendance sheet for me (standard practice for section marchers), and at the :00 mark of 2:55, she called the section to Attention and delivered the report (nearly) flawlessly.
Essentially, they’ve shown me their awareness of the strictures and conventions and boundaries within which they must live, and then their subsequent actions have done everything possible to call into question and test those boundaries. One cadet’s answer to my question about rumors they’ve heard about the course: “I hear that classes are mostly conducted in English.” Humor? Or a subtle attempt to correct me for asking cadets to violate the Army value of Loyalty by ratting on one another?
It’s gonna be an interesting semester.