Regimentation, Part 2

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.

Regimentation, Part 2

8 thoughts on “Regimentation, Part 2

  • August 16, 2006 at 2:08 am

    Mike, have you rejoined the army? I’m confused about your returning a salute—isn’t that just for the military? Please advise, sir.

  • August 16, 2006 at 9:12 am

    Roger that, ma’am: no, I haven’t re-enlisted, but in this military environment, it’s entirely appropriate for civilian instructors to return a salute, though they’re certainly free to choose not to do so, as well. With my background, the gesture carries a compelling signifying force that would make it feel not only impolite but almost unthinkable — even as a civilian — not to return a salute.

    You might find my memorandum of instruction to section marchers interesting:

    In your role as section marcher (or, in the absence of the section marcher, as the assistant marcher), you are the senior cadet in the section. You will perform duties normally performed by a non-commissioned officer. I am charging you with these responsibilities:

    1. Before class starts, ensure that the video monitor is on and tuned to the USMA time clock.

    2. At the beginning of class, take account of your classmates and update the section roster, noting late or absent cadets. Your copy is a backup to mine, and I depend on you to keep it accurately.

    3. Render an accurate report at the start of each class as determined by the USMA time clock. If I am not in the classroom at the beginning of the class period, wait until I enter the room before calling the section to attention. To render the report, call the section to attention (“Section, attention”); when I reach the front of the classroom, salute and offer your report (“Sir, the section is formed; Cadet X absent”), and wait for me to return the salute.

    4. Maintain order and discipline in the classroom.

    5. Secure a copy of any handouts or assignments for absent cadets. Absent cadets are responsible for getting the material from you.

    6. Notify me five minutes before class is scheduled to end according to the USMA time clock.

    7. After class, return the attendance folder to me.

    Outside of class, serve as the initial point of contact for class questions. If a question you cannot answer arises within the section, contact me for clarification. In your role as a non-commissioned officer, you will represent your section members by presenting any non-academic concerns to me. I will work hard to foster a pleasant and positive classroom environment in which all members of the class respect the worth and dignity of their classmates. I need your help in making this happen. Do not be afraid to notify me if you or any of your classmates perceive anything in or out of class that is not in keeping with my objective.

  • August 16, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    It’s mostly boilerplate, drawn together from memoranda other members of the department hand out to their section marchers. #3 is standard reporting procedure in the Army, not anything I invented — so please, don’t think this is any kind of power trip thing on my part. (West Point’s slang term sometime applied to civilian instructors like me is “candyman,” because we’re perceived as much more easygoing than the military faculty.)

    My section marcher made it into class today ten seconds before the class was scheduled to start, a little out of breath — but he made it, and rendered his report.

  • August 16, 2006 at 10:00 pm

    The return of Sgt Mike? What a great job for you. Congrats! As a citizen I could not be more pleased. A reader of Foucault at West Point. Blogging all this ok?

  • August 16, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    Definitely OK. And I’ve got to ask (especially since WB is blocked at the office): I’m hoping that the vaguely ominous hanging-it-up rumblings over there are, er, satirical?

  • October 23, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    Hello Mike,

    In September I started a new course which is
    Military English. I found out that I don’t know anything about
    in-class military courtesies. Your blog helped me a lot.

    Yet, I have some questions to ask you.

    1. A cadet goes: ” Sir/Ma’am the
    formation/class is formed. All present and correct. Cadet X
    is absent. On duty, Cadet (name )” … and the instructor goes like:” At ease”!? ” Take your seats ” (!?)

    2.When an instructor checks out a roll call a cadet,
    when his or her name has been called out, goes like – “Here”!? or
    “Present'( !? ) or “Sir” ?

    3.What does a cadet on duty say at the end of a period/
    lesson? ( just ” Attention” (?)

    4. A Cadet makes a presentation in class or briefs a class on a specific topic:
    ‘ Sir/Ma’am, Class, I’m Cadet Miller and I will brief you on ….. ‘(?)

    5. A Cadet wants to ask a question:
    ‘ Sir, Cadet X asks permission ( or asking permission ) to ask a question/to speak.” ( Would it be OK? )

    6. A Cadet needs to go out ( e.g. got a phone call from his girl-friend, sick, etc );

    ‘Sir, May I go out” , or “Sir, Cadet X asks permission to leave your class”(?)

    7.Exams: how about that :”Sir, Cadet X reports for the English Language Exam” (? ) and the Instructor goes like ” …… “?

    It would be great if you could find time to help me with my in- class military English.

    Thanks in advance,


  • October 23, 2006 at 8:56 pm

    Sergei, the best person to ask is the instructor. Standards of courtesy and respect change from place to place. I can offer some answers as they apply to my institution, but others will be unique even to my individual classroom: for example, I don’t call roll; instead, the section marcher notes who’s present and absent and then lets me know — so I can’t really answer your question 2. For number 5, I think it’s silly and inefficient to ask a question (“Can I ask a question?”) in order to ask another question, so discussion and questions flow as freely in my classroom as they do in any college classroom, with nobody asking permission. As for question 6 and a phone call from the girlfriend — cell phones in the classroom, like cell phones in the theater, are profoundly rude and obnoxious, and I have yet to meet a cadet or a civilian student who’s oblivious enough or stupid enough to try to take a phone call in my classroom, or even to ask to be excused from the classroom to do so. If you have business that’s so urgent and pressing that you need to have your cell phone on in class, you’re better off not coming to class. Period.

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