Why College Students Should Challenge Authority

Let me start by saying I love football.

I love the game itself. I love the fact that it’s like watching a soap opera without a script, where most of the main characters are really hot, jacked guys wearing revealing spandex pants. And I love the fact that in football, unlike other sports, the judgment of the officials can be disputed. As a coach, you don’t have to just shake your head at a bad call and keep playing; in many cases, you can challenge it.

I think about countless games marked by amazing catches and horrible officiating. I could get specific and lay out a laundry list of ridiculous calls and no-calls that provide strong evidence that officiating crews are in fact asleep, blindfolded, high on Quaaludes, or a combination of all three, but this isn’t an article about football. It’s an article about college, and by extension, life in general.

Because the subject of challenging authority applies to college students as well. Much like football coaches with their little red “challenge” flags in their pockets, students also have the ability to challenge authority.

The authority I’m referring to is professors. And when I talk about challenging that authority, I’m not suggesting that you incite mass riots in the classroom. I’m suggesting that you become more actively involved in your education. Maybe “challenge” is the wrong word. Maybe “respectfully state your case to bring about a resolution” is a more accurate way to put it. But challenge sounds better, so for the purpose of this article, I’ll use it.

I know that this is not a popular position. I realize that it’s not “cool” to care about learning. There are much more important things to focus on, like deciding which parties you’re going to this weekend. But I figure that if you can fight for your right to party, you might as well fight for your right to learn. I mean, you pay for an education, so you might as well get it.

So if you feel that you’ve received an unfair grade on a paper or test, talk to your professor. If you feel that class time is not being used productively, talk to your professor. If you think that the quizzes and tests are unreasonably difficult, or too easy to really test your knowledge, talk to your professor. If you have no clue of what’s going on in the class, talk to your professor. Be respectful and sincere, but talk to your professor.

Professors may have PhDs but they’re not perfect, and in the end they’re there to serve you. Their power in the classroom is not absolute, which I can attest to personally, having put several professors in check when I felt the grades they assigned me were out of line or their teaching tactics were totally ineffective.

I’m not saying that one-on-one communication with professors is a magic wand, immediately solving all of your life’s problems. It’s not. In some rare cases, it won’t solve anything, and then you’ll have to seek out a higher authority to get your issue resolved. But chances are that if you take the time to speak up and present the problem to your professor as you perceive it, they will work with you to find a solution.

I know from experience that it’s much easier to complain about a problem than solve it. But I also know from experience that it’s much less effective. As students, preparing to enter a “real world” in which we’ll most likely be bombarded with what we perceive to be bad calls, it’s good practice, if nothing else, to challenge what we don’t agree with, to take our little red flags and see if things can’t be corrected.

It’s no secret that in football, as in most sports, a call made by the officials can affect the outcome of the entire game. Just think back to the Raiders-Patriots Snow Bowl in 2001, when the infamous tuck rule saved the Patriots’ season and left Raiders fans declaring “IT WAS A FUMBLE!” for years to come. If the call had gone the other way, the Patriots wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl that year.

The stakes may not be this high in the classroom, but the principle is the same. Every play matters. So if something doesn’t seem right, or you feel you’re not getting what you (or your parents) are paying for, speak up before it’s too late and the outcome can’t be reversed.

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