The statistics class I teach is an intro course for humanities and social science students. A good half of my students are majoring in mumbleology, which I knew required its students to take statistics - but only today did I learn that it also required them to obtain B’s or better. B’s! I discovered this not from anyone employed by the Department of Mumbleology, but from a student, who came to my office after obtaining a D on the test, and - well, you know the rest. After carefully pleading her case - complete with tears, calls for mercy, the whole family of explanations (difficulties in personal life, hasn’t taken a math class in a decade, test anxiety), and a solemn oath attesting to the vast effort she’d expended on this course - she laid out her request: could she write the test again?

Ugh. Since, you know, beneath this tough exterior, yadda yadda, I hemmed and hawed out my refusal: well, I said, when I see that a student has a test that’s a real outlier (nota bene: stats terminology, indicating relevance of subject), I’ll count the other tests as well as the final exam for more. But, it’s an awful lot of work to set a test, and I have three preps, so I don’t give makeup tests, and besides, if I gave you one I’d have to give everyone one, and -

Oh, *no*, she said, I wouldn’t ask you to set a makeup test. Just to let me write the same test again.

I’m not going to share what I said in response, other than to mention that there’s a reason Canadians have a reputation for being polite in the face of absurdity. And, no two ways about it, the request to write *the same goddamned test again* is absurd.

It’s not that I don’t sympathize. I do. It must suck to have your entire future rest upon this one class that no amount of effort will get you through in a single term. And, I hate to be so fatalistic, but for this particular student it’s true: my last test was a hair too *easy* - the class *average* was a B (and, this being a stats class - standard deviation was around one letter grade) - and it’s just going to get more difficult from here. Intro stats isn’t rocket science by any stretch, but there’s no way that I can do justice to the required material in such a way that a student - no matter how hardworking - who hasn’t done math in a decade can swing a B, unless said student has some nontrivial, latent mathematical talent that I’d likely be at least vaguely acquainted with by now.

*That* said, I’m more than a mite peeved at the Department of Mumbleology for outsourcing its heartbreaking duties to us. A *B*? Required in a course that has no relevance to the student’s major as taught by Island U? And - let’s be honest, here - this is Island U, which isn’t known for being a leader in Mumbleology research. I know what I’m talking about here: I actually have a passing interest in mumbleology, to the point that I was even considering the 101 class this semester until I discovered that it conflicted with my schedule, and some knowledge of statistics is extremely useful in the field. But a substantial portion of my students, mumbleology majors all, are in their third or fourth year, and their later-year courses don’t draw upon statistics at all. When I checked out one of the second-year textbooks in the bookstore, it was filled with rousing expositions of its theories: “A groundbreaking study in 1985 revealed that over 78% of…” began one chapter, with nary a mention of the way the sample was chosen, the distribution of the data, whether the study had ever been replicated - all the stuff covered in Chapter 1 of the course I teach. It was left to the reader to trust that a certain trait and a certain childhood trauma were “strongly correlated”, something I’ll be fleshing out in my class in a few weeks. I could go on. I’m not saying that a mumbleology course should get bogged down in the statistical element of its content - to the contrary - just that there’s a clear overlap between my class and it, and there’s no reason that a class full of students who are required to get A’s or B’s in *my* class can’t apply their knowledge to a discipline whose integrity rests upon well-conducted and -analyzed studies.

Every college math instructor, I’m sure, can relate: we’re the gatekeepers for departments that either can’t, or won’t, offer courses challeging enough to trim their cohorts as much as they’d like. And they can’t give their students any compelling reasons for requiring such stellar performance in math classes, and that has the tendency to produce a lot of anxious, demanding and bitter students - and stressed but sympathetic teachers. I can tell my students why math is interesting, and why statistics is useful in real life; but the instructors for their majors aren’t reinforcing my lessons, and my students aren’t at school to broaden their horizons - they’re here to get degrees, and, eventually, jobs.

And so, when students come crying to my office asking if they can write the same test again, I’ll gently refuse their request. And I won’t feel guilty.

But I will feel bad.