Motivated by a Fraction.

I read the following article, Final Lesson: You Don’t Get an A for Just Showing Up from the Faculty Focus web site, and it reminded me of something in my college past.

Many years ago, I took a class in which there were only 13 students. I don’t recall, but it might have been a Real Estate course. The instructor was Col. Joseph Dunn. My heart wasn’t in the course, and when the first test was handed back, that was revealed to me. Col. Dunn gave three grades for each test: a number grade .e.g. 83, 78, 92, etc.; a matching letter grade e.g. A+, B-, etc., and he also gave a fractional grade e.g. 2/13, 5/13, etc. I had never seen a fractional grade before, but this is what it represented. At first there were 13 students in the course, and that became the denominator. The numerator was how you ranked in taking that particular test, with number 1 being the best.

So, on the first test I received two grades that didn’t actually matter much. A letter grade and it’s matching number grade. But, the fractional grade I received was 12/13. Talk about having to deal with self-image, how cruel to actually know where you stood in relation to the rest of the class. But, this wonderful means of grading was just what I needed.

The student that received the 13/13ths fractional grade, on the first test, dropped the course shortly thereafter. But, when the second test came around I received a 2/12ths, and surprisingly the same grade on my final exam. I needed that motivator, and am thankful for it.

I came to UNC-W in the summer of 1975, took four courses and my grades were then good enough to attend there.  I had Col. Dunn for several classes, and then I graduated in the summer of 1976 after taking several courses.

Col. Dunn had white hair, not silver-gray, and it was cut in a way that reminded me of the Roman statues (just the head and bust).  I think most of us feared taking his classes because he would “bull-dog” you for answers, and might not even stop his questions when you said in exasperation, “I just don’t know.”  Does that sound like personal experience?-)  But, I recall that when he talked about how the moon looked over Three Rivers Stadium, he would say, “It was bootiful, simply bootiful.”

The following has nothing to do with Col. Dunn and the class, except that one time there were four of us (students) sitting in the back of the classroom talking.  It must have been before class started, and we had turned our desks so that we were all facing each other (as if we could have played cards).  Well, one of the other guys told a joke.  I actually think the guy was the one that received the 13/13 grade on the first test.  For most of my life, I was quick to get a quip or a joke.  Literally, if it took more than a fraction of a second, then something was wrong.  So when the joke was told, I didn’t “get it,” but I laughed anyway.  A girl said, “You didn’t get that did you,” to which I finally agreed, “no, I didn’t”.   The others just repeated the joke, with no other explanation, and no matter how many times they told it, I still didn’t get the joke.  Class started, and we all moved to our seats nearer the front of the room.

A week later, I was sitting in the back of the class, by myself as Col. Dunn was teaching, and all of a sudden I had a flash of insight.  I got the joke, that had been told a week before, and I laughed out loud.  The class turned around and looked at me quizzically, to which I just waved them off with my hands and mumbled something about getting the joke.

The joke?  Well, that’s difficult to write, because it was a play on the way the words sound, but here goes.  It came in the form of a question.  “Did you hear about the queer bear that laid his paw on the table?”  That’s it.  That is all there was to it, and yet it was so funny to think that my mind had to process it for a whole week before I understood it.