I’m not a fan of extra credit. It reminds me a little of arguing with my boys when they were teens about taking out trash or setting the table—in the time that it took to argue with me, the chore could have been done twice. It doesn’t make sense to me to allow someone who has already failed to use their time and resources to best advantage to spend more of it writing a paper or doing a different task than the one I’ve assigned. And yet…
Today the Witness to Innocence Tour visited our campus. The featured speaker was Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person exonerated by DNA evidence after being sentenced to death row. My first-semester A&P class has just finished studying the structure of DNA and the way that DNA uses genetically transferred information to direct the synthesis of proteins that mark us as unique individuals. My A&P II class recently completed a short study of genetics, including a discussion of the human genome. So, in an abrupt departure from my usually firm stance, I dangled a small carrot of a few extra credit points to encourage attendance.
I expected that only a few of my usual eager beavers, the very students who don’t really need any extra points, might be in attendance, especially given the short notice for the presentation and my students’ busy lives. On arriving in the auditorium, I was surprised to find about twenty-five of my students in the audience. They were riveted by Bloodsworth’s account of his experiences. During the Q&A after Bloodworth’s talk, several of my students asked insightful questions that revealed that they had listened closely and thought critically about his story. One student, a military paralegal, had brought a coworker to the presentation, and their questions enhanced the discussion.
We had only a few minutes after the presentation before class started. The typically boisterous class was subdued, rather like the audience during the credits of an emotionally powerful movie. Here and there, students quietly discussed aspects of Bloodworth’s tale, while those who had been unable to attend were told that they had missed something special.
I doubt that my students will remember much of this afternoon’s lesson about the features of the respiratory system, although those who continue in healthcare or biology may eventually make some of the material their own. I feel certain that almost all of them will remember the day that they met Kirk Bloodsworth, and for these students DNA will never be just an abstract concept to be studied for an exam.
For an excellent summary of Bloodsworth’s experiences, and one that parallels the story that he offered us today, visit CNN.com “Kirk Bloodsworth, twice convicted of rape and murder, exonerated by DNA evidence.”