Courage Defined

Courage Defined March 7, 2014

I came across several variations on the image below. It is certainly an apocryphal story, but one that may perhaps be worth commenting on.

First, the sheer number of these kinds of stories and the variations on them suggest that this is an example of an urban legend. Whether it is based on any actual real-life experience will be impossible to tell. But I suspect that these stories may perhaps be circulated by those who are hoping to get into university, or to do better at university than others, and thus try to persuade gullible classmates to do things that will cause them to fail to gain admission or get a good grade in the class.

But what could one say about the story if it were true? On the one hand, to hand in five mostly or entirely blank pages knowing full well that one could fail, and that one would be less likely to fail if one filled the pages with relevant writing, certainly is a courageous act.

On the other hand, the description given does not say that students were asked merely to define courage, but to write about it, and so on the basis of the information given, the student did not deserve an A+.

Finally, I imagine that real-life professors would hesitate to give an A+ even if they thought this was a genuinely creative and insightful answer, because other students might then try the same, appealing to this precedent. But that need not be a concern. The appropriate action would be to give them lower if not indeed failing grades, and point out that it is not courage to follow where someone else has successfully gone, merely in the hope of replicating their outcome and sharing in their glory.

As an aside, in relation to the quest for the historical Jesus, it is worth pointing out that this is one reason why multiple attestation alone is not a sufficient grounds for asserting that something is historical. There are certain kinds of stories that people love to pass on, and skepticism is thus called for among historians, as also among university applicants and college students


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  • ‘If a grasshopper tries to fight a lawnmower, one may admire his courage but not his judgement.’ ~Robert A. Heinlein

  • Jakeithus

    The teacher in me says that any real life professor should come up with a better assignment than “Write an 8 page lesson on courage”, and that they really should be providing students with a rubric explaining the standardized method the paper will be graded.

  • VorJack

    Ironically enough, I believe that was JFK’s contribution to “Profile’s in Courage.”