Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Oh teacher are my lessons done I cannot do another one they laughed and laughed and said well child are your lessons done?

So here's what happened: the student write me an email on Friday, saying that for his previous final paper idea--which was exploring some aspect of religious belief that has an impact on society--he just goshdarn was having trouble finding enough to say to fill up a whoppin' eight pages, so instead, how 'bout he writes his paper about this debate he saw somewhere about the relative merits of teachers' unions?

"What does this have to do with the assignment?" I responded, the assignment having been to make an argument in some way related--however tangentially--to some aspect of something we'd read over the course of the semester. "You said we could be creative!" he countered, having apparently interpreted "creative" as "having nothing to do with anything."

(Actually, I'm pretty sure that a clever student could have used the readings to come up with a justification for writing on this topic, in which case I would have applauded his ingenuity--but this was not that student.)

"Okay," sez I, not wanting to argue, "I don't want to argue. But know ye this:"--these may not have been my exact words--"I already know what this paper will look like, and it will look like this: you will recapitulate the arguments made in this debate. You will do this at great, page-chewing length. There will be no discernible original argument on your part. All that will happen is that you come down on one side or the other, or possibly in some lukewarm middle ground. You could surprise me and do something different"--[note: there was no way he was going to surprise me and do something different]--"but given the number of papers I've endured that do this exact thing--the thing that I am assiduously trying to steer students away from this semester--I would be surprised. And if this is the case, there is no way you will get a grade that is better than mediocre. And given your situation"--ie, he plagiarized the hell out of his last paper, and the only reason I didn't fail him for the entire class then and there is lack of moral fiber on my part, most likely--"you can't afford a mediocre grade. But with this as a proviso, I won't tell you you can't at least make a go at it." Send. Then, feeling kind of bad at having authorized him to do something he would fail at, even having warned him he would fail at it, I send another email giving him some advice for ways he could approach his original, less doomed-to-fail (although in his case…) paper idea. But I heard nothing back from him, so I had no idea what he was thinking.

Anyway, I got his paper today, and indeed it was about teachers' unions. And indeed it did exactly what I said it would do--so egregiously that it was almost like a parody of papers that do that, actually. He ate up space by quoting, at great length, participants in this debate, along with the occasional helpful "X makes a good point when he says…" type commentary. I mean good god, what was this young man possibly thinking? I mean yeah, okay, "not much." But even so: I tell you precisely what not to do and you--to all appearances--go out of your way to do exactly that? What exactly did you imagine would be the result of this? Is this like the time in ninth grade when we had to create leaf collections for biology class and my friend misread the list of "things not to do" as "things to do" and thereby failed quite spectacularly? Or what?

Oh, and also, he totally plagiarized the shit out of it--"introducing" the participants with large chunks of unattributed text grabbed straight from the debate's website. I'm capable of believing that this particular student was clueless enough to not even realize that he wasn't supposed to do this--hey, you'd be surprised, and given that he provided numerous quotes from this same website, it's even more inconceivable that he somehow thought I wouldn't notice (though, again...)--but that hardly matters. Fercrissake, this is College Writing II--how in god's name did someone like this ever get through College Writing I? Well, I guess I can't blame whoever passed him too much; I'm certainly also guilty of passing the odd student whom I definitely shouldn't have (this whole system is incredibly dysfunctional). But good lord. I suppose I'm actually grateful; the plagiarism means I can just say "you fail" without having to do any tedious number-crunching to show him exactly why he fails. But goddammit, I would be eight hundred percent happier if students would just refrain from being massively lazy and apathetic and dishonest. I mean, I'm not saying that I'm some sorta transcendently awesome teacher and that therefore I should never take any of the blame for student screw-ups--but sometimes things like this happen that shouldn't happen and wouldn't if there were even a nominal amount of giving-a-fuck on the part of the student. It is difficult not to wonder, on occasion, why I even bother.


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