Wednesday, April 18, 2007


When I explain to students today (and on Thursday) that their in-class essays are (with a few exceptions) abysmal, I am sure many of them will not know what that means. One of the students who does know what it means will pipe up with the answer, roll eyes, and class will move on. I will then state numerous things of which they should disabuse themselves, such as the notion that saying something loudly over and over makes it "right," or that because they have not witnessed something it therefore is not true, or because they have done something once there is no need to ever do it again, or that performing community service is a violation of the 8th Amendment, or that we fought the British to gain freedom from surveillance cameras, or that ... well, you get the idea.

I am shifting the schedule in both classes because I need to get some distance on these essays. That's how bad most of them are. I cannot bring myself to grade them right now because most of them make me so damn angry that I will not offer helpful comments.

Not all the essays suck ass. In fact, several of them are quite good for what they're supposed to be (in-class essays for which they had the prompt for a week and could bring in a page of notes if they did pre-writing outside of class), and they will be able to revise them for lovely out-of-class versions. But some are so...full of fallacies and falsehoods that I simply don't know how to address them. We're talking fundamental human flaws, a complete lack of knowledge of basic history, etc. Really, really bad. I can point out where they'll need to strengthen their argument, but I can't make them all of a sudden turn into rational people.

What I will have to do is make sure when I'm lecturing on this that they understand that there were people who did well whose positions I agree with, and some did well even if I disagree with them. Similarly, people did poorly despite whether I agreed on the basic stand they took. It's all about the argument. But still. Some of the things people say are so...fraught with issues.