There’s an interesting discussion going on, digitally, regarding the way we roll our eyes, digitally, at students’ poor prose. This has become an industry in itself: I’m not going to pretend I don’t spend a lot of time chuckling at this site. There are also books like this and this.
My favorite experience was a fairly benign one – it didn’t involve student error so much as hasty penmanship. I was teaching a 7th grade logic class (yes, that existed) and was having students translate normal language into universal language (i.e.: Woofy the dog is spotless to “Some Dogs Have no Spots”) so that it can be the universal or particular premise of a syllogism. One of the phrases I gave was “Mr. Daniels [an administrator] tucks his pants into his socks.” Not foreseeing that lower case cursive “ts look a lot like lower case cursive “f”s, I was delighted to see a student respond “All Mr. Daniels is a pants into socks *ucker.” Thankfully, Mr. Daniels found this as funny as I did.
The issue begins here: when Clare Potter, the Tenured Radical, takes a pretty hard line against such behavior, claiming:
Humiliating students in their absence is, of course, a symptom of very intelligent, highly verbal and very resentful group of people trying to amuse themselves during bouts of grading, an activity many of us despise. Strangely, making fun of students while grading is usually perceived by other professionals as harmless fun. It’s an academic version of ”Kids Say The Darndest Things,” a regular feature of the middlebrow Cold War TV show Art Linkletter’s Houseparty in which small children were served up by their parents to be ridiculed on a national broadcast.
She cites, favorably, an article by Cathy Davidson, who claims:
So don’t blame the next eighteen year old who calls, knocks on your door, or emails to boost that B- to an A-. He’s been taught his whole life how to get the good final score that equals educational success.
This prompted an interesting debate on Twitter and Jeffrey J. Cohen’s facebook page, in which issues such as institutional demands are referenced as reasons why teachers engage in such behavior. Also, as they note, Potter doesn’t really give a solution other than to come up with unorthodox assignments. To this, I’d respond, such assignments produce even more unorthodox and ragged results because less diligent students fail to understand the parameters of the assignment; this isn’t a reason not to think outside of the box, but it doesn’t really solve the problem. And grading these creates its own set of problems: I always come up with a detailed two-page rubric and a series of instructional prompts that give the students structure, lest they assume that a “creative” project is just an opportunity to do whatever they want.
While Potter is characterized as “wrong-headed,” she’s not wrong. And yet, I don’t doubt that teachers who chuckle together at misguided prose love their students and want them to succeed.
Here’s the on-going debate. (Note: you will need an institutional account to access the Chronicle articles; post in the comments and I’ll try to get you a copy if you want it)
Grading in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Clare Potter (links to other valuable resources here as well, such as Davidson’s article)