Episode CCCVI: Why Sean Bean gotta die? »« Trollart sighting!

I am so glad I’m a science professor

I assign a fair bit of writing in my courses, but because it’s all about biology, the papers I get back might be full of cryptic words like mek and src and neoplasia, but they tend to have a straightforward narrative and avoid ambiguity…and since I’m at a good liberal arts college, most of the students are competent writers. But then every once in a while I get a glimpse from my colleagues of the world outside my mechanistic and straightforward world, and I feel a small thrill of horror. You should read the whole student essay, but here’s the concluding paragraph.

Because knowing what it knows now, it will never know peace. It will only know humiliation. For there are no limits on the number of Grade Change forms I can request, or if there are, I plan to collect them like an ignorant naturalist on a well-trodden shore and submit them in perpetuity.

Yeesh. The tortured syntax, the ambiguous referents, the vague threat of drowning the poor victim in paperwork…I do not want to live in that universe.

But still, this one is still the all-time champion worst.

Comments

  1. David Marjanović says

    But still, this one is still the all-time champion worst.

    …Oh for crying out loud, there are only two commas in the entire piece, and they’re both in the first paragraph.

    My mental voice pronounced it all in an incredible monotone.

  2. fullyladenswallow says

    Indeed, pretty bad but unfortunately, it has no memorable line (or lines) that you could quote later on, such as- “a virgin forest is where the hand of man has never set foot” or “Emperor Nero, by his own efforts increased the population of Rome by forty-thousand.”

  3. joed says

    What a wonderful word.
    Definition of ACEPHALOUS
    1
    : lacking a head or having the head reduced
    2
    : lacking a governing head or chief
    Origin of ACEPHALOUS
    Greek akephalos, from a- + kephalē head — more at cephalic
    First Known Use: circa 1731

  4. A. R says

    Wow, the reminds me of something I heard on NPR the other night. An essayist was trying to justify completely distorting the facts of a real life event that involved the death of a child “to improve the artistic quality of the piece” This is why I never approach the non-science parts of campus unless I have to.

  5. joezuyus says

    Oh dear;

    Moons are … objects who cannot escape the gravitational conventions of the Earth…

    Are they now? If his math and engineering skills are as lacking as his language skills, I do not suppose that he could displace the Earth’s moon from its orbit on his best day. As an aside, how many moons does he suppose we have?

    Of course, I don’t mean to be “an insult Montaigne.”

  6. joed says

    http://bulwer-lytton.com/

    “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

    –Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

  7. joed says

    http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2011.htm

    “Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”

  8. Craig Pennington says

    You should read the whole student essay, but here’s the concluding paragraph

    What’d I ever do to you!

  9. Brownian says

    My mental voice pronounced it all in an incredible monotone.

    Was your monotone stilted and uncertain, as mine was?

    Why is that? Does our ‘mind’s ear’ try to match the competency of the writer with an orator of comparable skill?

  10. ibyea says

    Wow, there has never been a student complaint as stupid as the last one and there never will. It is a student complaint distilled to its very essence.

  11. Lyra says

    Is that part about “Because knowing what it knows now, it will never know peace. It will only know humiliation,” a reference to the killer in the silence of the lambs who murdered people for their skins? Because that would be seriously creepy. Or is it a reference to something else? Or is it just an attempt to dehumanize the teacher?

  12. carlie says

    I spent a few years teaching a freshman humanities class that was writing-intensive. I have seen things. Bad things.

  13. NitricAcid says

    That’s awful. I thought it was bad when my students constantly write about laboratory “glasswear”.

  14. says

    Two things:

    1. Is an insult Montaigne like an insult comic, only more pretentious?

    2. You have made me uncomfortable with your words and what you say. I insist, nay, demand satisfaction! With my words and what I say!

  15. joezuyus says

    Is an insult Montaigne like an insult comic, only more pretentious?

    I think it’s like Triumph the comic insult dog, except instead of a dog puppet… Well you get the idea.

    “That was a great essay… Que sais-je?!

  16. eyesoars says

    I am appalled not only with the student essay, but with the professor’s responses in the commentary. “Hoards” instead of “Hordes”, “to” instead of “too”, a sentence with two apparent objects (“it”, “David”), …

    I never taught English or composition, but I would at least make an effort not to embarrass myself.

  17. llewelly says

    blockquote>First, my professor told me to write a paragraph like a hamburger. Can you believe that?

    Perhaps that is why all your sentences read like they’ve been through a meat grinder.

  18. llewelly says

    First, my professor told me to write a paragraph like a hamburger. Can you believe that?

    Perhaps that is why all your sentences read like they’ve been through a meat grinder.

  19. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    That’s nothing.

    I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
    Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
    Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
    Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
    And each particular hair to stand on end
    Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.
    A rotten, dead, sideways porcupine.

    For I teach in the Texas State System.

  20. komponist says

    It’s amazing to contemplate the lengths to which students will go to improve their grades. My favorite story about this concerns a former colleague (a gay man) at a major midwestern state university who had the following exchange with a very comely female student:

    Student: Professor [Blank], I’d do anything for an A.

    Professor: Anything?

    Student: Yes, anything.

    Professor: Really, anything?

    Student, Yes, anything!

    Professor: Anything at all?

    Student: Yes, anything at all!

    Professor: Like . . . study?

  21. kemist says

    I am a very religious man and I love every one but I will forward this letter to the head of your department so he can see that I am a serious student who does not deserve the grade you will give him because I write so very well.

    Hmmm….

    Might want to rephrase that.

  22. Moggie says

    I am a very religious man and I love every one but I will forward this letter to the head of your department so he can see that I am a serious student who does not deserve the grade you will give him because I write so very well.

    And they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn’t bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it’s not okay because if they take my stapler then I’ll set the building on fire…

  23. komponist says

    And they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn’t bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it’s not okay because if they take my stapler then I’ll set the building on fire…

    It would have been even better if you’d left out the commas . . .

  24. Ogvorbis: Now With 98% Less Intellectual Curiousity! says

    Damn.

    These are actually worse than my fire stories. Or my steam ramblings.

  25. anchor says

    Man, that last link is adorable. Now I have a cramp between my eyes. Dare I suggest that some people aren’t suited to education?

    Yet accomodationists still insist that its uncouth to point out the presence of stupidity, even when the stupids want to run the whole show and run everyone’s lives?

    It wouldn’t be nice for anyone to point out that the student in that link is “a religious man”, would it? It would be grossly unfair and irrelevant. It would be a cheap shot that might foster the impression one is implying a correlation between religious conviction and stupidity, wouldn’t it?

  26. mikelaing says

    I was going to point out the link between religion and feeling victimized, but the words of it disturb me so much I can not due to the fact of it causes a distress of making me uncomfortable in this regarding my approach to the details of which you impress upon me in not knowing the topic enough to take it upon your inconvenience.

  27. craigore says

    Oh to be once again back on that cusp of maturity as so many of us might remember, and wanting so desperately to be taken seriously by everybody (understandable living in a competitive world where those who are not taken seriously are so often pushed further back at the trough), which unfortunately translates for most people at that age into acting out in the most flagrantly pretentious and self-promoting way possible. It is not a time when content and clarity is what is really thought to be most impressive to other people (including professors ironically)…
    I do love the second one, really, as the student whines about having to learn to read and write in college, insisting that he’s already learned that while failing completely to understand that in college it is expected that they learn to read and write CRITICALLY. His letter offered no points, provided nothing specific (“his words made me uncomfortable” seriously? That’s it?), and possessed virtually nothing that would propose a reasonable change to his grade and to the professor’s instruction style. Just a long repitative, substanceless whine loaded with undefended assertions of unfairness and unappreciation of his ‘genius’. In short, awesome fail. But, hopefully, if these students continue their education, taking both the praises and criticisms earnestly and in stride, the wonderful experience of college will surely work it’s magic in making them complete and mature beings worthy of honest respect. And at least capable of writing meaningful papers…

  28. Cyranothe2nd says

    Ya know, I teach first year composition, and I LIKE the first essay. I mean, yeah it’s not the best written thing that I’ve ever read, but it CRITIQUES THE ASSIGNMENT. It uses outside sources. It structures the essay by using the source (Montaigne) and a continual example. It’s [kinda] witty. It even (mostly) fulfills the assignment, which was to rhetorically analyze a text from the class…

    ~Fabulous.~