Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Don't Know About You...

...but I'm not here to whine about our department secretaries.  I'm not here to post genuinely grim downers about my pay.  I'm not even here to wax eloquent on my lost idealism.

I'm here to bring the heat regarding dumb colleagues and dumber students.

Jumping crawfish, people!  THIS is why RYS snuffed it!  Quit your bellyachin' and start snarkin'!

To wit:

I recently had opportunity to talk to some undergrads regarding their wretched writing skills, and found out I can lay the blame at least partially with the English Department.  Not the teachers, mind you - most of them are luckless adjuncts who are stuck teaching from a departmental syllabus for Comp I and II; I know of one, for instance, who has openly expressed her contempt for the "content" she's been sentenced to regurgitate.  But at my institution, at least, the English Department has been colonized by Marxist pseudo-social-scientists who have their bewildered freshmen doing projects about "communication groups" rather than, I don't know, TEACHING THEM HOW TO WRITE PROPERLY.

So, any further vitriol I have for illiterate students will be split evenly with the frauds who think that the English department is the proper place to do philosophy or social science or whatever it is they take themselves to be doing over there.  Don't worry about a shortage - oh, no.  There's plenty to go around.

Like the seething rage I feel toward Guy Smiley, my little nickname for an eternally sunny student who's convinced he's quite gifted, although "special" is probably a better description, these days.  His papers are masterpieces of incoherence, each paragraph unrelated to the previous or next.  There are no transitions, just changes.  He leaps from thought to thought as though skipping merrily atop rocks, across a brook, which is only the image I conjure because of his blissfully untroubled expression and demeanor.  "I'm going to fail?  Oh, darn!  Well, it'll all work out!"  No, kid, it won't.  You're an idiot, but SOMEONE should have flunked you Freshman year for these sorts of shennanigans, perhaps in some sort of ostensibly writing-centered class meant to diagnose and correct any deficiencies in your prose style.  Hm.

Or the bemused contempt with which I regard Frat Boy Fred.  Nice kid, don't get me wrong, and, strangely enough, can participate well in class discussion.  This, of course, only makes me think he was all the more ill-served by his earlier instructors when he hands in a five page paper that is ONE LONG PARAGRAPH.  Tell me he didn't pass Comp I doing this.  Tell me if you want to save the lives of some Comp I instructors.

There's more, of course, but I have to pace myself.  Save some for another day.  Let it out slowly... I don't want anyone to get hurt.  I know a lot of the English instructors are at the mercy of senior profs who have steered their departments into a Sargasso Sea of faddish "theoretical" work, and I have pity for them, I do.  It doesn't make me feel a lot better about cleaning up after their department's messes, though.


  1. At many schools it's entirely possible the little snowflakes DON'T actually pass Freshman Comp before they get to higher classes.

    Some of them start with a semester of Remedial English and then take take ENG 101 up to 3 times before they pass, which would make them potentially juniors before they have been deemed competent writers.

  2. It's true...at my university, we're constantly catching seniors who either haven't taken or haven't passed Comp I or II. They avoid many requirements because administration rarely enforces prerequisites (or their advisors overlook them). Indeed, last year the academic provost(!) asked the English department to excuse a senior from Comp II (which he previously failed) since he "needed to graduate" and he had "done sufficient writing in other classes." We denied his request, and he ended up taking--and flunking--my Comp II class because he couldn't write a research paper. This same academic provost has consistently chided us for "not teaching writing," mind you.

    That said, teaching (and loving) Marxism or whatever theory you're referring to doesn't preclude teaching strong writing skills. The idea that English professors just play dress up with faddist theories rather than working on paragraph development and bare-bones research just isn't true (from my experience at 3 universities). I teach 4 comp classes a year and regularly fail about 20-25% of the class for not mastering basic skills. These students simply take the classes again in summer (with an "easier" professor--often an overworked adjunct) or take them on-line from a CC down the road. Even snowflakes know how to work the system...

  3. It's telling that you don't think of a dumb secretary as one of your dumb colleagues.

    Maybe you need to take one of those socialist propaganda courses from the English department.


    P.S. Ain't it sad when students don't know how to make a paragraph? Ever get a bullet-point essay?

    I look forward to more angst and disgust...about students!

  4. Okay, so I am an English Professor at a Community College! I teach four English Comp classes a year, and I promise I do my best to teach them about introductions, thesis statements, topic sentences, paragraph development, transitions, MLA format, research, oh yes and subject verb agreement, pronoun/antecedent agreement, how to recognize and write a complete sentence, the wisdom of never, ever using street slang in an essay (or text-speak) and the basic civic lessons on how to behave in a college classroom! Dang man! I love how Rimsky wrote that probably some of the worst writers took their ENG 101 class at a CC! Holy Shneikies! Imagine the horror! Okay so I am being unfair, (s)he actually said "online from a CC." But still, the implication was clear.
    I am not going to argue the merits of the classes I teach at my [fairly] well respected, VERY student orientated and student focused (of course) little inner-city community college. Anyone who wants to do quality control is welcome to shadow one of my classes. I am guilty of teaching socialist propaganda from time to time. We need a subject for our endless succession of essays, do we not? My pass rate is hovering at 55% (a college wide phenomenon for our English classes) and the administration is PISSED but they won't say it. I am preparing a post that will address some of the things they ARE saying to us, though.... stay tuned!

  5. My apologies, Bella...I've taught at a CC and even started college at one. I'm merely quoting my students who openly boast about this. And honestly, not all CC's are alike. This CC is famous for giving composition students an "exit exam" that requires no actual writing...a multiple choice test, no less. My implication is that many CC on-line classes are overloaded, their professors are overworked, and their institutions (occassionally) push numbers rather than content. Again, this comes from the mouth of snowflakes, many of whom go there to finish their writing "education." I doubt they would go to your CC--you expect too much of them! I really was speaking specifically rather than generally.

  6. Hey, Bella and Rimsky have a good point - you can teach socialist agitprop AND good writing. I'm down with that. What I'm NOT down with is doing the former to the exclusion of the latter. I just want to make that clear - by no means am I jumping on MOST English profs... just some.

    And oh-my-god-yes I HAVE gotten a "bullet point essay," using the term "essay" loosely. I wrote a great big red "F" on it and told the student to get his act together. He seemed hurt, the poor little snowflake.

  7. When teaching software engineering, the project deliverables before the final were documents, design document, implementation document, etc. There were five of them. One group kept on turning in bullet points and I kept on giving them a low grade with a comment that bullet points is not a document. After about three Fs, they asked why they failed their document. I said that it can't be bullet points. They asked why I hadn't said that before. I pointed them to the online course management system which said it for each and every document that they turned in.

  8. I'm a scientist at a Research I university. We have a 50-member tenured and tenure-track English Dept. Only two of them teach a course at the Freshman or Sophomore level (they specialize in Writing).

    Comp is taught by non-TT faculty. The rest of the elect are here to bedazzle upper-level students with Theories of Deservedly Obscure Frenchmen applied to Victorian Meta-Film. Or some such.

  9. It is true, at many Research I schools, the English faculty don't get involved in composition classes (or indeed, many 1000-2000 courses)--even the "writing" experts. But at the majority of universities and colleges throughout the US (of which research schools form a very small part), English departments are actively involved in writing instruction from the earliest stages, and judiciously balance writing and theory. At my school (a small regional university), every single English faculty member teaches 1-2 comp classes a semester, and actually enjoy doing so (though they are, admittedly, the hardest classes to teach). There are real greviances here and I sympathize with them, but I think the problem is more with a pampered Research I mentality than with the theory itself--which, belittle it as you may, has truly changed numerous fields of study--not just English.

  10. I don't know the history of the movement towards a "research-driven" humanities faculty (was it always thus? I think not). However, I would happily support a 50-member English department whose TT faculty actually taught beginning Comp students. Alternatively, they could leave that job to the non-TT faculty (who may well do a better job), but then have a headcount that was commensurate with their actual workload. (The same criticism could be leveled at science departments that don't generate research dollars and graduate-level scientists in fields with high demand.)

  11. People who so lightly speak of "Marxist" humanities/English classes should well know the problems that even the tenured (hired help) face, especially at the community-college level. We take people in who never had to write letter of application, no less pass a written college-entrance exam. If we fail them, who is to blame? Us. (We are.)

  12. English Prof at a Research 1 public institution here. It's not like they'll let me have a 25-person comp class as part of my load. I've got 100 per class, and you can't teach comp to 100. And the comp classes belong to the grad students because that's their support package, so I can't take it away from them. I wish I could; I like teaching comp and I like small classes.

    So frankly (my dear), give it a rest. I teach survey courses, topics courses on the most basic concepts, and once every 5 years, a specialized seminar to seniors. No Theories of Deservedly Obscure Frenchmen applied to Victorian Meta-Film here. Just slog, slog, slog teaching basic comprehension to the masses. Do you assign term papers, frankly? I do: two per quarter = 200 per class. And then I read. Hundreds. Of. Them. Written by science and social science students who cannot write their way out of a paper bag. Maybe if other departments paid the slightest bit of attention to writing, their students wouldn't come over to English for their Gen Ed requirements so thoroughly illiterate.

    Plus, dude, you're paid better. Triple my salary, at my institution.

    PS: On the myth that science overhead supports Humanities faculty, see Christopher Newfield's work.

  13. Marcia's probably right. Science and engineering bring in a lot of money but our toys are real damn expensive. The dean loves us when we buy some new gizmo but complains when we deliver the bill for upkeep. We're all supported by alumni, foreign students paying sticker price tuition and the football team.

  14. Pia, I don't feel I am to blame for failing a huge percentage of my students. They come in, as you say, never having written anything. They got Bs in their high school English courses for watching movies, making foods for theme parties, and making posters rather than writing essays on the things they read...er..watched. They cannot possibly perform at the college level. The developmental studies classes they have to take are a joke. They never get beyond sentence work, and they manage to pass without even mastering THAT. So they come to me, ready to learn about essays, research, and responding to readings, completely without the skills to even attempt to learn such things.

    Tell me, would you blame a Calculus teacher if he found himself forced to fail students who came to his class unable to even add and subtract? Would you think he was doing his job if he taught addition and subtraction, and if the students mastered at least that by the end of the term, he passed them with credit for Calculus?

  15. Beaker Ben! I love you! Your name suggests you are a scientist -- if so, thanks for the moment of solidarnosc (insert weird diacritical marks wherever).

  16. Well Bella,

    Down here in The South, where we don't have such nice things as unions (I live in a right-to-work state), if I were to fail a majority of my students at this publicly funded college, what do you reckon would happen to me? Perhaps it would be the same thing that happened to my predecessors.

    The difference between math and English professors is that "math is hard" is an easy and socially acceptable statement. The availability of math teachers is much less than that of English, and quite frankly I think that their judgment is more sacrosanct that that of English teachers here because the do-nothing education major administrators really do take comfort in the idea that "math is hard" and that we use English everyday.

    While I agree that those who cannot do the work should not be passed, I must also say that those making the call about the very real decisions about who should be granted tenure and whose position should not be eliminated do not always go to the most objective.



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