Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pencil-Neck Pete, Part Deux

I teach HMST 3199, the Intro to Hamster Fur Weaving course, at Poor Cousin University. This course, in spite of having “intro” in the title, is a 3000-level class in a discipline that demands accuracy, precision, and critical thinking, so I front-load the class with a virtual shitstorm of small assignments and two major projects, all designed to build up students’ skills before they hit the big-ass cluster of group projects at semester’s end, which are worth 50% of their grades.

Pencil-Neck Pete is on his second trip through Intro to Hamster Fur Weaving. Last semester, Pete withdrew because he (a) had a bad case of senioritis, (b) missed most of the small assignments due to his being more interested in work than school, (c) in spite of being in a math-based discipline, couldn’t do the math to figure out that although he wasn’t doing well, he’d still likely get a B or C once the group projects came around, and (d) apparently forgot that his major requires him to pass HMST 3199. Thus, Pete didn’t graduate, and he had to take the class again. From me. Bummer, dude.

This semester, Pencil-Neck Pete sits in the very back row, never makes eye contact, bends metal loops into chain-mail jewelry “to keep myself awake in your class,” and tries to undermine my authority. As an example, here’s a chunk of Pete’s very first assignment from this semester, complete with errors:
I acquired an internship last semester with the global rodent company of International Gerbil Ball, Inc., which earns billions of dollars a year. While there I learned what a global company expects of me regarding hamster fur weaving. I learned that left-hand-twisted yarn is very important and that using a Twist-O-Matic’s auto-twister [Ed: which we used extensively all semester, as it's the industry-standard yarn twister] is a waste of my time, their money, and makes left-hand-twisted yarn a pain for them, let alone the few errors in Twist-O-Matic created from twisting. I learned that a global company uses a lot of carding and looming, but the combs are used like a rough prep system. There were a few important yarn balls sent out to everyone though, but even these were carded not be straight. This successful carding style is what I plan to use throughout my life unless shown a more efficient and friendly method.
And, of course, this is the only original material in the assignment. Pete hadn’t made any changes from the previous semester’s version, aside from jamming in this passive-aggressive drivel. I slapped Pete down hard, gave him shit for plagiarizing his first assignment, and got a decent rewrite out of him.

From that point onward, Pete restricted his jerkwaddery to making stupid comments in class that both his classmates and I politely ignored, but I guess that Pete was just building up a reserve of bile because, in a reflective piece I had the students write after completing their first cluster of group assignments, Pete included this gem, regarding the ethical issues he encountered while working on the group-woven tapestry:
There have been no ethical issues which I have encountered, while keeping within the scope of weaving a tapestry depicting hamster bungholes.  An ethical issue that should be mentioned is about the assignment in general and does the completion of it require more hours outside of class than the 3-credit hour rating this class is given.  Another ethical issue is why are the assignments of weaving a huge tapestry, a shawl, and a set of dog booties given twice during the last two weeks of class when they should have been spread over the whole semester thus giving students time to study for their finals.  This continues onto the topic of whether you, Professor Mindbender, are overloading your students on purpose during these two weeks with the aim of making your students fail your class and their other classes.
I opened, I read, I shrugged. And then I showed it to my department chair, who laughed out loud and called the student a jerk. Ah, if only I could be a fly on the wall when Pete gets mad at a workplace supervisor and tries this kind of shit. That would be teh awsum.


  1. Can you arrange for an anvil to crash through the ceiling at the back of the room where Pete sits?

  2. This post is hilarious.

    A slightly off topic observation--I hate students' pompous, shitty writing these days. They don't know how douchey they sound. ("I acquired an internship ..." and "thus") And why or why do they so often use passive voice? ("unless shown a more efficient and friendly method..." "An ethical issue that should be mentioned ..." "the 3-credit hour rating this class is given..." )

  3. When the passive voice is utilized extensively, responsibility is never taken. Perhaps the writing style utilized by a generation is impacted by that generation's style of living and outlook of ethics.

    1. When I encounter passive voice in essays, after I point out/correct the first instance, I add "by zombies" to the rest--always a hoot.

      I am currently having a non-go round with a student in my Hamster Writing 101 course. He flunked the second essay because he didn't follow the assignment and he's been complaining about me to his advisor (who has also gotten my side of the story). Same passive-aggressive shite. I think I need to write a post.

    2. It is appreciated that Frog and Toad utilized the passive voice.

  4. From someone who has spent a lot of time reading 19th century professional writing... passive voice is sooo not a modern thing. I can't write anything on days I do too much reading of those documents because it seeps into the brain.

    1. Au contraire, passive voice is de rigueur in scientific papers. Roald Hoffmann claims to get a lot of grief from his peer reviewers because he uses the first person.


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