Saturday, September 20, 2014

Teaching Mistake Number One: Inquire As To What The Precious Snowflakes Are Thinking. Meet Doc Slash!

I asked the little darlings in my remedial comp class at Hip Urban Community College to outline the arguments for and against an issue that they were passionate about, stressing the importance of being able to understand points of view that may contradict their personal beliefs. Many performed admirably. One wrote down reasons for and against the enjoyment of pizza (oh, how I wish that was a witty quip instead of an actual response that I received). And one turned in...this. I present it to you uncut, original spelling and punctuation as is. The combination of ignorance, pride in one's own ignorance, determination to preserve said ignorance, and smug 18-year old self-righteousness (I especially liked the 'If they can come to me...' part) was too delicious to keep to myself:

"One belief I strongly disagree with is that we came from monkeys or that monkey are our relatives. I do not look like a monkey nor do I sound like a monkey. I do believe that we came from a God and I do believe that Jesus died on the cross. When others are so sure that we are descendants of monkey's by only proving through pictures and 'science.' I like to argue back and disagree. I do not believe that 'science' can prove who we really are. If they can come to me and prove to me that we come from monkeys with something other than science, then I could possibly consider a different change of mind.

[Doc Slash's note: as near as I can tell, this second paragraph is the student's attempt to lay out the opposing viewpoint]

"I do understand why our generation thinks the way they do because ever since we were in elementary school they have put it in our heads that we descend from monkey's. It is hard for others to believe we come from a God because no one can physically prove it. As children, we believed anything we saw. We wanted to believe whatever they told us because it was right there in our faces. It is understandable why others choose to believe we we come from monkeys because no one taught them + us different"

Take heart, STEM faculty--since this student has thoughtfully taken the time out of their busy schedule to disprove several millennia's worth of so-called "science" (why do they keep putting that in quotation marks? A mystery for the ages), you still have plenty of time to seek some more useful purpose for your lives...


  1. I like to point out to cases like this that airplanes do fly, the computer used to write this does compute, and, most to the immediate point here, antibiotics do cure disease and modern agriculture does work, all because of exactly the "science" your student mentions.

    Why the quotes? Your student is trying to express skepticism, and make sure you know it, even though it's likely that your student knows this skepticism is built on a weak case. It's so juvenile. Remember the scene in "Crime and Punishment" when Porfiry Petrovich accuses Raskolnikov of committing the murder, and Raskolnikov pathetically says, "No, it wasn't me," in the matter of a little child? This is similar.

    Either that, or your student doesn't know how to use quotes properly. Considering the quality of the composition, this may be even more likely.

  2. "we came from a God"? So is there more than one? I didn't realize that polytheists objected to evolution. Of course, I'm one of those weird Christians who believes that Genesis is metaphorical and that evolution is one of the mechanisms set in place by God when (s)he created the world, so what do I know? On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that the fact that "Jesus died on the cross" isn't the most significant part of the story, or the one that requires faith, and might challenge a worldview that insists on scientific explanations for everything. That part would, I believe, be the resurrection. It seems to me that this student is stringing together a bunch of stuff he's heard from his elders, without much thought as to what it actually means.

    I suspect this is one of the downsides of the (admittedly very widespread) standard wisdom that it is helpful to students to ask them to write about something about which they feel passionately (or, even that it makes sense to have basic comp students do much of their writing in argument/persuasive mode). Admittedly this may be hard to do if you don't want them to do research (with the accompanying need for accurate citation, a major can of worms) yet, but I can't help but wonder if this kid would have done better with the assignment if he'd started with a topic about which he knew very little, and had few if any feelings.

    1. I agree with all this, except perhaps about whether this truly qualified as "a topic about which he knew very little". As you note earlier, his knowledge of theology appears to be mere (mis)charicatures implanted by imperfect elders, and his knowledge of evolution much moreso. The irony is that he rails against indoctrination at the same time he is so clearly a living example of it.

      But I do see the sense in making religious ideas off-limits for these exercises. If you receive a piece that does a truly horrible job of presenting "the other side" and mark it down accordingly, then you're clearly just doing it because you disagree with the "pro" part of the piece because you're a librul elitist god hater waging war on 'Murika by corruptin its yoof like what Horowitz said in his book, and you and your kind need to be rounded up and pilloried on Hannity or O'Reilly and/or one of those other Fock Snooz shows.

      Also, the value of the excercise is to get the student to really research and attempt to understand the opposing view. Know thine enemy. Students are more likely to resist the excercise if in its execution they are skirting a crisis of faith. Better they gain the cranial training wheels by applying the technique to other topics before they run full on into the wall of "everything they told me is wrong, and I trusted them."

  3. I'm going to make my students argue about whether monkeys like pizza just to see what they do with it.

    I wonder: does giving a bogus assignment to prove a point ever work?

    1. NO: modern students are too dumb, literal-minded, and experience-starved to know it's bogus, even after it's explained to them that it was bogus.