Sunday, April 08, 2007

It continues. (And so does my despair.)

I've just spent nearly an hour and a half marking one paper. The paper was much too long and mostly not relevant to the course, but I can tell that the student put a lot of effort into the thing so I read it carefully and made lots of comments. But what can I do, really, when a student in third year---and one who I think is in political science or something similar---just doesn't get what the course is all about. And the course has been on since September, so it's not like students haven't had ample opportunity to figure out what's up with it. Beyond that, though, I remain perplexed that students who seem intelligent enough don't quite understand what the point of an essay is. You need to explain the statements you make. Tell me why something is relevant to your discussion, and how it is. Provide historical examples to back up your points.

By the end of third year I would have hoped that students enrolled in arts-type degrees would get this. But some of them don't. And then there are the hopeless cases: students who still just can't write and who really don't understand what a paragraph is. Hasn't anyone ever sat them down and told them that a paragraph is a string of sentences containing an argument with accompanying proof of said argument? And that paragraphs put together are the arguments (with evidence) that prove the thesis of the essay? It's such a simple thing! I know it's not easy to write an essay, but it's not hard to grasp the basics. Too often it seems students haven't learned/internalized---for whatever reason(s)---what an essay is all about.

Considering so many of them don't even bother to read the assignment instructions carefully, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. Despair. And what do these people do once they get their U of T degrees? Presumably a significant number of them end up in positions where they do have to write at least occasionally. And perhaps even think---gasp!---critically and analyze things. I don't want to sound all I'm-better-than-them, but seriously: it worries me. No wonder my mom, who is retired from government bureaucracy, doing a master's degree in sociology (I know, I know), and getting A's on her essays, had so much trouble respecting some of her superiors. They must have been C students who graduated and never looked back. Sad. Depressing.

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