English 101, Ctd

Calvin on Writing

Former students strike back against the professors. One writes:

While I realize that English professors, like anyone else, ultimately find some parts of their job tedious and repetitive, I have to say that those reader comments are prime examples of why lots of people dislike academics.  While many of the books mentioned may be old or even cliched to the professors, they are new intellectual discoveries for their students, and as such, the complaints about reading their papers come off as whining at best.  I certainly hope they aren't grading some students more harshly than others based on who writes about books they are sick of hearing about, because in that case those professors are guilty of something far worse than whining.

I'm a lawyer with a political science background and I suspect most papers about law or politics written by English professors would strike me as boring, simplistic cant.  But if I were charged with teaching a law or political theory class to such individuals, I'd simply grade the papers without complaint, because that's my job.  If reading another paper about The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn or A Clockwork Orange (which are all books that will stand the test of time - unlike most humanities scholarship) is too much for the professors emailing you, perhaps they can quit their jobs and open some positions for people who are actually interested in working with young minds.  Heaven knows the PhD market is pretty tight these days.

Another writes:

When I was in college I felt that many of the English professors who were so harsh when grading and critiquing the papers of the less experienced students were lashing out to mask some kind of insecurity about not having lived up to their own expectations.  They never wrote the great American novel, and they couldn't figure out how to hack it outside of academia.  So they took jobs as professors, resenting every minute of it, and took solace in the fact they were superior to the 18 year olds who cluttered up their classrooms.

Granted, it must get tedious having to review papers of kids who simply don't get it, but if you can't GET THEM to get it, whose fault is that?


I was a senior in college in the fall of 2001. As an English major, I was seriously considering PhD programs in literature.  In the days and months following September 11th, only one of my English professors mentioned what had happened, and only briefly, and after acknowledging she was taking her “English Professor” hat off to do so. 

I had always loved studying literature precisely because I thought it provided insight into the human condition.  It was a catch-all major for studying philosophy, religion, human behavior, history, and culture, and it was extremely relevant to our modern lives.  Literature was exactly what I wanted to turn to in trying to cope with the devastation that 9/11 caused to the national psyche and to my own personal understanding of how the world worked.  I was disgusted by my professors’ lack of ability or willingness to bridge what we were reading in Tolstoy, Yeats, and Swift to what was happening in New York and in the White House. I then made a decision to leave the field for one where people weren’t so actively and consciously distancing themselves from the world around them.  

Number 5 on the Midwestern professor's list of paper topics he never wants to see again, ("Book _________ and How It Influences Society Today") and his accompanying explanation ("If I cared about society today, I wouldn't be an English professor"), reminds me of why I ended my study of literature that year, and gives me confidence, once again, that I made the right choice.