A reader writes:
I’ve been an English professor at a Midwestern university for about 14 years, and at this time of the year my Facebook page is filled with friends from graduate school and others complaining about student papers. A few weeks ago, I was compelled to come up with a list of paper topics I would be quite happy never to read again:
1) The Great Gatsby and a) the American Dream; b) color imagery; or c) homosexuality.
2) Macbeth and witchcraft
3) Was Shakespeare Really the Author of His Plays (really, who cares?)
4) Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Racism (yes, I'm aware that the "N word" is used in the book and it has been banned)
5) Book _________ and How It Influences Society Today (if I cared about society today, I wouldn't be an English professor)
6) Any paper at all on The Catcher in the Rye, On the Road (did you know they took drugs and they lived, man!), Fight Club (first rule of Fight Club: Don't write on Fight Club), or A Clockwork Orange.
7) Any paper at all on Tolkien, Harry Potter, or C.S. Lewis's Narnia books. Yes it is all magical, but I don't care.
8) Related to number seven above: any paper at all on whatever young adult writer you read while in junior high who is your favoritest writer ever! You just can't find the research materials, I'm sorry.
9) Any paper that examines 4 to 5 of an author's books for a 20 page paper.
10) "Hills Like White Elephants" and abortion
11) Anything at all on vampires. Don't care about vampires.
I gave my English 101 finals today. I really don't want to read any paper that begins with "In today's society..." or uses that phrase anywhere. I don't want to read papers that open with a definition from dictionary.com or an inspirational quote with no connection to the essay topic. I don't want to read papers with sources cited from gradesaver.com or any number of paper mills.
This time of year, I really don't want to read anything at all (except the Dish and any other suitable distraction). Bs for everyone.
Alright, I'm not a writing professor, but I thought I'd share. One year I assigned book reports to two different classes, Introduction to Religious Studies and World Religions, but provided an identical list of books. On that list was a book I will never ever again assign or even allow a student to chose to write about for credit: Night by Elie Wiesel.
Almost 50 papers of 1500-2000 words each were filled with the most faux-overwrought and purple prose reeking of desperate attempts by their authors to appear serious and earnest. One student felt the need to explain that she was literally crying as she wrote. Several others just didn't have words for how they felt at the prospect of losing their whole family at one go. And several felt terribly for Mr. Weisel, his loss of God and all that, and being (nominal) believers, they sure hoped that their faith would see them through anything.
I asked some students why they chose that book. The answer: it's short.
I just finished my first semester of teaching college writing. I had two courses. In one, I made my own syllabus. In the other, a syllabus was provided. In the course that allowed me to create my own syllabus, I excitedly included many of my favorite short stories and poems. What I found was that the classes covering my favorite material went poorly because my expectations were too high. I wanted them to be as excited about the readings as I was. And they were not. When they were not, I found it discouraging and struggled to get through the class period.
When grading came around, the worst papers presented the nightmare scenario of presenting my ideas about my favorite stories and poems come back to me in mutated forms. The other class, replete with readings I had never seen in my life, went much better. In the future, I think I will keep an impersonal distance between myself and the texts I teach, at least in the short term.
Another emails the above Strong Bad video that "has been out there for a while, but for most college professors, it never gets old."