Archive for June 27th, 2008

This currant bush is much older than I am....I was sorting through some old papers and came across some excerpts from student placement bluebooks. These were responses to short comparison/ contrast prompts… Did a high school senior think option A or B was preferable? Could they marshal three reasons to explain their choice? Could they rub two neurons together and spark a coherent argument?

Some attempts were more successful than others. We did get the occasional student who actually placed out of Intro Comp, and some students got into an Honors section. But of course we had a goodly portion of people who had only recently made the acquaintance of the English language [thanks to an Admissions office that didn’t want to require the TOEFL], and others for whom one needed to channel the patience of Mina Shaughnessey [Note: These days, I do not have it. Yea, verily, I am sorely lacking in that manner of virtue. I realize that many of the errors I get exasperated about do have roots in language struggles that deserve respect, genuine challenges, and TLC. Perhaps I should be back in the trenches, rigging out life preservers. But that is not currently my calling.]

“There has been a noticing decline…”

Why, you’ve noticed, too? Declensions are so much more aware than they used to be. I think that’s because the English language is gradually realizing that it will have to defend itself. Now where’s my eau de vie on the rocks?

“These changes, though huge in their ability to drive the revolving world, have in time, averted our attention towards smaller components of society.”

This is an example of someone stringing together phrases in a way that gets fairly close to an academic argument — setting up an idea, and then saying “despite this, X is still a problem” or “X distracts us from the real issue of Y”. And honestly, I suspect this pattern would fool the ETS scoring system, since it uses a multi-phrase structure, and some upscale words. But we didn’t ask the students to tell us that the world was still spinning round [right round, like a record baby], and the actions of human beings aren’t what propel it anyway.

“Today’s teachers are hard to come by.”

This is partly because we run away quickly, and partly because there have been lawsuits about inappropriate behavior [and even when there haven’t been lawsuits, I think many of us have witnessed the ugly fallout of student-faculty affairs, even when everyone’s supposedly a consenting adult].

“The teacher must be firm and hard yet understanding.”

What was I just saying about inappropriate expectations and behaviors?

“This is why home schooling produces such a developed minds due to the appreciation of the teacher towards developing one mind. But that is another topic.”

So the minds are developing, but the essay, not so much. We gave points for the student striving to remain on task, but would have been happier with some clarity about what was being appreciated, whether it was really the teacher or the student doing the appreciating, and who owned the one mind.

“The parents and child switch roles, only to see that the child realizes parenthood is not what it’s to be and radically changes into the ‘knowledge’ child.”

I suspect that there are several missing words that would have helped turn this sentence into something easier to understand. “Meant to” or “Cracked up to” or “Easy as it seems” spring to mind. But that does leave us with the radical changes in the second half of the sentence, and wondering whether I should be hearing trumpets a la “Thus Spake Zarathustra” in 2001: A Space Odyssey

“Anger overthrows the lonely Mrs. Johnson and her hair stands on end.”

I don’t know what to say; there wasn’t a literature excerpt used in these prompts, so I don’t have a good explanation for why the poor woman’s hair is on end, although I certainly sympathize.


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