To my freshman English teacher:

You know what? I like school. I liked high school because amidst all the busywork and stupidity, there was actual stuff to be learned. Because for every godawful formula-memorizing Trig, there was Lit class where the teacher wanted us to read and analyze and think.
Now, I like college even more. It’s like they’ve taken all the bitter, cynical, intelligent, I-care-about-your-grade-as-much-as-you-do teachers that gave me the intellectual equivalent of a hard-on back in high school, bred them, and staffed the Computer Science department with them. I can throw a brick and concuss a person whose class I would find both enjoyable and educational. You aren’t one of them, as much as I would enjoy throwing a brick at you.

Would you like to know why I’m writing this to you?
Put simply, you can’t tell where your opinion ends and reality begins. You teach the interpretation of the text. And you know what? I argue with you in class. And it’s a learning experience. You’re smart and all, and you always have cites from the book to back up your interpretations. And so do I, thanks to time spend in GD. But that doesn’t matter, does it? Because you are the professor.

We’ve written two papers for you. My first paper was a good damn paper. I had 2.5 friggen’ pages of textual support, my thesis was eminently defensible, but oops! I just happened to take my paper in a direction that you didn’t support. Do you know what she marked on my paper? There was a checkmark on every sentance except the one where I accidentally switched tenses. There was a “nice transition” comment for two of my transition sentances. And there was a complaint that I used the word “assimilation” in the standard meaning of integrating into a society, rather than the slightly odder definition that the author we were reading used. And the grade. A B-.

That’s okay. I can deal with Bs. My paper was a good paper, not a great paper, and I get that I’ll get docked a few points for going against your will. But you know what? I just got back my 2nd paper, and it was an A.

My 2nd paper was what happens when every teacher I have decides to be merciful and get their tests/projects/2nd paper out of the way early so we aren’t hit with a bum-rush right before spring break. It is what happens when I need to study for and take 2 tests, learn about and implement dynamic memory allocation, and write a paper about a book I don’t like for a class that I dislike. It sucks. There are two pieces of textual support. It’s 14 pt font with tweaked margins and 2.75 spaced, and is still .25 pages under the minimum length. My external source was the frigging syllabus for the course. And you know why I got an A? Because I argued like hell, wrote down whatever you said, and incorporated it into my paper. I went back and deleted large chunks of quote, and replaced them with “it is obvious from (scene that I quoted) that (paraphrase of what you said)”. My paper sucks, and you gave it an A because I wrote it specifically to be what you wanted to hear.

And you know what? I honestly don’t care all that much. You are a horrible excuse for a teacher for giving that POS an A, but that’s breaks, right? And now I know exactly what to do for the big research paper coming up soon. But dammit, you suck.

Oy. I was a lit major in college, and I’m sorry to report that about 85% of my professors graded using this rehash-what-I-said-and-don’t-you-dare-have-your-own-interpretation method of grading. I once spent an entire semester writing papers about queer theory in renaissance literature because the professor would give a C or lower to any other topic. He had just published a book on queer theory, naturally, though neither the course guide nor the syllabus mentioned any particular interpretive focus for the course.

In short, I sympathize, and know how hard it can be to decide whether you ought to write the ego-stroking paper and get an A, or write a paper you truly believe in and leave your grade to the gods.

Good luck!

Don’t worry. Once you graduate, and are in the real world, you’ll find yourself amongst co-workers and supervisors who are nothing like this. They’ll be amazingly tolerant of your viewpoints, and welcome frank and hearty disagreement.


  • Rick

College is just a euphamism. It’s really meant to be called Four Plus Years Of Learning To Brown Nose. I did much better my sophmore year, when a fond discovery of beer forced me to take the easy way.

The same thing happened to me last semester. I had to write three papers for my class. Every time I tried to go off in an original direction, I got a lower grade. One of them, a B-, was because the teacher didn’t like my choice of music video (I was analyzing it). Not that I didn’t support these things, but because he didn’t like it. My last paper, I wrote in about two hours, and did nothing but regurgitate what the teacher’d said about the text, because I had six papers due in seven days. I got an A.

Oh, and as a tangent rant–don’t you hate it when the professor assigns the same paper 3 times? Over two different courses? And you’re in creative writing classes? I sure as fuck do.

::goes off to write the same paper for the third time::

I remember in high school, how I regarded English class as a joke. Passionate argument would get me nowhere, but too-pat theorizing full of superlatives would get me an A from my teachers. It was damn near formulaic.

I was fortunate enough in college to have professors (mostly) who respected risk-taking in expository writing. The few professors I had who didn’t appreciate it – well, that’s what writing tutors were for. I’d ignore the professor’s opinion and get feedback from a tutor instead.


Well robertliguori, it sounds like you’ve already learned a good bit of the critical thinking that education is supposed to impart. Good luck dealing with this hosebeast in the future.

My own college experiences were all over the map. In Engineering school, half my professors were math whizzes who couldn’t teach math if their lives depended on it. My Linear Algebra professor had served in the Russian Army. He drew a Bell curve of the classe’s grade distribution, pointing out that the mean score was in the 80s. Then he said “So I must make the test harder next time, so the average is in the C-range, where it should be.” (!)
He was true to his word. The mean score on the next test? A ‘D’. And on every test afterward. I guess it never ocurred to thim the first test was a fluke. :rolleyes:
Things were different after I went into Journalism at a different school. I took a film and modern culture course, where a professor actually wrote on my paper “A really original approach to the assignment!” and gave me an A. That made my week.

Just curious: Is that an English Lit class, or a composition class?

robertliguori, you have my sympathy. I had a senior English teacher who nearly failed me for trying to prove that West Side Story was based on Romeo & Juliet! Well, OK, maybe not nearly failed me but she was way too damned critical with that paper. You’d think that she would have noticed the similarities after teaching English for a couple of decades.

Sounds like you’ve yet to learn the lesson that I learnt after 6 months at University. It took a tutor to take me aside and explain…

Guess what? No ones cares what you think. You are the student, you know nothing, that’s why you’re there, to learn something. The purpose of an essay is to demonstrate that you have studied and understood the knowledge and opinions of people who, it is universally accepted, know better than you. You may not agree with them, but no-one cares. You want to vent an opinion? Do a postgrad once you have an opinion worth listening to, or write for the student newspaper.

And no check marks for “sentance”.

And I’ve spent half of every freshman English class I’ve ever taught trying to convince the students NOT to be afraid to state an opinion. Sigh.

However – and this is the Voice of Experience speaking – don’t jump to the conclusion that you got a better grade this time around because of anything you said or didn’t say in the paper. There’s a good chance that the teacher deliberately graded hard on the first assignment, and is now lightening up because she, too, is slammed with pre-midterm work and exhausted. It takes a hell of a lot less effort to grade generously than strictly, and students whose grades are improving usually don’t turn up in your office to complain.

You’re obviously the exception, and I commend you for seeing through the bullshit, but most students only care about the bottom line.

Oh well. You’ll have fun with the course evaluations, anyway.

Eh, this is probably a hijack but what in the blazes is ‘queer theory’?

It’s also an unfortunate truth that student’s opinions are often poorly thought out and poorly defended. I’m certainly NOT saying this about you, robertliguori–I didn’t read the papers written and I’m perfectly content to give you that benefit of the doubt. Certainly teachers with the attitude you describe do exisit. At the same time, however, how much do you want to bet that if JDT had turned in one of his anti-circumcision screeds and gotten a low grade, he would have attributed it to the professor’s bias? Or Justthink?

There was one prof at my alma matter who had a strong reputation for grading based on regurgitating and not rocking the boat. I heard this about her from people who I respected enourmously, and with whom I had taken multiple classes and seen the high caliber work they produced. So I avoided her like the plauge, even though her specialty was my favorite area (Milton) because I knew I was phyiscally incapable of excersing discression, especially in a class about Milton. That said, there were a couple of profs at my alma matter who gave me very high grades in classes where I adamently disagreed with them both in classroom discussion and on paper. I met many people who were convinced that these profs would not give a good grade to a disenting opinion (or a man, or a woman, or a purple-people eater). Since the only other interpretation of their low grade was not flattering, I tended to keep mum when they bitched.

Maybe I was lucky, but overall, I had more profs welcome dissent than punnish it. And I hate to say it, but if one exclusively finds profs who punish dissent (which does not seem to be the case with robertliguori, then I suspect it might be a good idea to be at least open to the possibility that prof’s bias is not the main factor in your universally low grades.

Like I said before, in my particular case, good paper < bad paper + plus toadying. I assure you that no objective grader would give me a better grade on my 2nd paper than my first. I do get that the whole “I’m too shocking and controversial” thang. But, if I had fallen into that trap, would I be bitching about an undeservedly high grade?
Of course, Fretful Porcupine’s words have merit. Regardless, my grade is not a space for scientific experimentation. It has been demonstrated to my satisfaction that this teacher wants papers that support her interpretations over better papers that don’t, so I will focus on making papers that support her opinions first, and making them good papers second.

And I second Wabbit.

Judging from this site, queer theory relates to sexual orientation and identity, and how they relate to art, culture, politics, and other aspects of life. Seems reasonable. But I also await an educated answer.

ultrafilter, you’re absolutely right about queer theory. In particular, I was making reference to how issues of sexual identity and same-sex desire arise in renaissance literature. Basically, this amounts to a complete reassessment and reinterpretation of an entire literary epoch.

I find queer theory interesting in and of itself. My complaint is that the course description and syllabus did not at all indicate this interpretive bias. After all, there are only so many times one can read The Faerie Queene while wondering whom Red Crosse Knight is really jonesing for. Here is a summary of TFQ for those interested.

Sorry for the hijack.

**robertliguori **, my sympathy goes out to you, as well as to whoever is paying for your “education.” I learned to write after going to work, by paying attention to good writing by my colleagues. I’m sure someone with your dedication and interest will become a fine writer. In fact, you already are a fine writer.

Aw, shucks. Thanks, december. Anyway, I’m a CS major. Learning to code in spec is more important than creative interpretations of cstdlib.h anyway. The game may suck, but at least I know the rules.

Learn to write well. Once you get into the industry, you will quickly discover that your favorite programmers are those who can communicate ideas effectively on paper. Other people feel the same way, and you want to be one of their favorites.