Opining on Education [Was RE: criticism gone awry]

McMullin, Elise mcmullea at kl.com
Tue Aug 17 12:17:01 EDT 1999

Denise wrote:
>"That's what I have...  An entire department of professors that seem to 
>require that all students walk the line between what we discussed in class 
>and not repeating it to a plagaristic point.  There's also a strange line 
>for breaking that rule: if you do it poorly, you're docked for a bad 
>paper.  If one writes the paper "too well" (as I do), the professor starts 
>making accusations of plagarism.  I've had it happen four times in two 

Yuk!  I remember that strain of things (wasn't an overwhelming wave
though).  What I generally did in college was to take one idea discussed
in class and go into it much more.  So they can't deny that you absorbed
something of what they said (thus gratifying the prof's ego), but then
you go on to talk about a whole lot more and different, which lets you
speak for yourself and have more fun (while forcing the prof to admit
that this is original thought).  One way I found to do this, echoing
Melissa's observation about discussing minor characters, is to discuss
minor characters or peripheral events/ideas, but discussing them in
terms of what light they shed on some issue the professor is all hot
>about.  Alas that the whole thing is not more disinterested and benevolent
>than it is.  What is that Mark Twain quote, "Never let your learning
>interfere with your education?"

Lol - I didn't mean to wind up doling out essay advice!  That was just
my own approach.  An approach which also involved getting everything
organized and together, ready to go and then waiting until 11 p.m. at
the earliest to actually commence. Numerous breaks for more soda and
emailing with fellow all-nighters, a student lounge goofing off session
when the computers were down at 4 a.m., much drama and bustling the next
morning, meeting with friends to commiserate on the arduous task or have
them look in awe at the dark circles under your eyes. lol! But all the
best ideas seem to happen around 2:30 to 4 a.m. and the writing just
>seemed to go so liquidly.

>"I wish someone would tell my professors that.  The "new trend" this past 
>year at my campus has been analysis of all literature based purely on the 
>surface details.  Mentioning ANY non-literary concepts in papers seemed to 
>be taboo last year...  Including psych, sociology, history--how one is to 
>interpret Gulliver's Travels without mentioning history is something I 
never figured out, but we were supposed to do it..."

Wow, back to mid 20th century New Criticism??  Whoa!  Wait, you are at
Berkeley?  Isn't that famous New Historicist Renaissance Studies guy
there?  The one who writes about Shakespeare and Imperialism? Umm,
Stephen Greenblatt?  He was all the rage when I was undergrad.  In fact,
cross-dressing, "perversion" and whatnot in Shakespeare was really all
the rage.  Did the lit dept. have a fight with the renaissance studies
group?  At any rate, sounds like they've gone from one end of the
>see-saw to the other.

>"I know that my college degree--which I will hopefully get next Spring--is 
>going to be a massive tribute to BS...  I write too many papers on books I 
>have barely even opened other than to take quotes from for it to be 

My own philosophic retro on the whole thing; I passed through a
seriously cynical post-college period (strangely enough, the rest of the
world had no interest in new historicism or cross-dressing in
Shakespeare). I was very ready to toss the baby with the bathwater.  But
I did learn a great deal about inquiry and evaluation - logic, sense,
reason, compassion, personal abilities, writing specifically and
communicating in general.  It makes life more interesting to have skills
you can bring to anything and everything, whatever your interest hits
upon.  A lot of people where I grew up feel that higher ed is and ought
to be career training exclusively; anything general or not obviously
directly funneling to a specific job is a waste of time and money.  I
heard so many lectures!  But feh.  It was all worth it.  I'd do it

P.S.  Hey Deborah, I just remembered that I once crashed a Haverford
alumni happy hour - 'bout 3 years ago.  Great fun.  Good & interesting
folk. Very receptive to crashers.  For a while we were all fired up
about having liberal arts college exchange happy hours, but it came to

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