Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Levity from the depths of the stacks

This may come as a surprise to you, but it isn't just finals week for the law students.

My little freshmen took their final yesterday. Although I was desperately trying to learn corporations while I proctored, I didn't see any (visible) tears, though everyone was writing till the last minute (and some beyond. Hello? I can see you!). Grades won't be due till just after the law school finals are over, which means you'll be able to find me after my Corporations final buried in an unholy stack of bluebooks and final papers.

I'd like to get the final assignments graded a little earlier, however, so that I can actually sleep sometime in the next two weeks. As such, I started flipping through the last paper they turned in last night. The papers are always a bit of a gas: freshmen have very, very strange ideas about what makes a "good" paper.

Please step slowly away from the thesaurus function. The passive voice does not make you sound smarter. Wikipedia is not a legitimate academic resource--these are the things that I wish I could convey to them, if only I could get it to stick. The task of making literate adults out of them is not made any easier by the fact that I work with Gonzo the Wonder TA.*

Anyway: this paper had two prompts: one on national security, the other on important policy actors. The policy actors prompt was a gimme- it basically consisted of "sum up what you've learned in this class." The national security prompt was a con-law nightmare of presidential powers, civil rights and civil liberties, and judicial decision making, all mushed together into a half-page prompt. Obviously, they all wrote on the national security prompt. Curses.

To make matters worse, Gonzo the Wonder TA has been tutoring his students on the importance of the "hook" in academic writing. Law review editors, take note: under the Gonzo Rules of Good Writing, it is very important to start your paper with something "dramatic" and "exciting" to make your reader want to continue.

Being the kind of reader who gets paid, I am slightly more pragmatic about this "hook" business, I've advised my students to get straight to the point. Gonzo has not. The result? Gonzo has gone to Europe for a conference, and I'm left reading pages of crazy-person statements ("Minorities don't vote because they can't read") and bizarre, rambling narrative ("Imagine yourself five years from now...you're married, with two children...."). The upside of this is that, because this is the last paper, I will never have to see the minority-hater, or face the kid who is speculating on my marriageable potential.

The more important upside is this: hilarious paper titles. As best I can guess, they are going with a "throw it against the wall and see if it sticks" approach. Why else would I be reading:

All They Care About is Results.
I have read the first two pages. I'm still not sure if this paper is about the mob or Congress.

Violation or Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, or Both?
...Help help! I'm confused by all the choices.

Naked Body Scanners
Believe me, Return of the Naked Body Scanners is so much better.

Players in Public Policy
...this student actually quotes Big Pimpin'. As a result, it's being referred to as "Playa's in Public Policy" in the Nobody household.

Policy High Rollers
...They hang out with the playa's, obviously.

Justice at 40,000 feet
...this should come with its own cop-movie theme song. I'm going to hum one while I grade.

Brotherly Betrayal!
...The musical!

My Brother Against the Machine
...he rages, obviously.

Family Feud with the TSA
...Not nearly the kind of gameshow you'd hoped it would be.

I'd Rather Keep My Clothes On, Thank You Very Much
...No, thank you.

This is an untapped market. I'm certain there is an excellent B-list movie somewhere in this stack. Who's bringing popcorn?

Oh, the Circus. I'm going to miss them over the summer. At least until I start grading their finals, that is.

* Gonzo the Wonder TA is bad at teaching, excel, personal hygiene, social skills, and life. He is the high priestess of ineffectual and indignant shushing and hand motions during class. Once, when he had to do his guest lecture, he played "Big Pimpin'." The students actually laughed at him, and then booed him during his lecture. Really. Bad at life.


Philosofya said...

I see a theme here... All this big pimpin' everywhere. Oh the Constitution and its propensity for playas.

teasinglydiverse said...

I love it ;) Makes me miss my TA-ing days. No options for that here at law school, but it was one of my favorite parts of undergrad...ah, freshmen.
The first group of freshies I taught are graduating this year, hopefully they're better writers by now! :)

adele said...

Oh dear. I think, in some ways, that science majors are easier to teach writing to. It's less of an uphill battle to convince someone who can't write that they can, than to convince someone who thinks they can write that they have no effing clue...

Jansen said...

Big pimpin' is popular at your school. Oh my goodness!

And for my mental health, I refuse to believe that someone ACTUALLY titled a paper, "I'd Rather Keep My Clothes On, Thank You Very Much"

All rights reserved to my snotty and generally self-deprecating writing. And if your comments bother me, I'll delete them. That's right, pumpkin.
...How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one's name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!
-- Emily Dickinson