by Julia Buckley
At this time of year I am awash in student writing. Some of it bodes well for the future of the human race. Some, well . . . :)
A trend I notice in student reading and writing these days is that students will glance at the first three or so letters and then just assume they know the word. Therefore, they are often wrong.
Allow me to share some examples. One youngster, writing about the fate of King Oedipus and the plague sent by the angry Apollo because of a murder that was never punished, wrote about it with great confidence: "Until Oedipus finds the murderer of the former king, he won't be able to do anything about the plaque on the people of Thebes."
That wonderful spell-check that students rely upon so heavily will not find an error like this, and so Oedipus' weighty problem is reduced to an issue of dental hygiene.
Another student, in a direct quote, changed "I thought those were contraband here," to "I thought those were condemned here." Same thing, right? I mean, there are at least four similar letters.
One young lady referred to her younger sibling as "my little bother." While my older son would suggest this is an accurate synonym for "brother," I would suggest that these small errors--Freudian slips though they may be--make a significant difference in the message, and should therefore be found in proofreading.
Proofreading? What's that? Ah--and now we get to the true "plaque" of writing in the classroom--the surprising disinterest students have in the products they turn in. From my perspective, my written words are a reflection of me, and I must make sure they are just right. From many a student's perspective, it's just an assignment, and when it flies out of the printer they put it directly into their folders, never bothering to determine whether or not, upon second or third reading, it makes sense.
One student, sharing insights into the weighty Crime and Punishment, wrote of the manipulative pawnbroker, and the fact that "her costumers were fed up with the way she treated them." Thus, the mean, dirty, rat-like Alena Ivanovna was transformed in my mind's eye into a Cher of 19th Century Russia, with her own Vegas-like routine that required lots of costume changes.
Perhaps grading papers in large quantities makes me a bit punchy about the errors within them. Perhaps it is a cruel and unusual punishment to have to read, literally, hundreds of papers in one month. Perhaps I long to breathe outside air or have some sort of life of my own.
So I continue to hold tiny grudges when I find seemingly preventable errors. My all-time favorite story involves a young man who wrote his final paper on Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Some slip of the fingers had him spelling it "Magpie." Of course spell check didn't spare him from my wrath, especially when it turned out that EVERY reference to Maggie was spelled "Magpie." Magpie was a victim, Magpie never had a chance in a Darwinistic sense, Magpie's beauty was a detriment to her.
When confronted, he had not a leg to stand on, since errors of this magnitude are the equivalent of wearing a sign that reads, "I didn't read even one line of my paper before I turned it in."
In my vengefulness, I circled every Magpie.