28 May 2010

Work in Progress

While many of my friends (particularly the ones with Twitter and Facebook accounts) have been at BEA or heading to WisCon, I've spent the week spent doing little other than grading student work and then in the evening, when the brain had fizzled, watching various cable TV shows or movies like Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and Stargate. I've spent 12 years telling myself that during the next term I will figure out some way to create more simple, clear, and efficient methods of grading. And each term, I've failed; indeed, each term, I seem to increase the grading burden on myself.  I have seen the enemy, and it is me.

More than most terms, I noticed some of my students' creativity. For instance, one wrote of a gospel song called "Go Down Mosses". Another wrote that, "Without a patriarchal society, women could have voted from the gecko."

Their creativity, and my brain's fizzlement, seems have had an effect on me. I spent the morning today working on a new short story about a hapless man who gives a lecture about colonial New Hampshire history, a subject about which he knows little. It includes these paragraphs...
The Indians weren't nearly as good at agriculture as the Europeans would eventually prove to be, so they had to move around a lot. One day, while moving around, the Indians saw some strange white-skinned creatures. The white-skinned creatures made weird sounds with their mouths and smelled funny. They seemed pretty helpless, frankly.

Looks can be deceiving, as they say. (The Europeans say. I don't know if Indians ever said, "Looks can be deceiving." The very British W.S. Gilbert once wrote, "Things are seldom what they seem. Skim milk masquerades as cream." I doubt the Indians were very concerned with whether their skim milk was pretending to be cream or not. It was a big deal for the British, who once, in 1859, were on the verge of war because of it, but by that point most of the Indians had been killed, and any Indian you found probably would have been perfectly happy with either skim milk or cream, or anything else with a few calories or a bit of nourishment. It wasn't like the dairy farms of New England were owned by an Indian cartel. It wasn't like anything in New England was owned by Indians. They don't actually believe in owning things, which was very convenient for the Europeans, who did believe in owning things, and so they came here to a place where nothing was owned, and they staked their claim. And so the Indians couldn't own New England. And we see that in the, to descend into academic jargon for a moment, nomenclature. Lakes and mountains and rivers were given Indian names, but New England is New England.)

In the beginning, the British European people were very nice to the people who were already here. They introduced the Indians to tea and cricket and the BBC and other jolly good things. They said "tut tut" and "pip pip" and "cheerio" and the Indians thought they were very funny, even droll. The Indians decided the British European people had been sent as entertainment, and perhaps what they did was float around the world in their giant wooden contraptions and amuse folks who had more difficult lives. The British said things like, "You know, old boy, it's a good thing we're not Flemish. The Flems have gone a bit overboard in some of their encounters with heathens. Take the Congo for instance. Nasty business, that. Chopping off hands. Decapitation. No, it won't do. Very good you got us, I'd say. Oh no no no, old boy -- put the milk into the cup first, then pour the tea."

Most of the Indians couldn't speak English, and so what they heard were just funny noises -- so funny, in fact, that the Indians laughed too hard and spilled their tea and the British were forced to kill them.

Thus, the Indians learned not to laugh. You can see the legacy of this lesson if you visit a cigar store, where the Indian doorman never laughs.

3 comments:

  1. I like the idea of taking a break from grading to write a short story.

    I have the same problem with grading systems myself. But I've come to conclude the no matter what the system you use, the grades come out the same in the end.

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  2. So true! At the end of all the many hours, I always end up looking at most of the grades and thinking, "But I knew that's what it would look like days ago!" So either my grading systems are pretty accurate, or I'm just using Rube Goldberg techniques to justify what was, for me, a foregone conclusion...

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  3. I suggest you create a computer program for this. In the beginning, you input the grade that you think the student will get. The program then spits out this grade. Sure, it's all hocus pocus but you can tell the student, "Hey, it's not me, it's the computer."

    -Justin T.

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