Daily Archives: October 11, 2011

“First, They Both Have Food” – How “Thinking” Has Become a New Elective

Sometimes, the only way teachers, tutors, and professors can survive a particularly “special” student paper is to learn how to enjoy it for its more charming qualities.  I have written before on grammatical “mystics”, but now I would just like to share a few thoughts on the tragedy (and hilarity) of simplicity.

Some students really don’t know how to convey deep ideas on paper.  It is not necessarily that they are unintelligent (though in the midst of our frustration in grading, we might begin to wonder), but that they are unwilling or unable to think deeply and critically about an idea.  It seems that the majority of students are exposed to little reading and even less writing in their middle and high school careers.  Most students do the bare minimum and escape the painful world of words as soon as they can.  By the time they arrive at college, they still struggle with the basics of a comparison/contrast essay.  How are cats and dogs similar?  How are they different?  Will we ever know?

Well, I got another one of those yesterday. This ambitious student wanted to compare two restaurants.  Charming soul that he was, he chose Hooters as one and compared it with an Italian place.   Aside from the fact that he rambled incoherently about his favorite foods and watching sports in the “wholesome family environment” at Hooters, he had a lot of trouble simply finding points of comparison and contrast.

He began his list of similarities with the astonishing revelation:

“First, they both serve food.”

I knew I had my work cut out for me.

How do you teach someone to think deeply and look beyond the most simplistic of revelations?  It comes down to more than just knowing how to write.  Do I have to teach these students how to think as well to put words on paper?  I tried to explain the problem here and asked him to look a little further and to try to bring something to his paper that the reader might not already know.  I will never know if I got through to him, but I can hope.

I guess the “moral” of this story is that most students dismiss reading and writing out of hand as irrelevant and useless to their futures without realizing the benefits of being both well-read and a good writer.  Reading and writing both force you to think and judge and learn how to express things for yourself, and that is what this student, among others, is sorely lacking.

I might philosophically dismiss this essay as just one poor paper and expect something better to follow.  After all, there are so many smart and well written students out there.  I should not despair entirely, right?  But of course, today was just not that sort of day.  My very next essay began with this gem:

Each day begins with morning and ends with night.

Let’s just say that was the most thought provoking thing that was said in the essay.

So I suppose I must continue to do my part in passing on what little I know about writing to those who know even less and hope for better and brighter days (that begin with morning and end with night, of course) in which my students will rise to the occasion and write thought-provoking essays on deep and interesting topics.

In the meantime, we can all dwell on the incredible news that there are two restaurants out there that share the unique attribute of serving food.

Who knew, right?