I’m now three days into English 103, Critical Thinking. This is a summer class, so each day is equivalent to a week of a regular semester. Our first essay was due today; a simple 2-page “microtheme” on a topic of our choice. Before turning it in, however, we had to exchange papers with a classmate and perform a “peer edit.” Great. No problem. English 100 was a prerequisite for the course, so I assumed, apparently erroneously, that my classmates had at least a basic grasp of English grammar.
Unfortunately, that was not to be so.
I exchanged papers with a girl a couple of seats behind me. Slogging through the edit on her paper was almost painful. I think there was more ink on it from my pen than there was from her printer… and lots of notes pointing out that her arguments were terrible. Stuff like “Smokers say that being told they can’t smoke on campus is a violation of their freedom, but that’s not true.” Um, yes it is. Telling anyone they can’t do something is absolutely a violation of their freedom of choice. The question is whether that should be overridden by the greater needs of society. This was indicative of her arguments throughout the essay, and the margins were filled with my own annotations suggesting alternative arguments.
When I got my paper back from her, it was covered in annotations such as “no comma here.” Apparently the girl has never heard of a subordinate clause, because she was taking out nearly every comma in the paper, particularly the commas separating the subordinate clauses, and creating atrocious run-on sentences. Every single one of her “edits” was grammatically incorrect. I added my own comments with her edits before I turned the paper in, effectively pointing out to the instructor that, aside from a single error I had caught on my own and corrected beforehand, the girl was utterly ignorant of the basics of English grammar–something she should have learned well before English 100.
My hopes that this wouldn’t be indicative of the remainder of my experience in the class, however, were dashed when we were split into groups for our next three assignments. The next three assignments would be linked together, covering a single topic. The first, which is due on Monday, is an investigative piece exploring both the pros and cons of a topic to be chosen by the group. The second, which will be our midterm, is a debate piece where we will take a side and argue that position, seeking to convince a reader that our position is the correct one to take. The third will continue that and seek to persuade the reader to take action on the topic.
Several suggestions were put forward: the government bailouts of the financial sector, the nationalization of the auto industry, flag burning, the draft, the fact that the state of California requires high school students to take a test written to an eighth grade level which many students still can’t pass in their senior years of high school, and many others. What was selected? Legalizing marijuana. I argued against selecting it. The topic has been a staple of debate in English papers among both college and high school students for decades, not to mention the fact that I have had several students at work who never seemed to tire of trying to debate the issue with me, so after a year of almost daily debate with teenagers on the matter, I am well and truly sick of the subject.
I was, of course, ignored. Voted down six to one, in fact. So now I have to spend the next three weeks immersing myself in a subject that I have become thoroughly frustrated with. Since I had no other alternative, I joined the discussion on which angle to take on the topic of legalization of marijuana. Oh, all right. I led the conversation. Nobody else knew the slightest thing what to say, and just sat there staring at each other. I brought up the fact that it would have to be done at the federal level, not the state, as the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution would just end up causing any state law contradictory to the federal ban on the drug to be brought up to the Supreme Court and ruled to be void on those grounds. I also mentioned several arguments pro and con on the issue.
And then I got stared at. Gaped at, really. “Wow, you really know this stuff,” one of them said to me. I told them that I had been debating the issue for so long that I was sick of it, but apparently they didn’t listen to anything I said when it stood in the way of them getting an excuse to talk about weed for three weeks.
Well, they’ve got their excuse to giggle and talk about it now. But I’ll be damned if I let that stand in my way of doing well in this class.