Saturday, September 20, 2008

"How can it be racist if I like them?"

I got a "D/F" on my very first essay in my Modern Lit class. Bleah.

I suppose it shouldn't bother me. The professor did say she graded these "mercilessly," as this first essay doesn't count towards our grades. (She gives us the first paper to learn exactly what she wants.)

However, this paper did shake my confidence a bit. Not so much about myself, as I'm currently so close to earning a degree that it would be ridiculous to think that I can't get through the remaining few courses. Rather, it shook my confidence in the professor, and her ability to conduct this class.

In this essay, I was to discuss the unconscious racism of the narrator in "I Want To Know Why", by Sherwood Anderson. (FWIW, he's from my home town.)

I pointed out that as the story was written in the 1920's, and the narrator was only 15, his use of the word "nigger", was not necessarily racist. Rather, I figured it's just the word they used at the time.

In the margin, the professor wrote: "But it's racist, regardless."

Huh? What kind of facile point is that to make?

I also wrote that the narrator has a profound admiration for blacks; they are part of the horse-racing scene he's so interested in. Like the horses, they have their place and fill it well. It's the owners of the horses, who are white, that he sees getting drunk and cavorting with ugly prostitutes.

So, I pointed out that though the narrator is racist, in that he can't see blacks as being anything other than good cooks and dedicated horse-tenders, he has an admiration for that type of work, so much so that he wanted to do that type of work himself. So, his racism is of a rather nice variety.

The professor wrote: "Racism isn't 'nice'."

WTF? Am I going to have to toe some politically-correct line with this woman? And honestly, I'm reminded of the Seinfeld episode, the one where "Donna Chang" wasn't Chinese.

Jerry: "How can it be racist if I like them?".

Anyway, grades aside, this professor makes modern literature about as fun and interesting as jury duty. I would have never predicted that my Shakespeare class would be the funner and more-interesting of my two classes, but it is.

I have thirteen more of these essays to write over the course of the semester. They only need to be 200-250 words apiece, but right now I don't feel like even writing one more word for this woman.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bleah...


bobvis said...

Word of advice: conform.

If she says it's racist, it is racist. Don't toe the line. Become a parody of her. It will be fun for you because she won't actually ever pick up on the joke. Plus it will help your grades.

Kirk said...

Thanks for the advice. I still can't get a feel for this professor though. It doesn't help that she still hasn't given us any "real" grades in the class as of yet; she's been sitting on our more recent papers for a couple of weeks now.

Spungen said...

People say English is easy to get good grades in, and it usually is. The drawback is that it's so subjective that when someone is blatantly unfair in grading, it's hard to defend your work. I got As in all my English classes and my professors generally said I was brilliant (remember where I was though) -- except one sophomore year lit professor who really hated me. Her name was Henrietta. She was a 50ish twit who was married to the department head. There were never any racial issues, but there were other weird little criticisms that seemed irrelevant. Yet she indulgently up-graded a lot of very mediocre writers. Perhaps my comments in class were too superior. Anyway, I got a C. I should have kissed her ass, because superiority is a losing game with people who have the power to reward and punish.

Could you tell how much of your low grade was based upon her moralizing?

bobvis said...

By the way, this is somewhat tangential because it isn't something I would recommend.

You as a student have a tremendous power to annoy your professor into giving you acceptable grades on subjective assignments. All you have to do is keep asking in slightly different ways what is wrong. Put the burden on the professor to explain to you what is lacking in your writing. After all, she is the one who is claiming that assessment is possible--not you. If she is willing to assign a number, she should be able to explain that number. Know what you wrote so you can point to specific things that you said that meet whatever she says is missing. Bring her your drafts during office hours to vet. Just try to bounce ideas off her to make sure you are on the right track. By and large, we assume that students aren't supposed to come to office hours, so it is a bother for us to talk to you--especially when you ask stupid questions we are nevertheless obligated to answer.

No one has been this irritating to me, but it's bad enough that I definitely use objective assignments wherever possible. I do teach in the business school, so some things are subjective, and I never give anything less than an 80 for anything halfway decently done. Um, don't tell anyone that.

Kirk said...

Could you tell how much of your low grade was based upon her moralizing?

Nah. She got on a soapbox though back on Thursday, fulminating about that bridge in MN that fell, and about Katrina.

"We spend all this money overseas, blah, blah, blah..."

Oddly enough, I resubmitted the original paper, the one about using the term "nigger." All I did is correct a few punctuation errors on that one, left my original comments, and she bumped that one up from an F to a C. (I'm not sure if that grade even counts, though.)

She's a hard one to figure out. All of our papers are supposed to be 200-250 words. She stressed this.

My two recent papers, I got a C and a D. The C paper was 330 words long, the D paper was 240 words. According to her, the D paper was not long enough, because "only adjectives, adverbs, and nouns" count!

She's a weird duck.

Kirk said...

By and large, we assume that students aren't supposed to come to office hours

I was wondering why their hours are always ridiculously limited. Like every professor I've ever had, she's only in for 30 minutes a week. Unfortunately at that time, I'm 60 miles away and at work.

Your advice is pretty good, though. Thanks for it. I'll try to see if I can "bother" her at other times!

bobvis said...

I've always in, but my scheduled hours are 2 per week.

Yeah, it's probably not worth a 60-mile drive. If you check the syllabus, maybe you'll see if she says "and by appointment". Maybe you can schedule it for before or after class.

Of course, I stick with my prior advice as primary: Conform!

Shove whatever it is that she says she wants at her and challenge her to say what's wrong with it. Standing up for what you believe in is so D-student behavior.