Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Wed Feb 10 18:41:15 PST 1999

Dear Michael:
>But I have to say that the level of
>illiteracy and general stupidity seems to be rising among students. the
>most basic words are unknown to them, and they never bother to look them
>up. I have to continually check myself when I am about to use a word I
>know that they should understand but do not.

With regard to the use of new critical terms, you might assign some homework, so students themselves would have to look up the meanings and usage of the terms. Raymond Williams' _Keywords_ should work as a model for this homework. Students tend to forget less quickly the words whose histories they had to investigate on their own. (You'd have to tell them where to look, though.) I know this homework is labor-intensive for both the teacher and students, but doing this once a semester/quarter can produce a good result (at least for many if not all students).

If you are not inclined to grade the above assignment (which is actually difficult to grade), you might give students a list of critical terms (with meanings, usage, examples, histories, etc.) for students to memorize (which should be at least easier on your hands because you can make templates and simply xerox them, so you don't have to write on the blackboard), which would eliminate the kind of note-taking gaffe you mentioned.

I haven't done this yet, but you might also create a website with lots of fun links that lead your students from the critical terms you want them to remember to the texts in which they are actually used. Most students enjoy using the internet.

If none of the above appeals to you, you might employ a mandatory revision per paper. When you correct & grade each paper, you don't cross out a misused term and write down the correct word next to it. You give it a LOW, LOW grade (maybe even a failing grade, to shake up the student) with an instruction as to how to look up the correct terms and their usage. This is a bit manipulative, but it tends to work. And you'll have a sadistic pleasure of failing truly lazy assholes (who refused to revise) later.

We just have to remember that learning to adopt a disciplined study habit, not to mention learning an academic language, is just like learning a new language. This may or may not be unfortunate, but we have to assume that _nearly everything_ is literally foreign to students.

Also, it helps us to keep in mind that _reading_ is definitely more important than writing, if our objective is to foster critical consciousness (or something like that). So if your students still don't write well at the end of the semester/quarter, no sweat. In fact, if you can get away with it, I recommend that you refuse to make them write anything in order to give them more time to read and think, unless your students are taking a higher-level seminar-like course. (In Japan, few professors make undergrads write 'papers.')

>To make matters worse, students without a clue or any
>desire to learn whatever will be bitching about their grades.

To maintain your sanity, you might just have to ignore those unmotivated ones sometimes. I don't think there is any sin in doing so. We are human as well. The most we can hope is that some of our students will make use of something we offer not during the semester of love & hate but later, much later in their everyday life.

>I am not telling you these
>things as a joke or to make fun of students.

I make fun of students in the classroom sometimes. They love it.


P.S. I think that too many students (have to) work (for pay, in retail, fast food, etc.) too many hours. This _overwork_, I believe, is the root evil, but I as an individual can't remedy it in class.

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