Everybody in college hates papers. Students hate writing them so much that they buy, borrow, or steal them instead. Plagiarism is now so commonplace that if we flunked every kid who did it, we’d have a worse attrition rate than a MOOC. And on those rare occasions undergrads do deign to compose their own essays, said exegetic masterpieces usually take them all of half an hour at 4 a.m. to write, and consist accordingly of “arguments” that are at best tangentially related to the coursework, font-manipulated to meet the minimum required page-count. Oh, “attitudes about cultures have changed over time”? I’m so glad you let me know.
Nobody hates writing papers as much as collegeinstructorshategradingpapers (and no, having a robot do it is not the answer). Students of the world: You think it wastes 45 minutes of your sexting time to pluck out three quotes from The Sun Also Rises, summarize the same four plot points 50 times until you hit Page 5, and then crap out a two-sentence conclusion? It wastes 15 hours of my time to mark up my students’ flaccid theses and non sequitur textual “evidence,” not to mention abuse of the comma that should be punishable by some sort of law—all so that you can take a cursory glance at the grade and then chuck the paper forever.
What’s more, if your average college-goer does manage to read through her professor’s comments, she will likely view them as a grievous insult to her entire person, abject proof of how this cruel, unfeeling instructor hates her. That sliver of the student population that actually reads comments and wants to discuss them? They’re kids whose papers are good to begin with, and often obsessed with their GPAs. I guarantee you that every professor you know has given an A to a B paper just to keep a grade-grubber off her junk. (Not talking to you, current students! You’re all magnificent, and going to be president someday. Please do not email me.)
Oh, “attitudes about cultures have changed over time”? I’m so glad you let me know.
When I was growing up, my mother—who, like me, was a “contingent” professor—would sequester herself for days to grade, emerging Medusa-haired and demanding of sympathy. But the older I got, the more that sympathy dissipated: “If you hate grading papers so much,” I’d say, “there’s an easy solution for that.” My mother, not to be trifled with when righteously indignant (that favored state of the professoriate), would snap: “It’s an English class. I can’t not assign papers.”
Mom, friends, educators, students: We don’t have to assign papers, and we should stop. We need to admit that the required-course college essay is a failure. The baccalaureate is the new high-school diploma: abjectly necessary for any decent job in the cosmos. As such, students (and their parents) view college as professional training, an unpleasant necessity en route to that all-important “piece of paper.” Today’s vocationally minded students view World Lit 101 as forced labor, an utterwasteof their time that deserves neither engagement nor effort. So you know what else is a waste of time? Grading these students’ effing papers. It’s time to declare unconditional defeat.
Most students enter college barely able to string three sentences together—and they leave it that way, too. With protracted effort and a rhapsodically engaged instructor, some may learn to craft a clunky but competent essay somewhere along the way. But who cares? My fellowhumanistsinsist valiantly that (among other more elevated reasons) writing humanities papers leads to the crafting of sharp argumentative skills, and thus a lifetime of success in a number of fields in which we have no relevant experience. But my friends who actually work in such fields assure me that most of their colleagues are borderline-illiterate. After all, Mark Zuckerberg’s pre-Facebook Friendster profile bragged “i don’t read” (sic),and look at him.
Of course it would be better for humanity if college in the United States actually required a semblance of adult writing competency. But I have tried everything. I held a workshop dedicated to avoiding vague introductions (“The idea and concept of the duality of sin and righteousness has been at the forefront of our understanding of important concepts since the beginning of time.”) The result was papers that started with two incoherent sentences that had nothing to do with each other. I tried removing the introduction and conclusion altogether, and asking for a three-paragraph miniessay with a specific argument—what I got read like One Direction fan fiction.
I’ve graded drafts and assigned rewrites, and that helps the good students get better, but the bad students, the ones I’m trying to help, just fail to turn in any drafts at all. Meanwhile, I come up for air and realize that with all this extra grading, I’m making 75 cents an hour.
I’m not calling for the end of all papers—just the end of papers in required courses. Some students actually like writing, and let those blessed young souls be English majors, and expound on George Eliot and Virginia Woolf to their hearts’ content, and grow up to become writers, huzzah. But for the common good, leave everyone else out of it.
Instead of essays, required humanities courses (which I support, for all the reasons William Cronon, Martha Nussbaum, and Paulo Freire give) should return to old-school, hardcore exams, written and oral. You cannot bullshit a line-ID. Nor can you get away with only having read one page of the book when your professor is staring you down with a serious question. And best of all, oral exams barely need grading: If you don’t know what you’re talking about, it is immediately and readily manifest (not to mention, it’s profoundly schadenfroh when a student has to look me in the face and admit he’s done no work).
A Slate Plus Special Feature:
Students hate writing papers, and professors hate grading them. Should we stop assigning them? Listen to the debate on Slate Plus.
Plus, replacing papers with rigorous, old-school, St. John’s-style tribulations also addresses an issue humanities-haters love to belabor: Paper-grading is so subjective, and paper-writing so easy to fake, that this gives the humanities their unfortunate reputation as imprecise, feelings-centered disciplines where there are “no right answers.” So let’s start requiring some right answers.
Sure, this quashes the shallow pretense of expecting undergraduates to engage in thoughtful analysis, but they have already proven that they will go to any lengths to avoid doing this. Call me a defeatist, but honestly I’d be happy if a plurality of American college students could discern even the skeletal plot of anything they were assigned. With more exams and no papers, they’ll at least have a shot at retaining, just for a short while, the basic facts of some of the greatest stories ever recorded. In that short while, they may even develop the tiniest inkling of what Martha Nussbaum calls “sympathetic imagination”—the cultivation of our own humanity, and something that unfolds when we’re touched by stories of people who are very much unlike us. And that, frankly, is more than any essay will ever do for them.
By Haley Osborne
11 November 2014
Is Going to College a Waste of Time?
Your whole life, you have been conditioned to believe that you will only get a good job and be successful if you say those four magic words: I’m going to college.
More and more researches support the idea that it’s not necessarily true. In fact, although college graduates are more likely to have a higher wage and more stable life, non-college graduates can be just as happy and successful with the right attitude.
A Self-Made Life: Can You Survive Without a Degree?
Think about it. How many entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and successful businessmen have dropped out of college or never even attended? And, we’re not talking about no-name local success stories. Some of the richest men in the world (Facebook designer Mark Zuckerberg, Macintosh founder Steve Jobs, and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, just to name a few) dropped out of college to pursue their fame and fortune.
In fact, as college costs rise and jobs become more competitive, college graduates are asking whether the 4-year investment of time and money is really worth it. In a recent Salon article, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich eviscerates the higher education model as it currently stands. He says:
“Too often in modern America, we equate “equal opportunity” with an opportunity to get a four-year liberal arts degree. It should mean an opportunity to learn what’s necessary to get a good job.”
For many, that means getting a 2-year vocational degree, taking online courses, or starting their own passion-driven business. Since the unemployment rate for recent grads has increased dramatically since the 2007 recession, many savvy and driven students chose to create their own jobs and with amazing success.
College-Bound: The Real Scoop
Yet, dropping out of college or not attending is no guarantor of success. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that those who only receive a 2-year degree or less make almost half on average as those who get a 4-year degree. In addition, their unemployment rate is 30% higher on average. A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that states with higher rates of college grads have corresponding wages and jobs, which means that more college grads actually bring up the wages for everyone else.
Not only that, but having a college degree is one of the more basic requirements of getting and keeping a job. According to 2011 Pew Research study, 86% of post-graduate students say that their college degree was a good investment for them. Because so many students are getting college degrees, it is often necessary to have a 4-year degree just to stay competitive in many high-paying job markets.
Graduating from college has more personally fulfilling benefits as well. According to Census Bureau statistics, people with college educations have almost half the divorce rate of their degree-free peers. Additionally, the recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey, five of the happiest states on earth (Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts) have the highest percentages of college graduates.
So, What Really Does Makes a Success?
Despite the clear benefits of a college education, most Americans agree that education is not as important as attitude. When asked what makes a person successful, the overwhelming response from the Pew Education survey was that hard work (61%) and getting along with people (57%) were more important than education alone (42%).
Additionally, Richard St. John recently shared a TED Talk about his research into what makes people successful. In face-to-face interviews with over 500 successful people in every industry imaginable, he found eight key factors that determine success:
- Hard Work
- Pushing Boundaries
- Consistently Improving
What does this mean for your life? It means that you can be happy and successful whether or not you get a college degree. It all depends on how you approach your life. Whether you choose to get a degree or not, you still need the same basic drive to succeed, people skills, and ability to adapt to change.
You can be successful or unsuccessful regardless of whether you get a college degree. People who are dedicated to being successful in their education will get the benefits of the long-term stability and personal connections that degrees generally provide. Those who are dedicated to being successful outside of the walls of a college building can achieve amazing results as long as they work hard enough and have the vision to change the world.
No matter what you choose: whether to pursue a degree or not, your true success comes from knowing what you want and making the sacrifices it takes to achieve your goals. And whatever path you choose, you’ll have satisfaction in your choice. Finally, you’ll be able to say those truly magical four words: I knew I could.
Do you think it is worth going to college? What benefits and drawbacks of college do you see? Your opinion is always welcome here!
Tags: college degree college student education