Monday, January 17, 2005

Michelle Malkin links to how Outside the Beltway's James Joyner and Poliblogger's Steven Taylor graded the essay by the Kuwaiti student analyzing how the Founders were an unrepresentative elite who wrote a document that did not include the majority of people in America at the time. He wrote an essay praising the Founders and America and received an F from the teacher who told him he must be crazy to admire the United States and recommended that he get psychological counseling.

Both Joyner and Taylor agree that, if the story is true, the professor should be disciplined for an unprofessional response. No student should be told he needs psychological testing for his opinions. That is inexcusable. What is also inexcusable is that the professor didn't take any time to show the student what he did wrong. Both Joyner and Taylor point out that the essay does not address the question. The paragraphs praising America for what it has done for the world are fine but not for this essay. That was not the topic of the question. I don't worry so much about the grammar mistakes given that this was a non-native writer. I would have cut him slack on the grammar and just corrected the mistakes and given him some recommendations on the use of articles, but that is something that will come as he lives in the United States longer. However, not addressing the question is a problem that a student can address and learn how to avoid.

I tell my students to think of John McEnroe screaming "Answer the d*** question" at the line judge whenever they address an essay question. They might not have seen McEnroe at his height of obnoxiousness, but after chanting a cleaned-up version (Answer the dang question!) several times in class, they get the point. Last year, they even got in a circle before the AP exam and screamed out the quote. Perhaps that helped them average 4.6 on the exam.

Not answering the question is the single most common mistake that students make in writing essays on tests. I can well imagine that this is not a lesson that the student learned in his Kuwaiti schools. This was a learning opportunity for this student, but, unfortunately, he learned an entirely different lesson.