I don’t subscribe to the Atlantic any more, largely because I barely have time to read Harper’s every month. But I saw a link to this piece on the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s web site. (Yes, I check their job listings every day.) The upshot of the piece is that the American college system has pretty much overextended itself and is now taking in students who don’t really need college and lack the ability to handle college, but my favorite bit is when he talks about his jealousy for his colleagues in the science and math departments:
How I envy professors in other disciplines! How appealing seems the straightforwardness of their task! These are the properties of a cell membrane, kid. Memorize ’em, and be ready to spit ’em back at me. The biology teacher also enjoys the psychic ease of grading multiple-choice tests. Answers are right or wrong. The grades cannot be questioned. Quantifying the value of a piece of writing, however, is intensely subjective, and English teachers are burdened with discretion. (My students seem to believe that my discretion is limitless. Some of them come to me at the conclusion of a course and matter-of-factly ask that I change a failing grade because they need to graduate this semester or because they worked really hard in the class or because they need to pass in order to receive tuition reimbursement from their employer.)
At UGA, I’ve been teaching some of the best that Georgia has to offer, so I don’t get the really awful papers very often at all. But I have gotten good and tired of Novembers and Aprils–the times when students of average ability come to my office to demand that I mark their papers above-average so that they can retain their lottery scholarships. I’ve stopped even smiling when I ask them, “So what did your chemistry teacher say when you asked him?”
They don’t like that much.
At any rate, the article isn’t a bad one, even if it is depressing. But having been in front of those evening classes as a night adjunct myself, teaching people who have children older than me, I know he doesn’t make any of that stuff up.