I’ve gotten three more new students in the last couple of weeks. One is a young man who clearly thinks I’m crazy, and I get the feeling he’s not much better with any other female teacher, although he’s never been disrespectful. The very first thing I noticed about his work was that any question I asked he’d answer with a quote directly from the book. I asked him to put it in his own words, and he’d look sort of blank and not really be able to. It’s only been a couple of weeks, so I didn’t push him too hard on it, but this week we had an essay due.
His was clearly cribbed. Every sentence was beautifully constructed, using pretty sophisticated language. I bet it’s harder in college, but in high school it’s easy to tell when someone’s cheated. I gave him a 1 (out of 5) because he didn’t answer the question the essay was asking, and wrote ‘Please put this in your own words’ at the top in big letters.
“Miss,” he said, frowning, after class. “I don’t know what you mean. This is is my own words.”
“Well, it sounds a lot like the review book, and I want to make sure you can write without that, because you won’t have one during the Regents.”
“Miss, I didn’t use a book! This is all me!”
I sighed. “What does ‘advent’ mean?” I asked.
He looked blank. “I don’t know.”
“Well, you used it twice in this essay. So what does ‘This was the advent of World War I’ mean?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. But I didn’t cheat.”
“Fine,” I said. “I want it to sound like you wrote it, okay?”
He scowled. “I wrote it like I always write essays. This is what I always did at my old school!”
I bet he’s absolutely telling the truth, about that part at least. Other teachers — he’s an 11th grader — have ignored the fact that he has no idea what he’s talking about because he’s charming, participatory, and hands things in, and no one has ever called him on this nonsense before. It makes me ill. We have conversations all the time in class where I say “What is ‘fascism’?” and he raises his hand and says “I think that’s like, to me, that’s when you have stuff.” And I say “Well, not really,” and he says “Well, that’s what it is to me.” Someone has been encouraging this.
I only have 11 days left with him anyway, and he obviously doesn’t understand what I’m talking about. He rewrote the essay and gave it back to me — just copied from a different part of the review book. I’m asking him to do something he’s never been asked to do before, and he doesn’t see why it matters, since no one ever has before.
In case you were curious, that‘s how we fail our students.