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Hurm… Finals. For the English major side of me this means lots of essays. Now there are the good essays, like the one I have to write for this independent study (coming soon!). There are also dumb essays. Like the ones I have to write for almost everything else.

Dear Professors, please note:

Assigning essays about the content of books read in class is not a test of reading ability or a way to check if the student has read the book, it is a test of the student’s ability to use a search engine.

Welcome to the new world. In today’s Internet-ready society almost everything of note is search-able. This means a big help for those of us who don’t read the books but write essays on them anyway. You have two choices, either think about your essay questions for more then a single whiskey-fueled hour or find really obscure books (in which case they are likely to be bad books).

Not only is this dumb now, it was always dumb. Writing about what the content is in a book asks for zero comprehension, just the ability to read and less than stellar pattern recognition. This is a stupid way to test and a stupid way to learn. Training your students to spit back the obvious is about as useful as teaching them to churn butter. With all sorts of reference always at hand, retention is rapidly becoming a specialist skill. Parroting was never a useful skill, unless you are a bird.

Now, if you can’t figure it out… good essays ask for comprehension. They test not the what, when or how, but the why. Good essays ask students to pick a topic and talk about it and use the book not as a crutch but as a reference. Good essay assignments ask students to think about how this topic relates to life beyond the spectrum of academia, it asks students what they think and asks them to show why. Good essay questions ask you to think for yourself, make a point, and prove it. Good essays take what you’ve read and apply it, not muck about pointlessly with quotes.

Dear Mason Professors, please stop asking me to turn off my brain when writing your essays.

Sorry for the random post, 4 essays into finals, 2 essays to go. Stop wasting my time, I’m paying for education, not Simon-says.


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