The Power Ness of the Adam Bomb

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People sometimes act like the fact that I don’t teach during the summer is due to some amazing con job on my part. Or they think that the fact that I only have to go into campus a few days a week means that I only work a few days a week. I probably work 50 to 60 hours a week during the semester, and while some of my work is highly enjoyable, a lot of it majorly, majorly sucks.

An example of that is grading. Reading good work by good students can be pleasant if not painless, but reading--and being obligated to comment on--bad work by bad students is an excruciating form of torture. As evidence, I offer you a couple of excerpts from what just might be the worst paper I ever received--I saved a copy because I knew, from the very first sentence, that this paper was special. It was written several years ago by a junior majoring in communications and minoring in English, which she insisted meant her work couldn’t possibly be unsatisfactory since OF COURSE anyone who majors in communications and minors in English MUST know how to write. I leave it to you to decide whether or not the prose below--which I transcribe just as I received it (I must note that my spell checker questions nothing but the last name of the author of the essay the student chose to critique)--is the work of someone competent at stringing together intelligible sentences.

Critique of “Thank God for the Atom Bomb” by Paul Fussell

Paul Fussell’s “Thank God for the Atom Bomb,” is a bold and daring piece that intrigues readers to listen to the voice of the storyteller while reading. The voice in the story is conversational, and this conversationalist in the story sparks the attention span of the reader. The technique holds the reader on edge while whisking through the piece. This not only makes the story enjoyable for the reader but sets an atmosphere and makes the author more creditable....

He does a great job changing people’s attitudes, feelings, beliefs and actions about the Adam Bomb by presenting new information and reasons that the reader may have never known elsewhere. By stating how the Japanese felt.

He used different opinions to stir up different reactions in different sets of readers. Some one who opposes the use of the bomb may not agree with the fact that, “on the twelfth of August, eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned).” They would probably still look down upon the bombing while someone who does believe in the effectiveness may not believe in the effectiveness of the atom bomb by reading all of the tortures of war.

But this works because both the different types of readers can learn more information on the different views and may think differently about the bomb after being introduced to the different opinions.

The subject is already personal to the American public, since there are supporters of war, anti-supporters of war, those for guns and anti-gun, all around the world and especially on the home front.

His strong examples of different persuasion techniques work because it gives the readers different opinions to lead on....

Although this is a controversial subject to touch upon, the just of his material presented are true and or opinions of other people. His title was the first sign of persuasion, “Thank God for the Adam Bomb.” So anyone who first picks up the book can tell that the book is going to be about how to support war. Which is a way could be a downside if someone is against war they may not pick it up, but on the other hand they may just pick it up because they may wonder why someone would want to praise the atom bomb. Then once they start reading they will not be able to stop because by reading the different opinions they will anticipate what the conclusion of the book will outcome....

With more interesting facts on war being brought up everyday, the use of the atom bomb may come up one day or another means of a highly destructible force. Society seems to have become more sensitive to the subject of war methods. The way the world is going today, more facts on the use and the power ness and meaning of the use of the atom bomb just may be needed to be brought to attention. With more and more countries bringing out and developing huge masses of machines capable of destroying large areas and high amounts of people, America may be faced with challenge of using a highly destructible means of force in order to save fellow Americans against another country. Without the knowledge of what happens to a country after the use of the Atom bomb is dangerous. Not to know may hurt instead of help. This book is well documented by stating the pros and cons of the bomb although it stirred to one side at the end, the government could use this information and conduct research on their own to know when to use the destructible forces and when not to.

14 Comments

Holly, I have to thank you for posting this, and for bringing "Rate Your Students" to my attention. I've been away from academe just long enough for it to have acquired an aura of nostalgia, and I'd imagined that I wanted to teach again. You have saved me.

However, I still miss the good students.

Thanks also for recommending "Bride and Prejudice" in an earlier post; I saw it this weekend. Do you know if any one has done any post-colonial analysis on that film yet? I found it to be disturbing even while it was a hoot and would love to see what a scholar would do with it.

Takes me back to my days as a writing lab tutor. Which is to say, OUCH!

Thanks also for recommending "Bride and Prejudice" in an earlier post; I saw it this weekend. Do you know if any one has done any post-colonial analysis on that film yet?

I don't, Juti. I agree that there's a lot going on in that movie, and I wish I had the background in post-colonial theory to do a decent critique myself. At the very least, though, I plan to include it next time I teach world lit.

Oh, gosh. My sense of humor must be wearing thin. There is a time when I would have said this was pretty boffo stuff. Or even, "At least it's original. She's trying. She didn't plagiarize." Now I just think it's pathetic.
How does a basic writer get into a college course anyway?

How does a basic writer get into a college course anyway?

She signs up for it via the computer registration system (which requires no signatures or approval for any course of study as long as a student has any necessary prerequisites--even if a student has, say, a 1.18 GPA and wants to register for 21 units, which was the case with a student I recently dealt with) and then pays her tuition. It's a simple system and it ain't broke, so no one's going to fix it.

Holy cow, I couldn't even get through two paragraphs of that essay. It reminds me of the conversation style of a woman I used to work with: all of the words were recognizable, but after I'd walk away from the conversation, I'd think, "what the hell did we just talk about?"

Thank you, Holly. You always know how to spark my attention span! This writer captured the voice of a storyteller while writing like a lion cub in Kenya. I enjoyed the reading of Adam's bomb and different opinions of the different ways in which different readers react to war. I have often wondered how to support war? Now I no!

Seriously, I smiled through the whole essay, though it stirred to one side at the end.

You made my day. Thanks. You are the Adam Bomb!

That's "da Adam Bomb."

Hehe! At times like these, I do not envy you, Holly! And you're right about so many misunderstanding the real work behind teaching.

I had a professor in college who often told me, reading my papers was a treat. I never understood what she meant until she gave me copies of other student papers. I finally understood: writing isn't a given. You have to work at it. I'd been "working at it" since sixth grade and I still don't consider myself a good writer. And, in fact, the older I get, the more my grammar slips. I'm sure there are myriad errors just in this comment alone.

I've also discovered, as I've worked professionally, that even the most educated people can be bad writers. I've read a lot of crappy writing in the jobs I've had here in D.C. The writers had doctorates in science and economics or were executive directors of organizations, which put them in writing contact with high-level folk. It's embarrassing to read bad writing and to have to point it out and correct it to these muckity-mucks. Blech.

Disclaimer: Any errors in spelling, grammar, and style belong strictly to the comment writer and are not the fault of the owner writer of this web log and/or its entities, partners, subsidiaries, or readers. All corrections welcome.

I'm currently up to my elbows in undergraduate essays. They have to be marked especially quicky -- a long story, but there was an assessment boycott that was part of a pay dispute. The boycott ended recently so now everything has to be done with amazing haste.

I have not yet come across anything that rivals the essay Holly showed us. Some of the essays have been good but for the most part, they are quite pedestrian. Students invest very little effort into researching the topics that they chose and their arguments are remarkably timid. It's hard not to feel hurt by this. I'm quite passionate about the material I teach and that enthusiasm has served me well in the past; this year, I can't even think that I might have been entertaining.

Besides the feeling that I'm not getting through, I'm also a bit angry. As I see it, the problem with the student who wrote the essay Holly shares here is not so much that she is a bad writer -- as other commenters have noted, it's easy to find bad writing just about anywhere -- it's that she's arrogant and unwilling to learn something from someone who is evidently a good writer. When I was an undergraduate, I looked at my professors not as gods or anything, but as people who knew and understood things I wanted to know and understand. They only disappointed me when they could not be bothered to reach over to help me understand, and that was, luckily for me, a rare experience. So what's happened to students? Why is it that when we extend ourselves to help them see what we have worked so hard to see, they can't be bothered to take an interest? What makes it so difficult to be both humble and ambitious?

writing isn't a given. You have to work at it. I'd been "working at it" since sixth grade and I still don't consider myself a good writer.

One of the thing that puzzles some of my colleagues who are primarily interested in "belle lettres" is my acknowledgment of and indifference to the fact that some nonfiction writers whose works I really enjoy are not virtuosos of language. In fact, I say from time to time, as certain people shake their head in dismayed wonder, that "I can forgive 'mere competency' with regards to sentence-level writing if the narrative is strong enough and the intellectual analysis acute enough."

As if "mere competency" in terms of sentence-level writing wasn't in short supply. As you rightly note, Janet, there are plenty of very educated people who can't communicate effectively a simple idea in competent, comprehensible prose.

the problem with the student who wrote the essay Holly shares here is not so much that she is a bad writer -- as other commenters have noted, it's easy to find bad writing just about anywhere -- it's that she's arrogant and unwilling to learn something from someone who is evidently a good writer.

Thank you, Spike, for that analysis. I think you sum up the issue squarely. And I hope you finish that horrible pile soon!

Spike said: Why is it that when we extend ourselves to help them see what we have worked so hard to see, they can't be bothered to take an interest? What makes it so difficult to be both humble and ambitious?

Well, as my unsainted, but good-hearted mother would say, "children [aka: students] have to be taught to take an interest, to be humble, and to be ambitious."

This is my current rant with a lot of today's youth: they've been so molly-coddled and given everything they want that few of them know what it is to really work for and earn something. Many of them take at as a given that they will receive an A on a paper/course, that they'll land the $75K job without years of hard work and experience, that mommy and daddy will give them the newest car and latest technology.

I read a blog the other day by a young man who just graduated last month from George Washington University. He lamented the fact that his parents--who gave him a $40K car and paid for his $100K education, as well as his housing and clothes--didn't know what he wanted to do now. The answer: get off your freakin' ass and get a job and start learning what it means to pay for some of this stuff.

Holly's student's attitude is far from surprising to me and is, I fear, indicative of the kind of young people we're going to continue to see for many years to come.

Here's a frightening thought to ponder: these young people are our next generation of leaders in this nation.

This is my current rant with a lot of today's youth: they've been so molly-coddled and given everything they want that few of them know what it is to really work for and earn something. Many of them take at as a given that they will receive an A on a paper/course, that they'll land the $75K job without years of hard work and experience, that mommy and daddy will give them the newest car and latest technology.

This is not quite the problem at the institution I teach, which has a lot of students who are from blue-collar backgrounds and the first generation in their family to attend college. Many of them see college as an extension of high school (which it is becoming in certain ways) and feel a lot of anxiety about spending all this money which is supposed to guarantee them a job. (Can't say I blame them on that--I think they should be MORE anxious about incurring this huge student loan debt, and be more engaged in trying to change the currrent political landscape.) They feel they're purchasing an education, and it's my job to give them what they've paid for, which generally includes a satifactory grade. It doesn't matter whether or not they've earned the grade through their work, because in their minds, they've earned the grade through plunking down their tuition money.

For the record, I do have plenty of students who are a pleasure to work with, who are talented and creative and smart and ambitious and thorough. I would like to think that the quality of the good students is as high as its ever been, but it sure seems the mediocre ones are worse than they used to be, even when I first started teaching 18 years ago. Personally I think computers have a lot to do with it. If you have to retype your paper on a typewriter, you have to read it as you type, and that means you actually have to judge whether or not the sentences make sense. Whereas now many students just run spell and grammar check and are done with it.

Here's a frightening thought to ponder: these young people are our next generation of leaders in this nation.

That is frightening, but we'll only get there
provided we survive the current leadership of some molly-coddled rich kid with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement....

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on June 20, 2006 1:02 PM.

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