The University, Writing InstructorSophomores As Pre-Mature Cynics

Sophomores As Pre-Mature Cynics

When a person teaches writing, as I have, for 26 years to students who don’t want to take a writing class and resent being in the same room with people who teach it, I feel you have a right to be crabby.  Or at least to pretend to be.  Actually, I don’t mind the word ubiquitous.  I like the sound of it though I have small occasion to use it.  I just throw that in as an example of a big word.  I really don’t like the word “plethora.”    A person who uses “plethora” is a social climber, the kind of person who might be drawn to word power books as a way of cultivating an enormously inflated vocabulary as a means to intimidate others.  

I don’t believe in using big words to intimidate others.  People who do that are vulgar and lacking class. If you want to use language to intimidate others, small words will do.

Of course, though, most students who try to use big works are not using them to intimidate but to imitate the big word users known as professors or teaching assistants.  They are humbly trying to conform but screw up a great deal while trying to do so.

But the deeper problem with my sophomores is not that they are probably average to poor writers rather that average to good.  No.  The problem is the sophomore attitude.  In less than a quarter, many conclude that college is a “game.”  Frequently this is a defensive strategy.  They came into the university thinking they would get A’s with little effort.  I do believe that about a quarter of the students I teach have a straight A average upon entering the university.  But then they don’t get A’s; they get B’s.  And sometimes if they are in the sciences they get Cs.  

These students, rather than decide they are perhaps stupid or that their education was perhaps inadequate or that they did not study enough but partyed way too much, decide that school is a game, and if they screwed up, that’s because they have not learned the game.  Learning the game is not the same thing as learning at all.  Instead learning the game is best called working the system.  You simply have failed to make the right connections so you can find out who the easy teachers are or you have failed fully to grasp the technique of saying exactly what the professor wants you to say and no more or no less.  And because you have not figured that out, you study the wrong thing or too much and end up feeling like a social outcast among all those people who don’t seem to study at all but still get As.

Because the idea that college is a game serves as a defense for these people, as a cover up for some vulnerability, they can be quite obnoxiously assertive in their claim that college is nothing but a game with nothing of justice to it.  Such students will sometimes say, “I did not get my money’s worth from your class.”  Or: “Your class was a waste of my valuable time.”

I call these sophomores “pre-mature cynics.”    

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