But over the weekend, the sophomore problem started bugging me again in multiple ways. I had all those sophomores partly because the Writing Program didn’t have enough money to teach all the Freshpersons who were supposed to take the course. Or to put it another way, even if every class had been completely filled with nothing but Freshpersons we did not offer enough classes to take all of the Freshpersons who were supposed to take the course in the year—the Freshperson year—that they were supposed to take it. Some of the sophomores in my class might have actually tried to get in the course but couldn’t find an empty spot. So here they were slopped over into my class.
Also quite logically and correctly, no doubt, I assume that most of these sophomores had not tried very hard. The people who wanted really to get into Writing 2 were people who requested the course on what is called the first pass through the computer system. But most of these people had probably requested the course on their third pass and of course—what do you know?—but no spots were available. They didn’t want a spot most likely because they had failed the writing placement exam.
That meant as entering Freshpersons, the year before they got into my class, they had not been eligible to take Writing 2 but had to take Writing 1 that is the course a person has to take if they fail the writing placement exam. Most students do not like failing a writing test and then have to take and also to pay for (and at one time get no graduation credit for) a course to make up for failing the test. The test is a really stupid test, but the people who flunk it, at least half of them, do not write as well as the people who pass it. They probably did not pass it because they lacked confidence as writers or were hung over. So they fail the test and their confidence is further reduced, and then they take Writing 1 which makes them feel stupid or like they have the small pox and their confidence is further reduced.
Consequently by the time they get to my class the very idea of a writing class—and the potentials for humiliation and embarrassment implicit in it (not to mention the horror of a bad grade)—has put them in a pretty rancid mood. Also the sophomores know as well as I do that the course is for Freshpersons. Right there in the catalogue it says, “Writing 2 Introduction to Academic Writing.” And during that Freshperson year when they should have been taking Writing 2 they were “introduced” or perhaps “smacked over the head” with Academic Writing in one of those General Education Courses they didn’t want to take either, but had to because they are required. Some feel resentment at having to receive a brush up course on an introduction they have already experienced in the concrete form of a low grade.
Already, I suspect they are seeking compensatory structures, as I call them, to hide or muffle their inadequacies as writers. So off I go, “And don’t ever use that thing…What’s it call the thsaraous (I pretend I can’t pronounce Thesaurus). Yea…that thing. I know, even though I am old, that they have that thing on computers now. But never use it. Never, ever use a big word when a simple one will do. Why use ubiquitous when you can use every where. Tell me, why the hell would you do that except to impress somebody with your knowledge of big words? What are you trying to do? Make somebody else feel stupid? Are you an elitist or something? Well, I am not stupid, I am not an elitist, and I am not impressed. Also, I want you to know I just hate the word, ‘plethora.’”