Term Papers Kill Readers

I am a librarian at a community college in east Tennessee. This week is finals week. Today is Sunday. Right now, dozens (possibly hundreds) of students are pouring their twenty-first cup of coffee to recapture the energy of last night’s all-nighter. They are writing term papers, hopefully revising them. They are casting words onto a screen much like a gambler casts dice, hoping some of the words turn up lucky and reveal a pattern in an otherwise meaningless spray.

As teachers, this is not what we hope they are doing. We hope they are deeply engaged in the creative digestion of everything they have learned with us this term and are making a careful synthesis of something new, brilliant and insightful that comes directly from that secret, genius-place in their brains.

Unfortunately, that will not happen. We won’t read those papers because we don’t ask for those papers. What if we did? What would that assignment look like? Possibly something like Kurt Vonnegut’s end of term assignment.

How would we grade it? Don’t know. Don’t care. If I could allow a student to be passionate and then force them to share that passion with others, my semester would have been a complete success.

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