Sunday, March 26, 2006

Because grading only becomes fun when I blog about it (Part III)

The question posed to the class:
In The Things They Carry, Tim O’Brien reflects on the experiences of ordinary American soldiers in Vietnam and — in a broader sense — explores the irresolvable ambiguities of that war. Drawing on O’Brien’s book as well as your wider understanding of the American war in Vietnam, write an essay that evaluates these ambiguities as they played out in that precise historical moment. How does O’Brien’s novel (if we can even call it that) help us to understand the actual history of that war? How did the Vietnam War undermine the certainty with which Americans spoke about the cold war?

That being said, you really don't want to see the essay that lured me into this ungenerous outburst:
[Student X]: I just can't figure out your overall argument here. The introduction has very little to do with the rest of the paper; the subsequent paragraphs are profoundly ungrammatical and are consequently vague and confusing; you pay almost no attention to the historical details of the Vietnam War; and in a paper that barely creeps past four full pages, you squander nearly two on a pointless and uncritical recitation of the central claims offered up in Unfit for Command, a book that has minimal relevance to Tim O’Brien’s novel [The Things They Carried] and which is virtually useless to historians (or students) who want to learn something about the Vietnam era.

I'm pleased to report that the rest of the essays in the stack were quite strong.