SHARE

“In Hebrew God is called Yamaha.”

Or so says one of Pro­fessor of History David Stewart’s former stu­dents. This comment is immor­talized along with a 14 pages of single spaced, indi­vidual student flubs col­lected by Stewart during the 20 years he has worked at Hillsdale College.

The “Yamaha” quo­tation shares the page with other gems like: “Actually, Homer was not written by Homer, but by someone with the same name.”

Stewart said he often copies small por­tions of this makeshift anthology and prints them on the back of quizzes to entertain stu­dents. Some have noticed the addition, but few on campus know the extent of the list from which it came.

20 years is a long time.

Stewart’s col­league, Pro­fessor of History Paul Rahe, has a list of his own. He staples this list of what not to do, simply titled “Painful Examples,” to his sheet of paper require­ments. Rahe said the his list is com­posed of mis­takes from stu­dents at schools where he was employed before Hillsdale — schools like Cornell, the Uni­versity of Tulsa, and Franklin and Mar­shall College.

“When I was teaching at the Uni­versity of Tulsa, my six-year-old daughter could write better than some of my college freshman,” Rahe said.

He said he wasn’t exag­ger­ating, either.

“Twelve years of daycare does not teach you to read and write,” Rahe said. “They corral you in, prevent you from killing one another, and look after you while your parents are working.”

Rahe said Hillsdale is dif­ferent — most of the stu­dents who come here are better pre­pared and well-read.

“I haven’t had any real bloopers at Hillsdale,” he said. “I don’t mean the writing is uni­formly good. Espe­cially in Western Her­itage, where I get first-term freshmen, there is a certain per­centage who need a lot of help with their writing.”

One such student, William Cooney ‘12, began his college career with vir­tually no writing expe­rience, but now is attending graduate school at Gonzaga Uni­versity and plans to pursue a PhD.

“Dr. Rahe and Dr. Stewart at two of the three people who really pro­pelled me to where I am,” Cooney said.  “They taught me how to think and how to read.  Both they and their well-earned chas­tisement encouraged me to work harder, read more, and spend more time editing my papers.”

Cooney still has a copy of Dr. Rahe’s “Painful Examples” and has noticed similar mis­takes in his own stu­dents’ writing.

Certain mis­takes occur regardless of passing time, Rahe said “The current gen­er­ation doesn’t know to use the apos­trophe. They use it promis­cu­ously.”

Rahe said for some time there has been a “grave problem” with pro­nouns and antecedents, misuse of “lesser” versus “fewer,”  and use of the shortened “most” instead of “almost.”

“’Most everybody.’ That’s what rural people in Oklahoma, where I grew up, said,” he laughed.

Rahe said the examples are amusing, but the problem is real. He said every student makes a diction error occa­sionally, but if you cannot write well, it makes it more dif­ficult to get a job.

“What goes on in the writing center on campus and the pum­meling we give student papers is very important,” he said. “It’s a matter of habits. Changing habits isn’t easy, and requires con­scious effort.”

Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Edu­cation Daniel Cou­pland said poor grammar is a common problem in today’s public school system.

“If stu­dents received explicit English grammar instruction — including sen­tence dia­gramming — in a tra­di­tional public school, they received it from teachers who were willing to teach against the grain,” he said.

Cou­pland went on to say that in today’s class­rooms, you have a better chance of finding a manual type­writer than you do of finding a sen­tence diagram.

“The sad fact is that most teachers couldn’t teach explicit English grammar even if they wanted to because they them­selves never learned it,” he said.

Rahe said that he also sees bright stu­dents who aren’t willing to do the work. These are the stu­dents who approach a test without studying and scribble down a non­sen­sical — though witty — answer to the ques­tions they don’t know the answer to.

Rahe admitted these “snarky” answers made him laugh, but were a symptom of the high-school-fos­tered idea that studying was an unnec­essary accom­pa­niment to class. Many stu­dents feel that because they coasted through high school they can pull the same stunt in college.

Rahe said this usually comes out on the test.

“I will guess a third of my freshman stu­dents will fail their first exam,” he said. “Being hit by a two-by-four is a very useful thing for a freshman.”

Stewart agreed that he saw much of the same behavior in his classes. He said many of the mis­takes that appear on his list are there because stu­dents wrote the paper at 3 a.m. with no time to proofread.

“I believe 90 percent of the time the mis­takes result from pro­cras­ti­nation,” he said. “I call on the stu­dents who ought to know better.”

Stewart says he calls stu­dents on their mis­takes, often in class, but that most don’t make it onto the list.

“A list like Rahe’s or Stewart’s does three things,” said Cooney.  “First, it shows stu­dents that pro­fessors care enough to read their papers closely.  Second, it shows stu­dents that their class­mates have also made mis­takes and gone on to overcome them.  And third, it’s easier to rec­ognize a problem if you can asso­ciate it with an anecdote or an example.”

At the end of the day, it helps stu­dents learn.

“You deserve to be mocked if you clearly didn’t spend the time proof­reading,” Stewart said.

But neither Rahe nor Stewart shame the stu­dents who they call out, Cooney said.

“It’s for the edi­fi­cation of others and always in good fun — never ill spirited.  They simply create the exemplar of what not to do.  Com­pli­ments do the same thing, really, only by showing what one ought to do.”