Pandering to the Student

Here's the big battle for writing teachers: what to write on student drafts.

Lately I've been concerned that the standard red pen approach is actually a kind of plagiaristic pandering, whereby we aid carnal desire to earn grades without the requisite work. In other words, they want something for nothing and we feel obliged to give it to them.

To borrow from the ubiquitous 12 step discourse, the red pen approach causes professors to function as plagiarism enablers.

The mechanics of this are simple. we identify an error, mark a correction on the essay, hand that essay back to the student, who goes back to those corrections, makes them, and resubmits the essay (as a revision or part of a portfolio). We look at this new and improved essay, and say, "Now there's some progress," and reward the student with more points.

The implicit message is that professors will subsidize student success with our own work. Consequently, I think students pick up, what is for them, an important strategy -- they can maximize their grade-to-effort ratio by not worrying about error because their professors (a) allow them to revise and (b) will show them what's wrong and, more importantly, how to fix it.

In all this what we're not teaching them how to do is fundamental. We're not teaching them how to fix their own errors.

Perhaps we think something along these lines: "How can they learn if I don't show them what's wrong?"