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March 25, 2007

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Hilzoy: I’m not tracking on this tonight. I’ll give it a fresh read tomorrow.

If that student expressed himself as incoherently in his classwork as in his letter, I can understand the bad grade. I'm still not sure what the beef is: that Kauffman made him feel uncomfortable by talking? That being fair and impartial is wrong? That Kauffman didn't make an effort to understand him as a person? That hard work should be enough for a good grade?

Your anecdote about brainstorming how to be more available to students bemused me. When I was in college, there were terrific professors who made sure they were 'available to students,' but there were an equal number who seemed to regard teaching as a regrettable if necessary chore to be fitted in around research, writing, and conferences. Undergraduates just weren't worth their time.

The continuum from "disinterested lecturer" to "Professor I'm-Your-Pal" must be difficult to navigate. For students, it can be a real shock to be in an environment where they're totally responsible for themselves, after 18 years of Mom and Dad and Teacher hovering over them to one degree or another. For professors, it can be rough, too: either they're young enough that their students are almost their peers, or they're old enough that their students could be their kids.

I have office hours. I try to be approachable. I encourage my students to come and talk to me.

But do you have beer in your office?

CaseyL: I should say that I would have reacted to that meeting very differently had it taken place in other universities I know. But that one -- that was a place where students I didn't even know felt free to stop by my house at 11pm to ask if I had some philosophy book they wanted to read. It was a place where it was taken for granted, and deeply part of the culture, that teaching was the heart of your job. I'm sure there were profs who didn't live by that, but by and large it was a very student-centered place.

Tim: no.

I knew I had forgotten something.

CaseyL:

If that student expressed himself as incoherently in his classwork as in his letter, I can understand the bad grade. I'm still not sure what the beef is: that Kauffman made him feel uncomfortable by talking? That being fair and impartial is wrong? That Kauffman didn't make an effort to understand him as a person? That hard work should be enough for a good grade?

In my experience, your last query sounds like the right one. There is an endless supply of (usually) well-meaning, privileged, and entitled students out there for whom "A for effort" must at some point have been an actual lived experience.

And when I give them a C+ it's like I've accused them of being morons. Or I've failed to value their personhood. Or something.

I used to teach physics, which meant I could be pretty hard-nosed about grading.

It was an obvious strain for a lot of the students that my idea of an exam obliged them to figure out the problem, figure out what equations were necessary, etc. Just plugging numbers into equations I gave them was what quite a few students thought "physics testing" should be....

We grad students got together and decided that no "A's for effort" would ever occur. Any student who tried pleading effort-but-no-result got flayed.

I've always felt pretty brutal about education and egos--it does no benefit to the student if the teacher fails to evaluate the student properly. And it certainly will not assist the student when he goes out into the Real World and has to deal with Real Employment.

Kaufmann's student seems to have studied at the feet of George W. Bush's talking-points briefers: In every appearance, our dim bulb in chief has one or two phrases that he repeats to the point of absurdity.

This has made easy pickings for the Daily Show, who most recently feasted on Bush's petulant but persistent defense of his offer of closed-door, no-oath, no-transcript appearances for Rove and Miers as "reasonable". He must have said it nine or ten times.

The student's magic word is, of course, "uncomfortable".

When I was in college, there were terrific professors who made sure they were 'available to students,' but there were an equal number who seemed to regard teaching as a regrettable if necessary chore to be fitted in around research, writing, and conferences. Undergraduates just weren't worth their time.

Same here. These same professors made it clear, should you be foolish enough to actually show up during office hours, that you were wasting their extremely valuable time and ought to be pestering a TA instead. Some professors were careful to arrange their office hours at times when undergrads would be unlikely to be able to attend. The sporting events idea is pretty silly, but why not ask the students *why* they aren't coming in during office hours?

mythago: the thing is, so very many of them were. They came by office hours, they asked us out for lunch and coffee ('asked us out' in its literal, non-dating sense); they called us in our office and at home; they invited us to their plays; I personally played 'These Boots Are Made For Walking' at their talent show, with two deans I had roped into it; we advised their student groups, etc., etc., etc. All of this was completely taken for granted there. And I really liked that: I normally teach that way, and I liked both the fact that it was expected and regarded as obviously part of our jobs, and the knowledge that if I tried to do right by my students, I would not be penalized for that.

It just made that one meeting odd, is all.

Nell et al. - in case you didn't see it, check out this comment from the translator of that poem we discussed recently here.

in comments, Scott Eric Kaufman, who got the original complaint (which he says he redacted slightly), says that the student is "a native speaker of the upper-class, Wonder Bread variety." I thought so when I read it

Last night when I read this, “upper-class, Wonder Bread” bugged me a little. I thought well I’m tired, revisit tomorrow. But it still bugs me. I’m not sure how it is any less offensive than “lower-class White Trash” would be.

I’m not a PC type, but it seems offensive to me that a (former) teacher wrote this about a student in a public forum. (Meaning Kaufman not Hilzoy of course).

He also seems to have edited more than a little:
I redacted it in the style of the student, so only about two sentences made it in without some alteration in placement, grammar, or style.

I’m left to wonder what the student actually wrote and why a former teacher would think it appropriate to share it.

OCSteve: Last night when I read this, “upper-class, Wonder Bread” bugged me a little. I thought well I’m tired, revisit tomorrow. But it still bugs me. I’m not sure how it is any less offensive than “lower-class White Trash” would be.

Because it is less offensive to make fun of the over-privileged than it is to make fun of the under-privileged.

Just as when a student tells a joke about a teacher, it's funny. When a teacher tells a joke about a student...
...which I believe is your point?

(And I agree with it, I have to say: if this is an actual e-mail sent by a student to a teacher and the student would recognize his/her own work on Scott's blog, then I think that's appalling. If it's been tweaked so that no individual student will recognize an actual e-mail they themselves sent, not so much.)

I think OCSteve has it right. Kaufman has taken all the outrage out of this letter by admitting he http://acephalous.typepad.com/acephalous/2007/03/i_am_making_peo.html>wrote the whole thing. At best it is now 'False but Accurate.'

http://acephalous.typepad.com/acephalous/2007/03/i_am_making_peo.html

The letter is written in the style of the student's complaint, but I had a little fun with it. The student may find some of the phrasing familiar, but I freely admit to doctoring the original email.

Nice. So the student may recognize that they are the source for this little bit of “fun”.

But only the outrageously entitled will think poorly of me for mocking outrageous entitlement ... and I'm not interested in pandering to that particular demographic.

Wrong. I personally identify more with the trailer park than the gated community and I think poorly of him. He may be mocking entitlement but he is also mocking a student in a public forum.

Accurate or not, the attitude of "I have a right to a good grade and to never be told that I'm wrong" is something I have certainly encountered among my fellow students. Wimps.

I remember one incident in law school where a bunch of students went to the dean and forced a professor to apologize to the class. Her sin? She had snapped at a student, who had obviously come unprepared to class and had the bad fortune to be called on, something like "alright, you've now guessed two wrong answers in a row, there's only one possible answer left, what would you like to guess?"
Which I personally considered a) deserved, (b) accurate, (c) instructive, (d) well within the bounds of the Socratic instructional style that we had all been told to expect, and (e) a lot less painful than that student would experience if he didn't learn to prep for meetings by the time he graduated.
I told the prof so afterwards, and the dean.

@rilkefan: Thanks for the pointer!

OCSteve, again we agree on something. This is very much "a pox on both their houses" scenario.

Trilobite, your point e) is very well taken. Too many students expect to be treated as if they were fragile things and entitled to kid glove treatment. Unfortunately, the real world is not likely to care about what they want.

The last does not apply only to students, BTW.

It was interesting reading the comments that my son's students made in their ccoutrse evaluations for the class he taught last term at Northwestern. For the most part they were extremely glowing (which of course is to be expected considering his parentage). There were a couple that almost followed the lament shown in this post.

He was almost sure which two students wrote them and told me that they were always the least prepared for any of the classes.

There's no reason to resent the student for his folly. Students are in school because they need to learn. They're ignorant, and a teacher's job is to educate them. This student's plaint is no different from the child's plea that "Daddy said I could have it" -- it's just a childish attempt at manipulation. My response to such complaints is to smile and say, "No, you don't understand the ramifications of what you're saying." I then make a brief attempt to explain their error. Usually it irks them that I am ignoring what they perceive to be their rights. A few of the more self-righteous have taken their complaints higher. Big deal. Let's never forget that grading is intrinsically a conflict between the student who seeks to maximize his grade and the teacher who seeks to maintain a proper set of grading standards. Because it's a conflict, students will always attempt to manipulate teachers. Teachers must ignore such attempts at manipulation.

I'm with OCSteve:

1. Kaufman has admitted that he wrote the letter to illustrate a "type" -- the "upper-class, Wonder Bread" type. I've admitted never heard of this type before, given that the upper classes very seldom eat Wonder Bread (in my limited experience). Wonder Bread is not upper class. (Indeed, this is a weird classist mix: It's almost as if Kaufman is offended by the kid whose parents just got money, and therefore continue with some some lower-class preferences.)

2. Jes: "Because it is less offensive to make fun of the over-privileged than it is to make fun of the under-privileged." Why? And, even if this is the case, what's the advantage in making up a letter to make up a stereotype?

3. Based on this post and made-up e-mail, I'm not very sympathetic to Kaufman. He's probably not quite the teacher he thinks himself to be.

I'm with OCSteve:

1. Kaufman has admitted that he wrote the letter to illustrate a "type" -- the "upper-class, Wonder Bread" type. I've admitted never heard of this type before, given that the upper classes very seldom eat Wonder Bread (in my limited experience). Wonder Bread is not upper class. (Indeed, this is a weird classist mix: It's almost as if Kaufman is offended by the kid whose parents just got money, and therefore continue with some some lower-class preferences.)

2. Jes: "Because it is less offensive to make fun of the over-privileged than it is to make fun of the under-privileged." Why? And, even if this is the case, what's the advantage in making up a letter to make up a stereotype?

3. Based on this post and made-up e-mail, I'm not very sympathetic to Kaufman. He's probably not quite the teacher he thinks himself to be.

Students are in school because they need to learn.

That opinion puts you in a distinct minority, I suspect. My (liberal arts) college experience involved far more classes that were graded on attendance or 'participation' than on anything relating to actual knowledge. Kids who failed their finals could still end up with an A; kids who aced the same exams were failed for not showing up at a specific room at a specific time three or four days per week.

I don't think this was by accident nor do I think it was unique to my school. College in the 21st century has far, far more to do with socializing students into the rote work and routine schedules associated with collecting a low-level paycheck than it does with anything so mundane as knowledge or critical thinking. Most modern college graduates don't know calculus. The ability to place a comma in a sentence, or even to identify what a comma denotes, is no longer a requisite to earn a degree.

Sorry for the double post.

I've admitted never heard of this type before, given that the upper classes very seldom eat Wonder Bread (in my limited experience).

Wonder Bread = white student.

Kaufman has admitted that he wrote the letter to illustrate a "type" -- the "upper-class, Wonder Bread" type. I've admitted never heard of this type before, given that the upper classes very seldom eat Wonder Bread (in my limited experience). Wonder Bread is not upper class.

He hasn't 'admitted' writing the letter from scratch -- he said he rewrote it, preserving the tone (I assume to keep it from being traceable to the student):

I redacted it in the style of the student, so only about two sentences made it in without some alteration in placement, grammar, or style. The diction and circularity, however, belongs entirely to the student. The best comparison is a cover song, in which the (dubious) brilliance of the original is largely responsible for the quality of the cover.

And in context 'upper-class Wonder Bread' makes perfect sense -- he means that the kid comes from an affluent middle-American background, not from circumstances where his difficulty with writing in English might be explained either by poverty or by having learned English as an adult. 'Wonder Bread' isn't classist, it's conventional shorthand for 'no obvious strong cultural influences other than American Anglo.'

Where are these push-over professors?

I thought my working-class/ex-convict with kids’ background would shield me from B’s and C’s!

I thought really wrong.

Jesuits were no joke.

Most modern college graduates don't know calculus.

Or ancient Greek. What is the world coming to?

Most modern college graduates don't know calculus.

Was there ever a point in time when most college graduates knew calculus?

In my previous post I wasn't trying to defend an entitled student, but do we really need to open another front in the battle against straw?

Lizardbreath

You write (your quote from Kaufman in italics):

He hasn't 'admitted' writing the letter from scratch -- he said he rewrote it, preserving the tone (I assume to keep it from being traceable to the student):

I redacted it in the style of the student, so only about two sentences made it in without some alteration in placement, grammar, or style. The diction and circularity, however, belongs entirely to the student. The best comparison is a cover song, in which the (dubious) brilliance of the original is largely responsible for the quality of the cover.

So maybe 2 sentences in the letter are real; everything else has undergone "some alteration in placement, grammar, or style." (That pretty much covers the possibilities, doesn't it?) And based on this admission, those 2 real sentences may very well have been moved from their original position, or their meaning been altered by the wholesale alteration of the text around it.

Moreover, in his follow-up post, Kaufman makes plain that his alterations are intended to make the student appear more stupid and outrageous than less:

Fourth, to the person who said "composing it as real seems precisely Kaufman's style," what can I do but confess? (Again, that is.) The letter is written in the style of the student's complaint, but I had a little fun with it. The student may find some of the phrasing familiar, but I freely admit to doctoring the original email. Granted, I parroted the style and diction as best I could. (As the resident poets have noticed, there may be a little more lyricism in my version than there was in the original.) Thing is, writing in someone else's style is something I do rather regularly (if rarely so explicitly). I'm a firm believer in the apprenticeship model of developing prose and frequently inhabit other writer's voices for dramatic effect.

To which I say (again): what an ass. The guy is a caricature of privilege and ego, seeking provide his insights into white male patriarchy (sorry, the white male partiarchy, since there is only one) to his poor students and members of the culture at large -- none of whom are quite up to snuff.

By the way, note how dishonest Kaufman was when he first introduced the letter, calling it "A slightly redacted version of my favorite student complaint ever" (emphasis Kaufman's).

Would you call a letter that you've revised every sentence, save two, "as to placement, grammar, or style" as "slightly redacted"? Does "slightly redacted" equate in your mind to "The letter is written in the style of the student's complaint, but I had a little fun with it. The student may find some of the phrasing familiar, but I freely admit to doctoring the original email"? And, given that none of us have the original email -- assuming it even exists -- why the heck should we take Kaufman's word that his most recent explanation is, at long last, the correct one?

To which I say (again): what an ass. The guy is a caricature of privilege and ego, seeking provide his insights into white male patriarchy (sorry, the white male partiarchy, since there is only one) to his poor students and members of the culture at large -- none of whom are quite up to snuff.

Jeebus. Have you ever read anything else of Kaufman's, von? It sure doesn't sound like it.

And, given that none of us have the original email -- assuming it even exists -- why the heck should we take Kaufman's word that his most recent explanation is, at long last, the correct one?

Because the point isn't the specific student in question. You should read through the comments to the original thread if you haven't already; regardless of whether or not Kaufman made up the original e-mail, it certainly rang true with a bunch of people who have been in the same situation.

I've had some conversation with SEK in comments, and found him to be one of the most reasonable people I've ever encountered.

Which may not be the kind of praise he's looking for, given the source, but take it for what it's worth.

I too stumbled over the "Wonder Bread" bit, but I didn't care enough to ask.

To which I say (again): what an ass. The guy is a caricature of privilege and ego, seeking provide his insights into white male patriarchy (sorry, the white male partiarchy, since there is only one) to his poor students and members of the culture at large -- none of whom are quite up to snuff.

Jeebus. Have you ever read anything else of Kaufman's, von? It sure doesn't sound like it.

If in one post you put on the bottom half of a donkey suit and the next you pull on the donkey top, I'm quite willing to call you an ass without reading much further.

Because the point isn't the specific student in question. You should read through the comments to the original thread if you haven't already; regardless of whether or not Kaufman made up the original e-mail, it certainly rang true with a bunch of people who have been in the same situation.

As originally presented as a "slightly redacted e-mail" (again, Kaufman's emphasis), it was this single student. Kaufman only retreasted to his "type" defense when it became clear that this wasn't a "slightly redacted e-mail", but rather a made up e-mail that Kaufman is currently claiming was intended to represent/loosely based on/rewritten from a real e-mail.

Eh. Kaufman is clearly representing the edited email as funny to pretty much the same degree and for the same reasons as the original email -- as a fair representation of the flaws of the original email. If you trust him, there's nothing wrong with this. If you don't, he's an awful, awful person. But without the original email to compare it to, you don't have any basis from this set of posts for deciding to trust him or not.

I've read enough of his stuff, and interacted with him enough, that I trust him to have fairly represented the original email. If you don't, you don't.

If in one post you put on the bottom half of a donkey suit and the next you pull on the donkey top, I'm quite willing to call you an ass without reading much further.

And what about when people who know better than you say, "that's not an ass"?

As originally presented as a "slightly redacted e-mail" (again, Kaufman's emphasis), it was this single student.

To you, maybe. Clearly not to all the people who responded in comments. Hell, I've never done much teaching and I knew the type.

Is "Wonder Bread" a mistake for, or an idiolectic variant of, "whitebread"? I too find it hard to imagine what sort of person is described by both "upper-class" and "Wonder Bread" (a stereotypically lower-class food).

Is "Wonder Bread" a mistake for, or an idiolectic variant of, "whitebread"?

I've heard it used in place of "whitebread" before. Usually in the context of "you're whiter than Wonder Bread".

idiolectic variant of, "whitebread"?

This, exactly.

Lizardbreath and Josh, does it not bother you at all that Kaufman first stated that this email was "slightly edited," but has admitted that the e-mail was, in fact, completely rewritten?

Try this one: Let's say that I want to establish that liberal arts professors are nutty types. I present an e-mail that I state is (1) from a liberal arts professor, (2) is only "slightly redacted" and (3) says a bunch of absolutely nutty things. I post it on RedState. My fellow commentators on RedState agree with me that they know "exactly the type," have themselves received e-mails "just like it," and praise me for demonstrating the reality of what it means to be a liberal arts professor.

Later, it comes out that the e-mail was not "slightly edited" but, in fact, completely rewritten with the intent of making it better prove my point regarding how liberal arts professors are nutty. Are you going to be very forgiving of me? Are you going to have much patience for those who might defend me on RedState as exposing a well-known "type" even if it wasn't completely accurate? Will you accept that, because several Redstaters had posted that they know exactly the type, that my conclusion -- liberal arts professors are nuts -- must be well founded?

Fake but accurate.

Is "Wonder Bread" a mistake for, or an idiolectic variant of, "whitebread"?

I've heard it used in place of "whitebread" before. Usually in the context of "you're whiter than Wonder Bread".

Indeed, one irony of Eric "I implode myths of white patriarchy in my class every day" Kaufman is that Wonder Bread is very much a staple of lower class white and black families -- families with whom Kaufman obviously has very little in common. Indeed, he likely selected "Wonder Bread" because it struck him as the perfect food of the "other" -- the privileged, white, upper class students he wants to show are whiney complainers. In fact, these students and Kaufman almost certainly share nearly identical cultural preferences: they buy their "Ezekiel 4:9™ Sprouted Grain Bread" from the same Whole Foods Market and drink the same Fair Trade coffee.

Lizardbreath and Josh, does it not bother you at all that Kaufman first stated that this email was "slightly edited," but has admitted that the e-mail was, in fact, completely rewritten?

Absolutely not, since the point is not to comment on the individual student, but to comment on the class.

Lizardbreath and Josh, does it not bother you at all that Kaufman first stated that this email was "slightly edited," but has admitted that the e-mail was, in fact, completely rewritten?

Not really. Should it bother me that there never really were a couple of kids living in Verona by the name of Romeo and Juliet?

You don't even have to make up a hypothetical using RedState to get where you're going, BTW. David Horowitz does the sort of thing you're talking about all the time. The difference there is that he does it in the service of a political position, one he's actively working to make public policy. Kaufman... isn't.

Absolutely not, since the point is not to comment on the individual student, but to comment on the class.

What class? The class of individuals who are supposedly represented by this fake student e-mail?

It would be bad enough if Kaufman were merely attempting an argument from anecdote -- that'd be a simple, and pretty common, logical fallacy -- but he's actually attempting an argument from a false anecdote. We call that stupid and dishonest.

This reminds me of soemthing I wholeheartedly agreed with Von (from his interview the other day). The only real regret I have in life at this point is that I didn't study harder in college. What a horrific waste of my time those years were...those magnificient resources at my disposal and I did so little with them.

The idea that students don't have to own up to their responsibilities here makes me laugh. If they think it sucks that their professor doesn't magically materialize at a sporting event or other place in order to be there ready and open when they're finally ready and comfortable to ask a question, what chance will they have with a boss in corporate America who won't give them the time of day but still demands results?

Seriously, universities need to be more demanding of students, not less, IMO.

Later, it comes out that the e-mail was not "slightly edited" but, in fact, completely rewritten with the intent of making it better prove my point regarding how liberal arts professors are nutty.

Except that you've brought in the intent for rewriting out of nowhere. Kaufman's claim isn't that it's exaggerated to make his point, but that it's a recognizable, even if altered, version. You don't have to believe him about that -- if you don't know him, there's no reason why you should. But if you believe him (which, from prior experience with his writing, I do), then I don't see anything to take exception to.

Indeed, one irony of Eric "I implode myths of white patriarchy in my class every day" Kaufman is that Wonder Bread is very much a staple of lower class white and black families -- families with whom Kaufman obviously has very little in common. Indeed, he likely selected "Wonder Bread" because it struck him as the perfect food of the "other" -- the privileged, white, upper class students he wants to show are whiney complainers. In fact, these students and Kaufman almost certainly share nearly identical cultural preferences: they buy their "Ezekiel 4:9™ Sprouted Grain Bread" from the same Whole Foods Market and drink the same Fair Trade coffee.

WTF are you talking about? The person I can most strongly remember describing themselves as "whiter than Wonder Bread" grew up in a comfortable suburb. There's no political point behind it, it's that Wonder Bread is chalk-white in color.

And Jesus Christ, von, how the hell would you know how much Kaufman has in common with lower-class families?

Not really. Should it bother me that there never really were a couple of kids living in Verona by the name of Romeo and Juliet?

So when I write that I'm faithfully reprinting an e-mail that's been "slightly redacted," it's fair for me just to make it up to suit my point because, after all, there is no distinction between fact and fiction?

Wonder Bread means pasty white.

And Jesus Christ, von, how the hell would you know how much Kaufman has in common with lower-class families?

You're right: I don't know how much Kaufman has in common with lower-class families. I just know that his choice of Wonder Bread was poorly though out and he's willing to pay fast-and-loose with the facts to try to establish a social point.

So when I write that I'm faithfully reprinting an e-mail that's been "slightly redacted," it's fair for me just to make it up to suit my point because, after all, there is no distinction between fact and fiction?

Kinda depends on what the point is.

Indeed, he likely selected "Wonder Bread" because it struck him as the perfect food of the "other" -- the privileged, white, upper class students he wants to show are whiney complainers.

This sounds more like something written with parodic intent than a serious claim.

I'd say the odds that Kaufman thinks of Wonder Bread as the perfect food of the upper class are close to zero.

Do we have some unresolved issues with the snooty world of academia, von? Is this something we need to talk out over Fair Trade coffee and Wonder Bread?

I just know that his choice of Wonder Bread was poorly though out and he's willing to pay fast-and-loose with the facts to try to establish a social point.

In what way was it poorly thought out? And what social point do you think he was trying to make?

This sounds more like something written with parodic intent than a serious claim.

There was an element of parodic intent, but it is also true that I made the statement a little too strong to bear the parody.

Do we have some unresolved issues with the snooty world of academia, von? Is this something we need to talk out over Fair Trade coffee and Wonder Bread?

I get along quite well with the snooty world of academia, thank you very much, as I come from a family of academics.

I suspect “White Bread” seems less harmless than “Cracker.”

Kinda depends on what the point is.

Let's make is simple: I want to have a good laugh at my students' expense.

I get along quite well with the snooty world of academia, thank you very much, as I come from a family of academics.

The second clause does not follow ineluctably from the first.

;)

Or is "Cracker" specific for lower-class white, while Wonder Bread is specific to upper-class white?

Let's make is simple: I want to have a good laugh at my students' expense.

That's a little too simple. *Why* do you want to have a good laugh at your students' expense?

Or is "Cracker" specific for lower-class white, while Wonder Bread is specific to upper-class white?

cracker = lower class
water cracker = upper-class

By my reading "whitebread" = bland, white (in the 'not ethnically marked' sense) and lacking any distinctive character or substance.

"Entitlement" here should perhaps be read as the student's (fairly common) belief that everyone should earn an A given a demonstration of competence and effort. I did not see it as being particularly concerned with social class.

Taken together, it does describe a type.

And even if Kauffman turned out to be a bit of an ass, that does not necessarily mean that he is not a good teacher. The two are not mutually exclusive Some of my better professors were asses and some of my nicest professors were not the best teachers.

Let's make is simple: I want to have a good laugh at my students' expense.

Well, sure. Laughing at a particularly comic student was certainly a motive behind Kaufman's post. If you believed he had received the email substantially as posted, would you think that was improper? I'm not sure if you think he was wrong to make fun of his students for the way they write, or if you think he's inventing students who write badly for the purpose of making fun of them.

That's a little too simple. *Why* do you want to have a good laugh at your students' expense?

I dunno; why did Kaufman?

Well, sure. Laughing at a particularly comic student was certainly a motive behind Kaufman's post. If you believed he had received the email substantially as posted, would you think that was improper?

But why is there any basis to believe that he received the e-mail "substantially as posted" given that Kaufman has admitted that he did not receive the e-mail "substantially as posted," but, in fact, rewrote it?

The blog seems to have moved onward to poetry.

Those lips that your own mouth did move
Breathed forth the sound that said "I grade,"
To me that anguished to improve.
But when I heard your words conveyed
Straight in my heart discomfort rose,
Shaking that pen that ever strong
Was used in writing graceful prose,
And taught it things it knew all wrong.
"I grade" you garbled without cease
And fouled it as rotting pomes
Doth foul a bunch, which, like old grease
From kitchen to dump is cast from homes.
"I grade" you thwarted with a care
That ruined your course, saying, "as fair..."

I can't say as any of my professors ever inspired me to compose such verse!

"Entitlement" here should perhaps be read as the student's (fairly common) belief that everyone should earn an A given a demonstration of competence and effort. I did not see it as being particularly concerned with social class.

Kaufman described the student as "a native speaker of the upper-class, Wonder Bread variety."

Von: Jes: "Because it is less offensive to make fun of the over-privileged than it is to make fun of the under-privileged." Why?

For the same reason as you probably wouldn't be objecting if a student had written a letter mocking the style of a lecturer's e-mails to their students.

Is it really so hard to understand, Von? It's funny when people mock upwards. It's not funny when people mock downwards. A student making fun of a teacher is funny, whereas a teacher making fun of a student is nasty, precisely because of this. (Sorry, Hilzoy. But it is.) Why is it so hard to understand the humor gradient, Von? Just because you're at the wrong side of it for almost everything I can think of?

This thread, it confuses me. A few things: LB shoots and scores on the "Wonder Bread" comment. I don't think it's a matter of idiolect so much as dialect, however, as I heard (and said) it all the time growing up. (Poor, I should add, and in the South.) As for von:

As originally presented as a "slightly redacted e-mail" (again, Kaufman's emphasis), it was this single student.

I assumed readers would know that I'd never post a student's email verbatim. The sarcastic "slightly" was meant to hammer that fact home. The "slightly" always meant "heavily." After the post garnered attention outside my regular circle of readers, I felt the need to explain to those unfamiliar with Acephalous what that "slightly" signified. (A White Bear nails why in this comment.)

Kaufman only retreasted to his "type" defense when it became clear that this wasn't a "slightly redacted e-mail", but rather a made up e-mail that Kaufman is currently claiming was intended to represent/loosely based on/rewritten from a real e-mail.

It's not a defense, as no one is attacking me, but a clarification, i.e. this particular student fits a type. That's why this makes no sense:

It would be bad enough if Kaufman were merely attempting an argument from anecdote -- that'd be a simple, and pretty common, logical fallacy -- but he's actually attempting an argument from a false anecdote.

There's no argument in that post, or the subsequent ones. The reason "Wonder Bread" came up was because some people thought I may have been writing about a non-native speaker. I clarified. The only argument I might make here is that there are some students who admit to using the threat of grade challenges to force people on the fringes of academia into giving them the grade they (mistakenly) believe they have a right to:

I have made very high grades in all my other writing classes and even though I had many disputes with those instructors we always settled them to my happiness. Now for the first time I can not talk to you to settle my grades because I am uncomfortable to talk or even write to you.

To an adjunct who wants a job there the next quarter, that's a threat, one which this student seems to have wielded before to great effect. The letter is written by a braying, bullying student whose demands have always been met, from that pony when he was seven to the BMW he currently drives. He expects people to give him what he wants. When they don't, he threatens them. If they still refuse to back down, he talks to their superiors. If they won't bend to his will, &c.

Also, you'll note that I titled the post "And Yet, I Still Miss Teaching." I'm on a leave of absence right now. That email is anywhere from two to seven years old. I dug it up because all of my friends are currently grading and thought they could use some cheering up. But the title says it all: even though you run across an occasional student like this, teaching is such a rewarding profession that I miss it even when reminded of the lowest of its lows.

Kaufman described the student as "a native speaker of the upper-class, Wonder Bread variety."

Because people were *specifically thinking that the student was ESL*. He didn't describe the student that way out of the gate.

I asked my question first: Which annoys you -- making fun of a genuinely funny student, or inventing a funny student to make fun of?

But to answer yours: But why is there any basis to believe that he received the e-mail "substantially as posted" given that Kaufman has admitted that he did not receive the e-mail "substantially as posted," but, in fact, rewrote it?

"Substantially as posted" to me, means that the email he got was funny in the same manner and for the same reasons as what he posted -- that a reasonable person, if they compared the original email and the redacted version, wouldn't think the writer of the original had been done an injustice by being represented by the redacted version. If that's the case, with no names attached, I think it's good enough for a blog post.

Sorry, my last was to von's at 4:43.

Is it really so hard to understand, Von? It's funny when people mock upwards. It's not funny when people mock downwards.

Jes: First, go to bed. It's almost midnight GMT. Second, why isn't Kaufman mocking downward? He's the professor and mocker; the mockee is one of his students. Again, why does it matter that he thinks the student is upper-class & Wonder Bread?

Again, why does it matter that he thinks the student is upper-class & Wonder Bread?

Again, because commenters were assuming, incorrectly, that the student was an English as a Second Language speaker. He was correcting a misperception.

But why is there any basis to believe that he received the e-mail "substantially as posted" given that Kaufman has admitted that he did not receive the e-mail "substantially as posted," but, in fact, rewrote it?

Von, either you believe me because I'm a blogger of long tenure with a reputation for integrity, or you don't. I've had other other positively unbelievable things happen to me. You can choose not to believe them either. (Granted, there's a fairly lengthy paper trail attached to that one.) Or I could forward you the letter, wait, that would be as unethical as slapping it up on a website. Maybe a redacted version would satisfy you?

Kaufman described the student as "a native speaker of the upper-class, Wonder Bread variety."

Only after the fact, to clarify that I was not laughing at an ESL student. The fact that the students who write terribly are often of the privileged, domestic variety -- because they speak English, so obviously they know how to write it -- is commonplace. Hilzoy mentions it up there. I mentioned it in the comments on to that post (as did others). As I wrote, if you don't work at writing, you won't write well.

von- Kauffman did mention upper-class, but that does not mean that the sense of entitlement arises solely from class. Class is one of the descriptors and whitebread is another . Whitebread could be a general qualifier or it could specifically modify upper-class. The comma placement argues for the former.

Scott Eric Kaufman: 'After the post garnered attention outside my regular circle of readers, I felt the need to explain to those unfamiliar with Acephalous what that "slightly" signified. (A White Bear nails why in this comment.)'

AWB's comment sounds a lot like people defending Garrison Keillor's column criticized by Dan Savage the other day.


LB: "Which annoys you -- making fun of a genuinely funny student"

Have to say I found the letter pathetic not funny - I wondered if the writer was in good mental health.

Oh, come on, Professor Kaufman. Keep your story straight. First:

I assumed readers would know that I'd never post a student's email verbatim. The sarcastic "slightly" was meant to hammer that fact home. The "slightly" always meant "heavily."

This is ridiculous. Assuming that I take you at your word that you emphasized "slightly" for ironic effect rather than, say, for emphasis. You now want me to believe that "slightly redacted" means "heavily rewritten"? Does redacted have some peculiar, Kaufman-only meaning? Because I don't think it means what you think it means.

Second:

Kaufman only retreasted to his "type" defense when it became clear that this wasn't a "slightly redacted e-mail", but rather a made up e-mail that Kaufman is currently claiming was intended to represent/loosely based on/rewritten from a real e-mail.

It's not a defense, as no one is attacking me, but a clarification, i.e. this particular student fits a type. That's why this makes no sense:

It would be bad enough if Kaufman were merely attempting an argument from anecdote -- that'd be a simple, and pretty common, logical fallacy -- but he's actually attempting an argument from a false anecdote.

There's no argument in that post, or the subsequent ones. ....

Aha. (1) you post the "slightly redacted" e-mail because "this particular student fits a type" and (2) "There's no argument in that post, or the subsequent ones." But stating that the e-mail is representative of a student "type" is, of course, an argument. (If you prefer "thesis," that's fine too.)

You need to settle on a story: Either (1) you're posting this e-mail in a modified form to demonstrate a "type" of student that you find particularly grating -- in which case you're making an argument, whether you recognize it or not -- or (2) you're simply holding this e-mail up to ridicule, and all this "type" nonsense is beside the point.

To an adjunct who wants a job there the next quarter, that's a threat, one which this student seems to have wielded before to great effect. The letter is written by a braying, bullying student whose demands have always been met, from that pony when he was seven to the BMW he currently drives. He expects people to give him what he wants. When they don't, he threatens them. If they still refuse to back down, he talks to their superiors. If they won't bend to his will, &c.

But you're not an adjunct, correct? And this person is your student, correct? And the power in that relationship flows pretty heavily (if not solely) in your direction, correct? Despite the BMWs and ponies this student allegedly receives.

I should clarify that my use of the present tense in my e-mail at 5:08 p.m. is an error; Professor Kaufman states that the student e-mail he rewrote was received 2 to 7 years ago.

LizardBreach:

Me, in response to Jes: Again, why does it matter that he thinks the student is upper-class & Wonder Bread?

Again, because commenters were assuming, incorrectly, that the student was an English as a Second Language speaker. He was correcting a misperception.


You're missing the point of my dispute with Jes. Jes made the point, way upthread, that mocking the student was OK because the student was privileged. I asked why privilege had anything to do with it. She (just recently) replied that it was OK to "mock upward" but not "mock downward." My point is that this response does not answer the question, because Professor Kaufman is surely mocking downward here.

So, again, why does it matter if this student was privileged? No matter how privileged s/he is/was as a student, Professor Kaufman is in the superior position of power.

"The student may find some of the phrasing familiar"

The prospect of the student doing so makes me acutely uncomfortable. I've had a winner or two in my time but blogging a recognizable version of their complaints with a simple google path seems out of bounds to me.

Sorry, friends, I don't have enough time to read through all the comments, but the post inspires this : during my college years I couldn't begin to count the hours that the profs spent with me discussing literature and the meaning of life. I couldn't have pulled through without them. My favorite prof was one who gave me a D on my first literature paper : the one and only D in my career, but carefully explained exactly why my paper was total shit. He did me a great favor.
One of my professor friends over here told me recently that while he was teaching a course on the French occupation, and the Shoah in Germany, at least one American student came up to him after the class mentioning that he was very uncomfortable with all the documentation about the concentration camps, and that he was too sensitive to handle it. Probably a Wonderbread type ?

Sorry for the sentence fragments and typos above: I hope my sentiments are clear.

N.B. that, as one of the proprietors of this blog, making fun of me for my grammatical and other errors is surely "mocking upward."

If you read the email, it makes threats, and implies that similar threats have been successful in the past. Someone who's attempting to threaten your job at least believes that they're in a superior position of power. (I don't actually know what Scott's employment status was at the time.)

Von: Jes made the point, way upthread, that mocking the student was OK because the student was privileged. I asked why privilege had anything to do with it. She (just recently) replied that it was OK to "mock upward" but not "mock downward.

Wow, did you miss my point. In fact, you missed my point with such complete obtuseness that you obviously never bothered to read my comment to OCSteve. OCSteve asked why it was okay to mock someone for being over-privileged. I said, because it's always funnier to mock upwards, and pointed out that this was precisely why he (and I) were objecting to a lecturer mocking a student.

Let me cut to the chase, since I really do have other things I still need to do today. My central beefs with Professor Kaufman's posts on this student email are not the misrepresentation -- although I don't find that admirable -- or whether or not his semi-made argument about student "type" is (or is not) supported. It's the power reversal that has occurred.

Kaufman has decided that the powerful one in this relationship is the "bullying" student with the assumed life of privilege, against whom Kaufman must stand. In fact, the powerful party is not the student but Kaufman himself. He has near-absolute control over how he conducts class and what happens in his classroom; he also has a great deal of discretion in awarding grades. Kaufman can fail this student, if he so chooses, and there is very little the student can do about it.

Yet, in his mind, this student is the powerful one. Thus, Kaufman justifies mocking the student's apparent ignorance and poor writing skills, and is even willing to magnify each by rewriting the original e-mail, for a laugh. That is not something that I think is particularly healthy for the humanity or the academy, and it's something Kaufman should stop.

Wow, did you miss my point. In fact, you missed my point with such complete obtuseness that you obviously never bothered to read my comment to OCSteve. OCSteve asked why it was okay to mock someone for being over-privileged. I said, because it's always funnier to mock upwards, and pointed out that this was precisely why he (and I) were objecting to a lecturer mocking a student.

Sorry, Jes, I did completely and utterly miss your point the first time around. We actually agree on certain points on this one. (I promise to tell no one.) My apologies.

I've thought all the way through, von, that you're overreacting, but then who can argue with finding the thing in bad taste.

Your 5:34, though, misses the mark because of the chronology. The email isn't standing up against anything. The student is long gone, as is any power that may have been had. (The student shows a different understanding of the power relationship, btw: he agrees with SEK, not with you).

I don't know how big SEK's readership is, but I can imagine that when he wrote his post, he thought the chances of it being seen by either the student himself, or people not acquainted with his writing style, were slim. Obviously wrong. The lesson here isn't just for SEK, though, but for anyone who might be indiscrete or tasteless on the internet.


I do hope you clicked through to the post SEK linked "my morning."

Not "the email" but 'the SEK post'


Kaufman has decided that the powerful one in this relationship is the "bullying" student with the assumed life of privilege, against whom Kaufman must stand. In fact, the powerful party is not the student but Kaufman himself. He has near-absolute control over how he conducts class and what happens in his classroom; he also has a great deal of discretion in awarding grades. Kaufman can fail this student, if he so chooses, and there is very little the student can do about it.

Yet, in his mind, this student is the powerful one. Thus, Kaufman justifies mocking the student's apparent ignorance and poor writing skills, and is even willing to magnify each by rewriting the original e-mail, for a laugh. That is not something that I think is particularly healthy for the humanity or the academy, and it's something Kaufman should stop.

Von, even after all that, I think you completely miss the point of Prof. Kaufman's post.

And I don't think it's healthy for humanity to have students who think they deserve better grades, despite their poor grammar and writing skills (which is, after all, part of the point of the post in the first place), just because of their effort.

either that, or I'm entirely missing yours, because I can't follow the jump from Prof. Kaufman to what you're saying.

And I don't think it's healthy for humanity to have students who think they deserve better grades, despite their poor grammar and writing skills (which is, after all, part of the point of the post in the first place), just because of their effort.

You know, I can (and do) agree with that sentiment without endorsing Kaufman's approach.

Charlie, my 5:34 post is not writing solely about the wisdom of posting a rewritten version of this particular student e-mail, but rather the follow-up posts and comments that the original post has inspired, including Professor Kaufman's various explanations for why he believes that it is legitimate to mock this student. And, certainly, I'm as capable of over (or under) reaction as anyone. YMMV.

rilkefan, it would be out of bounds were it not wholly unreasonable to think that a student would google phrases from an angry email he sent to a professor X years previously. In the unlikely event that he did, what you see on the site differs enough from the original that he would be unable to identify it as his. Details have been changed to protect the guilty, &c.

Assuming that I take you at your word that you emphasized "slightly" for ironic effect rather than, say, for emphasis. You now want me to believe that "slightly redacted" means "heavily rewritten"? Does redacted have some peculiar, Kaufman-only meaning? Because I don't think it means what you think it means.

I think it does. According to the OED, it means "to put (matter) into proper literary form; to work up, arrange, or edit." The sarcasm should be apparent enough by the very fact that it's impossible to redact something "slightly." Either something's been redacted or not. I'm not even sure why this is an issue.

(1) you post the "slightly redacted" e-mail because "this particular student fits a type" and (2) "There's no argument in that post, or the subsequent ones."

Actually, I posted it to lighten the mood of my compatriots currently dealing with final grades. If that student didn't fit a type -- that is, if the complaint/threat wasn't familiar enough to be recognizable to my fellow teachers -- then it wouldn't have resonated with them. The ramblings of a singularly insane student would not be something worth writing about (except to Student Services, recommending they check in on him or her). To that extent, the post contains an argument.

And to that extent, that argument has been validated by the response to the post. I mean, do you really want to argue that sheltered, spoiled students who refuse to learn then complain about their grades, that is, that that type of student doesn't exist? Because I could bury you under that mountain of evidence forthwith.

You need to settle on a story

No, I really don't.

And the power in that relationship flows pretty heavily (if not solely) in your direction, correct?

And X years later, if that student googles my name and sees something sort of kind of like a complaint he once sent to me, I would hope he has learned enough in the intervening time to be embarrassed by his conduct.

Kaufman can fail this student, if he so chooses, and there is very little the student can do about it.

This is factually incorrect. First, I cannot fail a student who is not my student any more. Second, there are many, many things a student can do if they're unhappy with their grades. Again, I quote:

I have made very high grades in all my other writing classes and even though I had many disputes with those instructors we always settled them to my happiness.

Seems to indicate that this student didn't think he was out of options. Point of fact, he threatens to employ them here.

Thus, Kaufman justifies mocking the student's apparent ignorance and poor writing skills, and is even willing to magnify each by rewriting the original e-mail, for a laugh.

Far be it for me to explain the joke, but what I'm mocking is the stubbornness of someone who mistakenly believes he can write because he's successfully bullied enough people into telling him so. For him, grades exists to reaffirm his opinion of his talents. If they fail to, instead of working to improve his prose, he tries to game the system into validating his opinion -- for those keeping score, this is the funny part -- in an email which demonstrates how delusional it is. If you think rewarding such behavior is healthy for humanity, well then, have I got a President for you ...

gwangung: And I don't think it's healthy for humanity to have students who think they deserve better grades, despite their poor grammar and writing skills (which is, after all, part of the point of the post in the first place), just because of their effort.

It is perfectly healthy for humanity to have students who think they deserve better grades just because of their effort, regardless of their actual writing skills: providing their teachers then point out to them in some appropriate and courteous manner that just because a student thinks they deserve better grades, doesn't mean they actually deserve better grades.

The point (OCSteve, not Von) initially made on this thread is that posting a student's e-mail to a public blog with the intent of mocking the student is neither appropriate nor courteous. I gather Kaufman has now admitted that it was not an actual e-mail, and that the situation described in the e-mail was so many years ago that the odds are the students described in the e-mail that they were supposed to have written are no longer students, and I have to say this makes a difference ethically: it's just a former lecturer mocking some unidentifiable former students, rather than a lecturer very specifically mocking a specific student who would be able to identify themselves from the published e-mail.

I see no need to respond further, and it's fitting that Professor Kaufman have the last word. So that's it from me.

CC: "The student is long gone, as is any power that may have been had."

That's a point that lessens my unease - I wonder however about current or future students of his coming across the post in question and fearing a complaint might end up posted in recognizable form to be ridiculed. (Of course no good student would compare herself to the student portrayed above.)

And note again my impression the student wasn't well.


SEK: "wholly unreasonable to think that a student would google phrases from an angry email he sent to a professor X years previously"

I imagine he'd just google "X" and maybe "grade".

"what you see on the site differs enough from the original that he would be unable to identify it as his."

Well, that's fine then, though see above.

I can't speak from a professor's perspective, but from a lawyer's perspective, of course you can have degrees of redaction. "That document was so heavily redacted I couldn't even tell what it was about." Maybe I would get a bad grade from Prof. Kaufman.

After all, if the student really feels he was treated poorly, he can always tell his story to David Horowitz. It'll be better for him to name Scott specifically, of course.

Speaking from the lofty position of a TA-ship:

1) "Wonder-bread", in re a person, has always meant to me white, bland, generic, "vanilla", possessed of as much cultural acumen as Wonder-bread has character, etc. If it's an idiolect, it's a pretty damn widespread one; I've never heard it apply to white trash in that context -- as noted above, the classist version is almost always "cracker" -- and I can't even begin to imagine how it would apply to an immigrant or non-native speaker.

[I mean seriously, you really think immigrant Koreans are going to waste their time eating Wonder-bread when there's kimchee to be had? Mmmmm, kimchee...]

2) Irrespective of whether the email was genuine or parodic, it precisely fits the type of many students I have known, both as a TA and as a student myself. So I can attest to the "accurate" part of "Fake but accurate" here.

3) Irrespective of whether the email is genuine or parodic, it contains a clear and unmistakable shot across the bows, if not an actual threat. This is precisely the power inversion that von, and possibly Jes and OCS, isn't recognizing: low-ranking members of the teaching contingent (adjuncts, TAs, etc.) are often vulnerable to this kind of pressure, as are higher-ranking members of the faculty depending on the institution. By way of illustration: I've had faculty friends at other universities hauled before the appropriate Dean and told, point-blank, that they needed to the change the grade of a complaining student or find themselves another job.

[This goes tenfold if the student was a freshman, btw, as that kind of extracurricular power can be almost irresistible at the high school level.]

4) All of this is purely academic to me (ha!) because I really don't give a crap about those kinds of suasion. In fact, speaking of such brutal abuses of powers, I've told my students to their faces that their work was fucking bullshit and if they continued to produce work of that caliber I'd simply fail them now and be done with it. Not what they teach you at TA Orientation, but it was a damn effective motivational speech if I do say so myself.

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