California Professor Flunks (Awful) Pro-U.S. Essay
Drudge has drawn attention to a piece in today’s Washington Times:
A 17-year-old Kuwaiti student whose uncles were kidnapped and tortured by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s invaders more than a decade ago said his California college political science professor failed him for praising the United States in a final-exam essay last month. Ahmad Al-Qloushi, a foreign student at Foothill College near San Jose, Calif., said he was told by professor Joseph A. Woolcock to get psychological treatment because of the pro-American views expressed in his essay.
“Apparently, if you are an Arab Muslim who loves America, you must be deranged,” said Mr. Al-Qloushi, who feared the failing grade could cost him his student visa. “I didn’t want to be deported for having written a pro-American essay, so as soon as I left his office, I made an appointment with the school psychologist,” he said. Mr. Woolcock did not respond to telephone and e-mail inquiries. College officials declined to comment, saying it is a confidential matter because Mr. Al-Qloushi and Mr. Woolcock have filed complaints.
I must say, I’d have given the exam a failing grade, too. It is an incredibly poorly written, error-ridden, pabulum-filled, essay that essentially ignores the question put forth by the instructor.
3. Dye and Zeigler contend that the constitution of the United States was not Ã¢€œordained and establishedÃ¢€ by Ã¢€œthe peopleÃ¢€ as we have so often been led to believe. They contend instead that it was written by a small educated and wealthy elite in America who representative of powerful economic and political interests. Analyze the US constitution (original document), and show how its formulation excluded majority of the people living in America at that time, and how it was dominated by AmericaÃ¢€™s elite interest.
The question, if copied and pasted directly from the professor, contains grammatical errors. Let’s presume those are the hasty work of a student for whom English is a second language. Let’s move on to the answer. The thesis sentence shows signs of trouble:
This paper will CRITICALLY analyze the US constitution and how it was a progressive document FOR ITS TIME. And how it symbolizes and embodies what America is today a just and democratic society where all men and women are created equal and that men and women are free to pursue their own happiness and fulfillment.
The use of ALL CAPS in an academic essay is poor form. The use of sentence fragments and run-on sentences in college essays, also, is unacceptable.
The assignment is to give examples from the text of the Constitution supporting the Dye-Zeigler thesis, not refute it by talking about how the Constitution has evolved over time.
The right for men to choose their own representatives was unheard of in the rest of the world.
Untrue and only tangentially responsive. Certainly, the idea of democracy long predated the formation of the U.S., including the Greek city states and the existence of parliaments in some European states, notably the UK.
Yet in a young country which freed itself from the shackles of the greatest empire of the time.
The founding fathers were stalwart heroes
Opinion unsubstantiated by argumentation or facts. Unresponsive to the question.
who led the brave young men of this great land and in order to establish a democracy maybe not a direct or perfect democracy but one that guarantees the freedom of its citizens. It is ludicrous to assume that a direct democracy can succeed in the United States. Yet in the last ballots of November 2nd 2004 the people of the United States DID get a chance of influencing their political decisions in their country and that is thanks to the US constitution established by the great men of America like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Ungrammatical. No one asserts–nor does the question imply–that the framers intended to establish direct democracy. The institution of the Electoral College has evolved radically since 1789. What does the text of the Constitution say? What was the intent of the Framers in writing it that way?
The remainder of the essay strays further from the question at hand, talking about how great the U.S. has become in the intervening years. The conclusion:
America is a nation which has survived problems and many attacks on its soil yet the American will did not hesitate. America stood its ground and the Founding Fathers are the ones who built the Foundation that this ground were built upon. It is wonderful to have the freedom to argue Dye and Zeigler contentions and that is also due to the US constitution.
If the constitution was so negative then how did the United States the most powerful nation in the world today. If it was so negative how did the Soviet Union collapse in the Cold War? The United States constitution is a great document which for its time was extremely progressive and the evidence to the that is the United StatesÃ¢€™ accomplishments to date.
What has any of that to do with the question?
My former colleague, Steven Taylor, is more generous, giving the paper “a low D.” His reasoning is similar, however.
I agree with Paul–as, I’m sure, does Steven–that the professor’s comments about the need to get “psychological treatment,” if true, are unprofessional and would be cause for sanction.
The unfortunately-named Professor Woolcock may well be a left wing kook who has a bias against conservative students. This particular case–aside from the alleged comment–does not tell us much. The thesis of the exam question is perfectly reasonable and, indeed, is not particularly in dispute. My own experience, both as a student and as a teacher, was that grading of essays is almost always about the quality of the writing and engagement with the material rather than the extent to which one agrees with the professor. I got ‘A’s from all of my liberal political science professors–and I certainly had a lot of them over the years.
One may challenge the premise of an instructor’s question if one is clever. But this still does not excuse one from dealing with the substance of the question at hand.
Update (2011): My co-blogger, “Leopold Stotch,” notes in the comments below:
For me thereÃ¢€™s something deeper going onÃ¢€”not with this particular case, but it represents a trend among conservative students to blame all bad grades on liberal bias. In fact, what I find is that my conservative students tend to gloss over material that confronts their worldview. Thus when I cover Marx, my conservative students dismiss the material and my lectures, then write poor essays on exams, and then complain of my liberal bias when they receive their grade.
A good point. Folks on both sides of the aisle need to do a better job of investigating other possibilities before automatically shouting “Bias.”
Update (1-17): Betsy Newmark observes,
Not answering the question is the single most common mistake that students make in writing essays on tests. I can well imagine that this is not a lesson that the student learned in his Kuwaiti schools. This was a learning opportunity for this student, but, unfortunately, he learned an entirely different lesson.