A Professor’s Journal: Student bloopers

Kids say the darndest things. And, sometimes, you, dear students, write the darndest things.

An essay response is required on every examination that I give in my history classes at Murray State.

You usually produce well-reasoned, well-organized and well-crafted essays within a fixed block of time, one hour and fifteen minutes for a Tuesday/Thursday class.

Sometimes, faulty sentence structure, poor word choice and fuzzy thinking produce sentences that I wince at and savor all at once, sentences that I am quick to include in a growing ‘student blooper’ file.

My favorite bloopers come in the written offerings of history students. I grade essays for style as well as content, and sometimes students resent such meddling.

On one of my course evaluations one student moaned (and I quote directly): “This is a history class not an English class I do not feel me English down fall should make me loose points. Even English class was give more than 5 min. after answering 40 problems to write 3 pages with no gram. & spelling mistakes.”

Oh well.

In an examination essay, one of my very own students stated that “the biggest gold rush in the 1880s was the 1849 gold rush.” My students are not the only culprits, however. Richard Lederer, a teacher in Concord, New Hampshire, is the editor of “Anguished English,” a book in which he compiled some favorite bloopers from his students at St. Paul’s School.

One of Mr. Lederer’s students wrote that “Ancient Egypt was inhabited my mummies, and they all wrote in hydraulics. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and traveled by Camelot.”

In a unit on ancient Greece, a student revealed that “Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock. After his death, his career suffered a dramatic decline.”

In American history, one student elaborated on the early years of Abraham Lincoln. “Lincoln’s mother died in infancy,” the student wrote, “and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands.”

My favorite blooper came from the pen of a student contemplating the achievement of Sir Francis Drake when the explorer circumnavigated the globe. Perhaps the student was confused when he or she wrote, “Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a hundred foot clipper.”

Oh me.

Students, I write this column to make an important point.

A president of a Kentucky college once told students just like you that “to be educated means to be aware of the importance of language and to employ it accurately.”

“You may have the skills necessary to become a first-rate manager,” he said, “but if you cannot write a decent memo, if your words are imprecise, and your thoughts unorganized, and your syntax muddled, you are likely to be thought incompetent.”

The president concluded that “the proper use of language is routinely accepted as a mark of intelligence, the first basis on which we are judged, by those whose judgments matter.”

Column by Duane Bolin, professor of history.