Thursday, 31 May 2012

An Actual Assignment from a Student

The image above is a photo of an actual assignment a student handed in. The worksheet contains eight questions about Raymond Carver's short story "A Small Good Thing" with same space provided for answers. I can literally not discern where one answer ends and the next begins. The sentences are so disjointed and written so haphazardly that I can barely make out one complete sentence. Then there are arrows and circles and underlined-parts, and the use of triangular brackets, ink blotches and and diagonal "connection" lines, which all have such a disorienting effect that I'm left exhausted even after only a few seconds of attempting to understand it.

This paper is not much different from this poor girl's mind. When I have a conversation with her, she literally speaks the same as she writes. Her sentences are disjointed, with random thoughts, extreme jumps in logic, and constant self-corrections, additions and detours.

I advised her once that she should not be studying English Literature, but should do art instead. Afterwards she once showed me some illustrations she had done and my suspicions about her mind were confirmed. Her illustrations are intricately complex and wonderfully beautiful. Unfortunately she has not taken my suggestion serious enough to change her major. I don't know how she will pass this class (or any other class for that matter), or how she was able to come as far as she had come already. She is a couple of years into her studies.

I spoke to my Department Chair to ask him about her. He confirmed that she is mentally different (the latter is my euphemism, he described it differently), but asked that I be patient and accommodating and to try and get her to at least pass the class with minimum grade. The gouvernment requires each department to take in a certain number of students per semester with special needs. She is one such a case.

When I showed him the above worksheet he suggested I ask her to my office and allow her to answer the questions verbally. As I said already, a verbal conversation is not much different from the above answer sheet. It may actually take equally long to listen to all eight her answers than to try and decipher the puzzle above. I think I'm going to ask her to draw pictures instead -- to draw me the answers as a series of pictures with some captions just to contextualize the drawings.

What exactly the government is trying to achieve with this incentive, I'm not too sure. Even if I were to artificially find her just enough grades to pass the class, I cannot honestly say that she has the skills that this class attempts to instil in students. One main purpose is to give clear, focussed, motivated arguments for one's opinions. She is incapable of "clear" and "focussed" and her motivations seem to be highly haphazard.

I must say the student reminds me a bit of Bjork. However, Bjork is much more focussed than this student is. I imagine that this student may also be similarly focussed when she is in the "flow" of art. I truly hope she finds that something in her life that will bring together the uniqueness of her mind into exquisite art, or whatever else it is she may excel in. I know what it means to be "different". As a child I was always the weird artistic boy that never quite fitted in. I remember once saying to somebody that people always treat us creatives differently. The response was: "That's because you are!" Lucky for me I have been able to tone my peculiarities down to socially acceptable levels and have been able to hone my "weirdness" into art, particularly poetry. For someone like this student who walks on the edges of "normality", life can be very difficult. I'm really sad for her . . . she knows she is different, and she really tries hard to do what needs to be done. She often comes to see me after class for guidance and reassurance. I try to guide in the right direction (right here, of course, being the goals for this particular class). Unfortunately my guidance is often hijacked by the many random thoughts firing in the fireworks extravaganza going on in her head!

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