Schadenfreude Saturday, My Pain Is Your Amusement

The following is a result of an exercise for The Write Start, a 21-day writing prompt program being run by See Jane Write. I can laugh about it now. Mostly.
~~~
English professors and I don’t get along. At least, not when they are acting in their professional capacity.

My first term in college, I was put in advanced math and remedial English. At a social gathering for the English department, the head of the department reassured his attentive audience that the remedial English classes were for people with “serious writing difficulties.” It never occurred to him that one of those remedial people might be standing in front of him. Or maybe he didn’t care, which moves him from oblivious to jerk.

After looking through the records of my grades, my tests, and my assigned schedule, the guidance counselor remarked, in a slightly awed voice, “Wow, you can’t write your way out of a paper bag.”

Later, I took a second regular class with one of the remedial professors. I thought we got along. After one assignment, he took me aside to confide, “I finally understand why you write in a confused and torturous fashion. It’s because that’s how you think.” When I was working at the newspaper, I made sure to send him a copy of the paper with my byline.

The irony is that the next year, the department changed their sorting hat. Under the new rules, I would have skipped regular English and been put in the advanced seminar.

During college, I took a semester abroad in California. As an assignment for a creative writing class, I wrote a story about Superman having to function in the world of Miranda Rights and Stranger Danger. The professor asked me, “What is the point of writing on autopilot?” I tried to read their book. Didn’t get very far.

On to grad school.

During my time in the Master’s program, I was a working freelance writer, got all As, with one exception, and was inducted into Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society. This did not save me from the scorn of my professors.

The head of the department told me that my writing was “pedestrian.” Well, I prefer to think of it as clear and commercially-viable, but thanks for the input.

The head of my division told me that I would not be able to maintain a Master’s-length work of prose. This same professor told the class that if you were on a trek with six people it was okay to conflate them into two people for the purposes of a creative non-fiction piece. No. No. No. What part of NON-fiction do you not understand? Making shit up is why they take Pulitzers away from people. Working with this professor would have been like working with an advisor who thought Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford when all right-thinking people know that he was a dude from Avon. This person was also the only professor to give me anything less than an A. I got a B.

Clearly, it was time to move on.

I called a university elsewhere in the state to see about finishing there. They offered a degree that combined book arts with English. I had a question about scheduling, specifically could I get my on-campus work done in one long day each week. The polite answer would have been. ‘No, the time commitment is more than that.’ Instead the head of the program chose to yell at me for 15 minutes, telling me that a Master’s degree is a serious project that must be taken seriously by serious people. When they finally wound down enough to ask about my background, I mumbled a few words and got off the phone as fast as possible.

I never did write a thesis nor get my Master’s. I did formulate a life rule. Be done with your graduate work before the age of 40. After that, you will have outgrown the ability to tolerate the bullshit.

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

Categories: Off Topic, Writing

3 replies »

  1. I got my Masters in, as it was then, Library Science. This was back in the pre-historic days of the mid-1980s. One of my professors was the world’s most cited authority in his field (he didn’t tell us this). I chose to write my term paper on his specialty, filing rules He told me that was his specialty and did I really want that topic. Which I did. I turned in my paper early, 13 pages. Without reading it he said it was too short, I should really do some more research. So, I took back the paper. Didn’t add any new information. Just phrased things differently. Whereas before I simply started a sentence, I would revise it to something on the order of, “But what happens when such-and-such happens?” And other wasteful writing. Turned it back in. Somewhat longer. Got an A. Just goes to show. I thought I saved that paper but I can’t seem to find it.(The program at that time was a non-thesis program.)
    As it happens, my late dad was a writer, then editor, for medical journals and newspapers (I worked as a researcher for some of the latter, usually at the National Library of Medicine). I was taught from an early age to write clearly and concisely.
    BTW, Katherine, I’ve always enjoyed your writing. Unlike you, under the system you describe, I would have been in advanced English and remedial math. I managed to get my Bachelors degree without once taking a math class. 🙂

  2. PS to my previous comments: My dad, who majored in aeronautical engineering, had problems with English profs too. They didn’t take him seriously, and he struggled to pass his required English classes.

    The same treatment happened to my ex-husband when he went to college. He was an electrical engineer major, and again, one of his English profs didn’t take him (or other engineer students) seriously, and made belittling comments in class and on their papers. (I was appalled!) So, I proof read his papers before he turned them in. I didn’t make the corrections, just indicated them, and he corrected them, just so my ex-husband would get a passing grade.

  3. I never understood this. Let’s assume I was as awful as they said. Wasn’t their job to help me get better? Particularly in grad school, the main motivation seemed to be getting me out of their office as fast as possible. But I’m not bitter. Not at all.

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