Essay #5: Advice of a veteran English teacher
Your Writing Task:
Choose one (and only one!) of the following prompts:
- In the Roberts essay, how did the imaginary student proceed with writing the essay on college football? Do you regard the author's description of this hypothetical attempt as exaggerated, or does it strike you as true to life? How does it compare with your own attempts at writing essays?
- Do you think the "D" allegedly earned by the essay on college football is overly harsh or is it deserved? Justify your answer.
- The author advises that you list the arguments that come immediately to mind on a topic and then never use any of them. How do you think the author would reply to the objection that a student might deeply believe in one of the clichéd arguments on the list?
- Roberts has taken two risks. One is that students will misread this as an essay opposing football (it's not). The other is that they will miss the humor. Write an essay in which you discuss how this essay is tailored to its target audience. (Of course, to do this, you will have to figure out who the target audience is and what kind of writing will appeal to them.)
Suggestions for Success:
Your essay will need a thesis and a structure. It also needs an introduction which makes sense even to a stranger who has not read the Roberts article. Do not assume that every possible reader has a copy of his article and of the assignment sheet.
To unravel these prompts, you will probably have to go to the dictionary. Here are some words you will need to know:
- proceed (Hint: it's about doing one thing after another; it's not about whether the things the student said were true.)
- Paul McHenry Roberts was an English teacher. He wrote an article about an imaginary student who was trying to put together a 500-word essay about football. Roberts was not himself the student.
- If you are convinced that the Roberts article is arguing against having a football team, that shows you have only read the first 872 words of a 5141 word article—and have missed all the material at the end about how to write a better paper. Go back and read the rest. Don't stop after you have read only the first 17%. (Even those first 872 words contained rich hints that the article isn't just a rant against football. Pay attention to what you are reading.)
- If you are expecting all college writing to be as colorless and boring as the instructions for changing your oil, you need to open your mind to the world of humor and satire. This article is an excellent example of humorous writing that isn't exactly belly laughs or obscene jokes, and Roberts did it for a reason. It really is possible for a smart, well-informed person to make a joke—don't call him an idiot.
Do not assume that you personally know everything there is to know—and that your guesses are absolute truth. Several of my students, after reading this article, wrote that the comment, "There was one case where a high school star was offered a convertible if he would play football for a certain college" was obviously untrue because they had never
heard of such a thing. As a matter of fact it did happen. The college was Kansas University, the student was Wilt Chamberlain, the year was 1955, and the car was an Oldsmobile.¹ The scandal, widely reported in the media, was a major reason for NCAA regulations that prevent such things from happening now. The Roberts article was written in the mid 1950s, so this was hot current news for him; the fact that it all happened 45 years before you were born doesn't make it less true. The fact that you never heard of it and cannot imagine it happening doesn't make it less true.
A bit of plain academic curiosity would have kept these students from looking like fools.
¹I did not know this one either, but it seemed worth checking out, so I used Google to search for "college basketball, convertible, recruiting, scandal." I knew the approximate date Roberts wrote his article, and I simply dug through a dozen or so Internet hits. That's how research works.