Thursday, December 14, 2006

I weep for the future

I've just finished grading all my final exams and final essays, which means that I'm about an hour away from being totally and entirely done with my grading for the semester. (I still have to enter those grades into my online gradebook, but since said gradebook is, as aforesaid, online, I don't actually have to calculate course grades--it does it all for me!)

But since 'tis the season and all that, I thought I'd share the most tragic of the many missteps that I encountered in these two batches of finals. This is one of the IDs from my Brit Lit exam:

“Nay, nay,” quod he, “thanne have I Cristes curs!
Lat be,” quod he, “it shal nat be, so theech!*                         may I prosper
Thou woldest make me kisse thyn olde breech
And swere it were a relik of a saint,
Thought it were with thy fundament* depeint.*”                  anus; stained

So, pretty easy, right? We'd even discussed the ending of the Pardoner's Tale in class in some detail, but since it was two and a half months ago, I felt that giving the marginal glosses was appropriate--and I even snickered a little to myself about how you can tell a truly awesome exam by the fact that it has the word "anus" in it somewhere.

Most of my students did indeed recognize the passage. A few misidentified it as coming from the Miller's Tale, which I suppose I understand--it's still Chaucer, after all, and it's true that the MT also involve both anuses and kissing. But I had not one, but TWO students who misidentified this passage as coming from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. You know: when Gawain and his host's beautiful wife trade kisses.

Okay, so--what part of that "you'd make me kiss your old, shit-stained underwear and swear it was the relic of a saint" reminds you of our chivalrous friend Gawain, exactly?

I was also told by another student that a passage from "Corinna's Going A-Maying" (which the student correctly identified by title and author and said otherwise smart or at least accurate things about) provided an example of that popular theme in Cavalier poetry, "ceasing the day."

Yeah. I'm about ready to cease the day myself.


Margaret said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Feirefiz said...

Hello, I'm a new blogger but long-time reader of blogs and am delurking to comment (I think I'm in your subfield) and of course avoid grading. It seems that your students are like mine. They have tin ears. I've had students not be able to identify Chaucer as Chaucer even though he's the only one we read in the survey who's in Middle English. I once had them ID the passage from the Miller's Tale with this line "And prively he caughte hire by the queynte." In class I explained that "queynte" was the ancestor to our modern four-letter word, c***. I thought that would be seared forever on their brains, but some really didn't get it. Sigh. And congratulations on finishing the grading.

Flavia said...

Hi feirefiz, and welcome!

It's true that some students have tin ears. More than once I've had students identify a passage from "Book of the Courtier" as a sonnet--despite the fact that it's so obviously a chunk of prose! This year I very explicitly told my students that, when studying for the midterm (and final), they should pay attention to the form of each work: only two of them are in prose, and they should know which ones; a passage from Chaucer will be in rhyming couplets; a passage from Milton will be unrhymed verse; etc.

And yet I *still* had a student who, on the midterm, identified that passage from Castiglione as one of Wyatt's poems. I called her into my office, laid the passage from the Courtier and a random poem by Wyatt out in front of her, and asked her to tell me why there was no way the former could be mistaken for the latter. And bless her heart: she studied them blankly, scrunched up her face, and said, "uhh--is it that Wyatt talks differently about love? Isn't he more negative, or something?"

Horace said...

Heh...I adore quote IDs for precisely these missteps...My favorite from last year was when a student wrote about Shelley's poem, "Ode to the West Wing." Still makes me giggle.

This semester, the most common error seems to be that students think Yeats' "Easter 1916" is about WWI. Sigh.