Academic Autopsy Part 4: This means something. This is Important.

So, when last we left our intrepid undergrads, one was loudly–and comically–berating the other for failing to take advantage of the opportunity to talk with me–their grader–about what I was expecting from their final papers.  Fast forward two weeks.  I’d graded far, far, far too many poorly composed and intellectually derelict papers and I finally arrive at the submission from my problem student.  I would love to say that it amazed me with its cogent and insightful arguments, its reader-friendly prose, and congenial tone-but that would be a lie.  It was rambling, makeshift, and caustic.  The paper spent its intellectual capital arguing more with the professor for whom I was grading than engaging the author of the assigned work.  Yet, these were great arguments.  The structure of the paper was more rant than book report, but it made its way from topic to topic with a certain programmatic flair.  When I’d finished the last page I looked at the tick-boxes next to my rubric and found that the paper had earned a C-/D and the only categories left to be marked was the one for quality/ style and the student’s reflections on the material.  I paused, considered my options, and gave him full marks in both categories.  The result was a B-.

When, later, I came to the girl’s paper I found it to be well-organized, taughtly written, and covering all the rubric’s topic areas perfectly.  However, far too many of the points made were obviously recycled straight out of my professor’s lectures.  Worse still, the paper was dry, wooden, and uninteresting.  When I had at last chewed my way through the sawdust-stuffed prose I glanced at my rubric once again and found that thus far she had earned an A-/B+.  Again, I had only to assign points for style and the quality of the reflections on the book’s arguments.  The result was a B+.

Welcome to the final post in this Academic Autopsy series.  If you are currently confused–you are in good company–but check out the first three posts in this series in order to get your bearings.

If this story has any meaning, if it has any importance, it is the fact that brilliance only gets one so far in life.  While we can all point to examples of individuals who have refused to play by the rules and managed–through the brute force of their genius–to contribute to their fields, such a success in exceedingly rare.  The reality is that one in a million of us is an Albert Einstien who is 1895, sat the entrance examinations to get into the prestigious Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich, Switzerland, did outstandingly well in physics and mathematics, but failed the non-science subjects only to later revolutionize the field of physics with his theory of general relativity.  For the vast majority of us–whether at home, in the workplace, and in the academy–rules and expectations govern our actions and directly decide our success or failure.  In order to succeed without bowing to “the man” one must be exponentially more capable than the task, school, or job requires.

If you are one of these Neitzschean ubermensch–congratulations!  The rest of us “low people” have consulted our Slave Morality and consider your conduct sufficiently arrogant and inhospitable to be stamped “evil.”  Your only hope now is that you can somehow make it into the upper-class where the Master Morality will brand you “good.”  But do recall that even Nietzsche argued that a portion of the ruling class–not yet in power–should submit themselves to the arbitrary tyranny of religion so as to educate themselves in effective rule–and you aren’t willing to play by anyone’s rules.

For the rest of us the only option is to play the game and try to play it well.  That is exactly what I hope I have done in this, the final section of my analytic exposition on Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit.

“The significance of this first step—demonstrating that the knowledge of sense-certainty is mediated by consciousness casts sense-certainty’s claims into doubt and begins to suggest that consciousness is a necessary element in knowing. The most immediate consequence of Hegel’s move is to see the knowledge of perception as the recognition of universals through particulars by the consciousness. However, the ultimate result will be a super-sensible knowing that finally unites the objects of the mind with the sensible world—phenomenology.”

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2 comments on “Academic Autopsy Part 4: This means something. This is Important.

  1. Just one point: Wouldn’t you rather be the author of sawdust than to bray like an ass?

    (Although it seems likely that you are in a position to be neither one, as you’d say “one of the low people” I would prefer to be unintelligent than to be imprudent,…for intelligence makes one’s way in the world more interesting, but prudence/wisdom will make it better.)

  2. maphman says:

    Having both brayed like as ass–hopefully only during my younger years–and written prose like desiccant–what it feels as though I am expected to do currently–I can honestly say that I’m more predisposed to the braying than I am to the sawdust–but I work hard to avoid both.

    As you say, in Neitzschean terms, I would count myself among the “low people.” The question for me becomes “is it possible to write humbly enough to avoid arrogance while writing audaciously enough to have a point. In these posts I try to walk that line. Thanks for your comment!

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