Students in my adjunct professor’s Congress class objected yesterday to doing a 7-9 page paper with the following requirements.
Choose a policy issue of interest to you that has pending legislative action in Congress. Your paper should 1) include a background of the issue, 2) key interest groups involved, 3) key political players involved, 4) where the pending legislation is currently at in the Congressional process, 4) who introduced and has co-sponsored the legislation, and 5) the possibility of congressional passage.
The students claimed they couldn’t fill up 7 pages on that assignment, and they’d have to add a lot of fluff to get there. Mind you these are sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
The possible causes of their reaction seem to be: a) they’re just not that smart; b) they’re just that lazy, c) they’re rationally pushing the adjunct to see how far they can get. Knowing some of the students involved, I’d say all three motivations are at work to varying degrees.
So I did the assignment myself. I began last night and completed it today. I have twelve full pages and (as I note in it) I skipped the element of discussing the key interest groups involved, so I don’t deserve an A on it. I’m going to talk to his class tomorrow to express my disappointment in them, hand them my paper as an example, and invite any of the political science majors who can’t complete a 7 page paper to change majors.
Part of this may in fact be my fault. I’ve traditionally asked for shorter papers because I’ve tried to focus on the process more than getting a big project done. But I now suspect that means I’ve not been demanding that they do as much research and as much synthesizing of what they uncover. (Of course part of my reason has been that reading a five page undergraduate paper can be a grueling experience, much less a 10-15 page example of the art of idiocy.) But I think I’m going to have to buck up and start demanding longer papers so that they damn well become accustomed to it. Of course it’s only in my 10-level class that I’ve ever asked for anything less than 7 pages, so that still doesn’t excuse them.
And while it’s rather strange that I would suddenly take time out of my schedule (grading be damned!) to write an undergraduate paper, it was a good reminder in how much a student can learn from actually doing the research for a lengthy paper. I now have a very clear understanding of the prospects of closing the Chicago Shipping and Sanitary Canal to prevent Asian carp from potentially getting past the electric fence and migrating out of the Mississippi basin (where in some locales they constitute over 90% of the biomass) into the Great Lakes. The prospects in this legislative session are vanishingly remote, because none of the supporters are well positioned on committees or subcommittes to push it through, one Illinois congressman through whose district the Canal runs is well-positioned to block it, Republicans control the House of Representatives, and the President opposes closure.
Now aren’t you glad you know that?