Repeat After Me: A Rant in E Minor
When I was in college, I took an abnormal psychology course. During one of the recitation sessions, we were reviewing suicide when our leader quoted a statistic from the book, "More women attempt suicide than men, but more men actually succeed at suicide."

A girl in the front row raised her hand.

"Wait are you saying more girls try to kill themselves?"


"But more men actually do it?"


"Wait, you mean there are numbers to support this?"


"No I mean like statistics."

"Yes, precisely."

"Oh OK."

I remember the leader getting a pained look on her face as she tried to figure out what exactly the student hadn't understood.

When I was in high school I starred in Terrence McNally's one act play Next in which a middle aged man is inexplicably drafted. After passing the physical exams, he attempts to throw the psychological exam. How does he do it? By repeating the statements back to the examining officer. For example, when asked about the meaning of the phrase "a rolling stone gathers no moss" he responds, "Well I think that it means that a...uh. rolling stone..well it gathers no moss."

While in Next, the repetition tactic successfully earns the main character a pass from the Army, now he would be rewarded for simply listening and paying attention. One of my students arrived in my office over a paper which I discussed in class. Although I specifically mentioned several pointed out several issues students needed to consider in not one but two class periods and gave the students a hand out, most of the papers ignored the points that I intentionally tried to pinpoint. Many students received notes on their paper indicating that they needed to address the points I reviewed several times in class. It was one of these very students who arrived in my office today paper in paw to talk to me. (Mind you the students have also had these papers with comments for a while and it was until today, the day before the revision is due, that he bothered to come meet with me. And he has to do a pretty hefty rewrite.) I repeated the same points I made in class, the same points I wrote down on his paper. I even used the same phrasing. "Oh, I get it. I should address these points," he said.

Um yeah. If I say it six or seven times in one class and repeat the next day, and then write it down, well, it might be a good idea if you did in fact address these points.

I was having a conversation last night with a friend about this very issue. Even as professors have to issue increasingly detailed assignment descriptions, students seem to be increasingly inept at doing things like reading directions or highlighting important requirements. At NYU, administering their proficiency exam, students had to follow literally two directions. The first was to skip lines. Invariably, twenty minutes in a student would raise his/her hand and then say "Do I have to skip lines?" Does it SAY to skip lines? Well then yes. What was strange was that usually five minutes later another student would ask the same question and then another. And still on about half the exams the students didn't bother to skip lines. Often I find myself answering the same questions over and over again. And in some cases I find myself having to literally cut and paste sections of the syllabus into emails to answer student questions. The answers are there, but the students simply don't bother to look.

So what is the answer friends? Personally I wish Sam Kinison was alive. Although casting him as a history professor in Back to School was a joke, now I think he would be a great choice. He would calmly walk into my class and say, "Well today we are going to talk about how you need to rewrite the paper OOOOHHHHH YOU GOD DAMNED BASTARDS WHY ARE YOU DRAINING MY LIFE WHY CAN'T YOU JUST FOLLOW DIRECTIONS YOU SPAWN OF SATAN YOU ARE SUCKING MY LIFE WITH YOUR INABILITY TO READ WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU YOU THINK YOU ARE GOING TO BE ABLE TO GET A JOB IF YOU CAN'T EVEN FOLLOW SIMPLE DIRECTIONS YOU EVIL MINIONS OF THE HOARY NETHERWORLD JUST DO IT FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS YOU FOSTER CHILDREN OF SATAN OR I SHALL GET MAX VON SYDOW TO CAST THEE OUT OHHH OHHHHHHHH."

I garauntee you, they would follow the directions.

*The truth is that I love teaching, but you know there are days when I just want to hit them upside the head and say "What is going on in that little noggin of yours?" Also special thanks for David Sedaris and Bill Hicks for providing me with the title to this post.

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