Friday, March 05, 2010

Reefer Madness, Composition Style

I am an expert on marijuana. I know everything about it. I know how to grow it, where to grow it, things you can make out of it, how to cook with it, the countries it's legal in, the countries it's not legal in, how they have pot cafes in Holland. I know where it was first cultivated and smoked and its medicinal uses and how Rastafarians use it as part of their religion. I can tell you all about the marijuana clinics in California, medical marijuana, non-violent drug offenders in prison for marijuana. I know even more about the movement to legalize marijuana. I am a veritable weed genius.

Did I get this way because I smoke? NO. Am I some kind of marijuana aficionado? Most certainly not. How then, am I such an expert on all things cannabis? Because my students will not stop writing papers about it. The same papers about it, for that matter.

This is my third year teaching college composition and without fail, in every single class I have the same exact student who writes the same exact weed paper every single semester, over and over and over. It's like I'm grading papers in that movie "Groundhog Day."

Sometimes I'll have three or four carbon copies of that same student all in one class. They're all the same. Sure, maybe one will be taller or shorter, maybe a different race, though usually they're white males. I've had the student appear as the occasional female though too. Once in a while, the pot head student is African American or Hispanic, but less often. No matter what physical form the student takes, he or she is still the same.

This student lives to get high. He loves getting high so much that he can't come to class without being stoned out of his mind. Then, when he gets to class, he doodles marijuana leaves on his notebook cover. Usually though, he doesn't have a notebook or a pen, so he borrows a pen from a classmate and proceeds to sketch pot leaves on his jeans, his bare skin, the desk top or the soles of his shoes. Sometimes he will embellish the sketch with a bad rendering of Bob Marley's profile, maybe some flames, a bong or some joins. Particularly adept sketchers graduate from doodling the simple leaves to the more complex buds. Those who aren't such great artists will opt instead to just write synonyms for marijuana, both slang and otherwise on any blank space where cannibis sativa, hemp power, weed, bud etc. will fit.

As a teacher, I have to be careful what words I use, in whatever context. Joint (as in pain), roll, smoke, high, blunt, weed (as in plants in the yard), bake, bud etc. will all elicit reactions which can vary between secret "in the know" snickers and Beavis and Butthead like comments of "dude she said blunt" huh huh huh, to all out enthusiastic high fives.

Everything is about getting high. There's no other point to life for these students. Why they even come to class at all is beyond me. It really is, because they never, ever hand anything in and if we do group work in class, they look blankly around, stare at the ceiling and then tell me they have a sudden doctor's appointment and have to leave. This is after they've arrived to class anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes late already. Yet still they come.

I think they're waiting for my last assignment, the argument paper involving research. See, my other papers are more along the lines of personal essays on varying topics, but the argument paper, I generally let them choose. The stoner student lives for this assignment. This is where they can write the pot paper. Or rather, steal the pot paper off the Internet and proudly turn it in as their own. I catch a lot of my pot heads plagiarizing. Some of them are smarter than others and, because of their ardor for THC, they'll actually sit down and for the first time write me an impassioned, detailed and thoroughly knowledgeable essay on why marijuana must be made legal immediately. The papers are never that good and they all use the same top 3 Google search results as sources, so they're all, as I said earlier, exactly the same. But still. And the saddest part of all is that every single one of the students who writes (or steals) this paper, thinks they are so original and that they are the only person clever enough and brave enough to take on the man and the establishment of stuffy old English professors and write about something as subversive as smoking pot. Like no one else ever thought of this before them and it's as if they enrolled in college just so they could write this paper. I can just imagine them sitting in high school day dreaming about the day they graduate so they can go on to college and write a paper all about pot. Because, dude man, you can DO that in college and they can't suspend you or anything. It's like freedom of speech or something. (That myth is right up there with the one about how in college you don't have to go to class. You just have to take the tests.)

Last semester I had a stoner who liked literature. He liked reading, but he only read Hunter S. Thompson, because dude, he like DID DRUGS and wrote about it and I guess there's nothing cooler than that. I explained to him that writers doing drugs and writing about it didn't end in the 60s and that he should check out some more contemporary stuff. Or how about some cool post-modern writers who are just as trippy as Thompson, without having to resort to hallucinogenics to find their imaginations? I tried to turn him to some cooler stuff than that same old, hackneyed Beat shit the stoner students love because someone told them it had drugs in it. I mean, some of that stuff is great, but it's not great just because it has drugs, you know?

Anyway, this student attempted to write all of his papers about smoking weed. His personal essay was about how he had no motivation and no job and his greatest joy was smoking weed. The Process paper was about how to roll a joint and the Compare/ Contrast involved the pros and cons of two different varieties of bud. I kept making him redo the papers with more appropriate topics, but he just loved to write about getting high and didn't care. I had the students then write a paper about plagiarism and guess what he wrote in his paper? I kid you not, he wrote about how he has a lucrative business selling essays to other students so he can get drug money. Can you get any dumber than that - than admitting in writing to a teacher that you write and sell papers so you can buy a quarter? Good Lord, I tell you.

I have a student now who is a laughingstock. He fits all of the above profile. I had to take him aside and talk to him about consistently coming to class stoned to oblivion. I explained to him that my class is so short that surely he can wait until AFTER class to get high, that way he's more fully present and engaged in learning. I also said that if you can't wait an hour to get stoned, then maybe you want to take a good look at yourself and realize that you could have a really serious drug addiction.

"But Miss," he said, "You don't understand. I'm not getting high before class."

We went round and round for a moment on this one.

"I'm not saying I'm not getting high. I AM getting high, just not before class."

I asked him to explain because this made no sense.

"I get high when I wake up in the morning. It's just really good weed Miss."

Yeah, I gotta love my job. At least he gets points for honesty, right?

And this semester I've banned the pot essay on the grounds that it's just unoriginal and cliche and too easy to steal. Let's see what happens and what they come up with to write about with their favorite option gone. What's left in their worlds without weed?


DiaryofWhy said...

Wow. I am literally speechless. (Ok, not literally.) It's times like this I'm glad I teach French 102, so the only things my students know how to say is what they ate for breakfast (and sometimes not even that.)

But wow.

Sixteen Chickens said...

This makes me laugh, I don't know why, but it does. Maybe now they will move on to writing about toilet hooch.

Anonymous said...

In college? Really?? I love to proofread so I reviewed a few final papers my senior year of high school for close friends...all of them were on legalization, and all of them were atrocious, yet they still passed; I can't imagine pulling that shit in college. (My senior paper in high school was on Fitzgerald's take on the American Dream and it was 12 pages long...god bless AP English). Stay strong WL! I think your ban on weed papers is a great idea!

KT said...

I wondered about the context of your earlier tweet! I must have gone to a surprisingly drug-free school -- no one got high before ENG 101, so far as I noticed :)

Alisonian said...

I'm sad that this is your impression of pot smokers. Not all of us are vacant idiots. It's people like your students who ruin it for the rest of us. I work my ass off at my job, I have a clean house, I don't watch movies or read books simply because they have plotlines involving drugs (potlines?). I don't drink, I don't do other drugs. But I do like to smoke weed. I have a lot of anxiety and it helps me with that. And yes, I just plain enjoy it. I get what you're saying--your students seem like lazy dumbasses. I just hope you understand that for every one student who writes a paper about legalization, there are probably tons more who smoke and maintain their grades and write decent papers. Both my parents smoke pot and are in MENSA. It's possible to be bright AND a stoner.

Wide Lawns said...

I was only referring to a certain type of student that I have over and over and over and the same paper that I get over and over and over from them. Nothing else. That's it.

MtnMama said...

"Let's see what happens and what they come up with to write about with their favorite option gone. What's left in their worlds without weed?"

I'm guessing Cheetos. ;)

I've known so many of these, and sadly, they don't get more charming with age.

Alisonian said...

I know what you were saying I just wanted to put it out there that "we" are not all like that. Like I said, they're giving ME a bad name with that type of behavior!

Maria said...

When I was taking a Speech class in college, the Professor told us that we weren't allowed to do our persuasive speech about abortion because she was so sick of hearing about it and that it was overdone and unoriginal.

What I'm trying to say is I see your point.

ps. I spoke about racial profiling instead.

pps. My stand was against racial profiling.

Deneen said...

OMG I laughed so hard at this. But yes, best just to ban the topic. Even the best jokes get old after awhile.

Jennifer said...

"It is one thing to light up a doobie at parties, but it is quite another to be fried all day. Do you see the distinction?" --from the movie Clueless.

Wide Lawns is referring to the latter, specifically the kids who major and minor in pot, period.

The description of the pot-drawing kid sounds like one of my exes when he was in high school. I guess we should all be glad he never made it to college.

pamela said...

Thank you, I was loling, people are staring and I don't care! I'm on campus right now, waiting for my next class, enjoying a cup of coffee, watching the seagulls catch a few waves and sitting downwind of a few of my classmates!
I'm a 'adult' who went back to school full time and find it sometimes interesting to watch these 'kids' try and function. And, in the name of honesty, I do enjoy the contact high some days....
Would you mind if I passed this around to some of the profs? I think they would love it!

Eric said...

Hmm no more Pot Essays? Get ready for the schroom essays

eleanorstrousers said...

I had class in college with a few of these types. Honestly, I preferred them to the drunken classmates. I hate the scent of Patchouli, but the scent of bourbon in a sports bottle at 9 am was always worse.

Amy said...

I enjoy the occassional indulgence in herb, and I also find people who can think of nothing else absolutely insufferable. They are also missing out on a whole lot of life.

Miss Kitty said...

Oh, my. [shaking head] Just, umm...well, I mean...[sigh]...oh, my.

Banning the Mary Jane essays is a great idea. Years ago, I got tired of reading pointless essays on knee-jerk topics such as gun control, school prayer, abortion, immigration, and so on, and from that point on wrote into my syllabus about what kinds of topics were suitable for my class, and which kinds weren't. (I'll see if I can find where I wrote it out in my old Tiny Technical College syllabi, and e-mail it to you.)

In my comp classes at D2U, which are based on critical thinking/writing/reading about American mass media & pop culture, I explain at the start of the term (and MANY times after that), "Writing on tired old topics does NOTHING for anyone. You're spouting the same old junk you've read/heard elsewhere. I'm NOT the only audience for what you have to say, so you HAVE to write for EVERYONE. If you write on the same old hackneyed junk, like 'My College Experience' or 'Why Marijuana Should/Not Be Legal' or 'My Opinion on Abortion,' blah blah blah, you add NOTHING to the conversation. Chances are that NOBODY who sees the issue differently from you will be persuaded to think about it from a different angle." Sometimes the speech works, and sometimes not. The students often don't want to connect class readings & discussions with their own lives; I then ask them, "WTF do you think I assigned all this for? College is for THINKING, y'all, and if you don't wanna do that, then please drop out today."

When you get discouraged: Feel the sadness 100%--don't deny it, or you'll drive yourself nuts--and remember that you're trying to loosen the death-grip that 12 years of rote memorization in the American public/compulsory educational system has on students' minds.

And then make yourself another daiquiri. Works for me.

Anonymous said...

Hi Miss Lawns,

I realize this is completely off topic but is this person a friend of the family?

CC said...

Most of my college professors banned these trite topics for a reason. Among those not allowed were: drug legalization, abortion, immigration, affirmative action.

I can just imagine them as young professors having to read all these horrible papers about the same tired topics over and over again and finally deciding, "Eff this, I will just institute a ban on these things!"

staticwarp said...

"same old, hackneyed Beat shit"

yay! you started cussing again! ^_^

Tracey said...

One can only assume Mommy and Daddy are paying for this education. You're class sounds fun though. There is nothing I love more than 2000 words about myself.

JoeinVegas said...

But - I thought in college you could write about anything. And here you go stopping the pot essays. That is just plain unAmerican.

mcgrimus said...

You should schedule a final in-class essay for April 20 just to see who shows up, and in what condition.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine linked me to your blog after I posted this Facebook status: [Shannon] just listened to round one of her class's speeches. One of the speech outlines stated that the author's purpose was to "persuade her classmates that marijuana should be legalized." I ask you, is this because college students in urban Atlanta tend to be anti-marijuana activists?

Having taught Speech 1000 and Critical Thinking classes for a few years now, I've had those students. Oddly, this year, my pro-marijuana student was different. She's generally the rabid overachieving type, making high marks on the tests, engaged in class... and her speech was actually good, focused entirely on the economic benefits of legalization. I believe she even used a journal article on prison expenses as a source.

When I give these assignments, I also leave them open-topic; particularly for speeches, the format itself can be a source of anxiety. For kids floundering for a topic, I advise them that if there's nothing at all in their major that interests them enough to talk for 3-5 minutes, they might consider switching majors.

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