Famous Author Helps Son Do Essay On His Work . . . Son Gets C+ From Teacher

download-5Last year, I helped one of my sons in high school as he wrote an essay on the constitution, including a focus on a case where I served as the lead counsel.  I thought he did a great job and was shocked when the teacher gave him a C+ (wrongly interpreting the key elements of the underlying case law).  We let it go even though I thought the essay was entirely correct.  I now feel better after reading how famous writer Ian McEwan, author of Atonement, Amsterdam, and On Chesil Beach, helped his son write an essay on his work, Enduring Love.  It came back with a C grade.  McEwan clearly did not understand what he was trying to say in his book.

McEwan told Event magazine that he worked on the essay with his son Greg but “his teacher disagreed fundamentally” with the take on the work.

Of course, as McEwan said in Enduring Love, “Self-consciousness is the destroyer of erotic joy” . . .  and school essays. 



50 thoughts on “Famous Author Helps Son Do Essay On His Work . . . Son Gets C+ From Teacher”

  1. I had an English master, who told us it was vulgar when writing, to refer back to what one had placed in round brackets. I am still careful not to do that. Another told me – in his comments on an essay – not to write hark, as the word should be used only in speaking. I disagreed with him then, and I would disagree with him now.

  2. Maybe the grade is based on the teacher not being happy with JT helping his son? That might place his son with an unfair advantage over the other students who were not privy to such assistance. Just another point of view…

  3. As a mother of a student at that same high school, I can totally relate! I’ve had to learn not to take the occasional grade like that personally. The important thing is that the assistance provided was a bonding moment with our offspring, and they are better for it.

  4. I heard that Tom Fogerty plagiarized himself from a song in CCR.
    Old Man Down the Road vs Run Through the Jungle:

  5. I had a high school English teacher accuse my son of “plagarism,” [sic] writ large in red ink on an essay whose topic I suggested. He used materials we helped him get for the research and even cited it in the very sentence under assault. When I pointed out that the citation complied with the Chicago Manual of Style and that the word “plagiarism,” still contained the “i” in the dictionary I owned, our senior educator became incensed. After a call or two to the principal, we got the matter resolved and my son a new desk in a different classroom. When she retired the next year, my gift to her (which I delivered to school) was a Webster’s Dictionary. Mean? Maybe, but little Napoleons sometimes deserve a little Waterloo, too.

    1. Thirty-odd years teaching and she didn’t know that cited references are not plagiarized?

      1. DSS – I used to teach a course just in research strategies which included plagiarism and its attendant problems.

      2. You got it. Said the sentence in question did not contain the requisite quotation marks and that a summary of the pamphlet’s contents still required it despite it not being a verbatim account. Number 6 rated high school in Virginia at the time.

    2. mespo – I hope you got her the Webster’s Unabridged. 😉

        1. mespo – single volume should weigh about 30 pounds and require a stand. Last unabridged I saw was 3 volumes (coffee table size) requiring a stand. Not sure what they are selling these days.

          1. And if she still doesn’t get the message there is always the OED.

    3. As an instructor who assigns and grades research papers I would suggest that it might be necessary to expand your definition of plagiarism. I receive many papers which are made up almost entirely of direct quotes or very close paraphrasing (so close that they may only change a word or two per sentence for large blocks of text. Even with proper citation, there is still nothing there that was actually written by the student. Simply stringing together blocks of quotes or close paraphrasing does not constitute an original work by the student.

      1. As an instructor who assigns and grades research papers I would suggest that it might be necessary to expand your definition of plagiarism.

        No, it isn’t. Grade the bloody paper and don’t drag the dean into it.

        1. Paraphrasing huge chunks does require citations as per the MLA guidelines.

          Also, happy to know that Mr. Truly didn’t throw a hissy fit like most parents now.

          And finally, I wish most parents in “top schools” would allow their students to learn by guiding them and not doing the research *for* them. There is a difference and many don’t know it.

          1. If you’ll review her complaint, it’s that students should be charged with plagiarism even with proper citation.

          2. Expensive babysiter:

            Parents are the equalizing power between the student and teacher. The teacher has the principal and each have the school board if elected. Many teachers blame parents for their scholarly ineptitude. That’s just a fact. Oh & btw you don’t get to change the lexicon to suit you in dealing with students when you’re shown to be ignorant of the term in the first place.

    4. I do not think that plagiarism means what she thought it means since it bore a citation. A summary required quotation marks? Surely you jest.

      One of the lessons in high school is that anyone can get drunk on a modicum of power. Teachers can be despots.

      Glad you prevailed and showed him how to win a fight with power.

      1. Karen S:
        Not really a win. She was a good teacher believe it or not. Sometimes you have to stick up for your kids. Not always, sometimes.

  6. You can do exercises with your kids, but helping with specific assignments is properly taboo. If the teachers in question were astute (and some are), they were giving the parents in question an incentive to lay off.

    Primary and secondary schooling is an occupation that collects a great many mediocrities and English is the subject with the weakest operational measures of competence among students and teachers alike.

      1. Your bib is filthy. The nurse’s aide on duty needs better aim.

      2. David Benson – did your school have student evaluation of professors? Would have loved to have seen yours. I always had my students evaluate me at the end of the semester.

      3. David Benson – you still owe me a citation from the OED.

          1. David B. Benson – you still owe me a citation from the OED.. You know how the academic game is played. You make a statement, you are called on it, YOU back it up. I am not the lazy one, you are nimrod.

    1. Darren Smith – the instructor has a God complex. S/he thinks he knows better than anyone.

        1. David Benson – my grading system was objective rather than subjective and the syllabus told the students exactly how many points they needed to get any grade in my class. Class discussion was never graded and I never send home frou-frou homework. Any assignment had a specific point to it. All tests were cumulative. And I rewrote my lectures each time I taught the course.

    2. Nowadays, or a coded signal from the instructor to the father to quit helping his kid with the homework.

  7. When my younger sister was in high school, she was getting mediocre grades on her English assignments. She said it was because the teacher didn’t like her, but mom didn’t believe her, and thought she wasn’t trying hard enough. So my sister copied, word for word, an essay which had won a national award and appeared in Seventeen, a teen girls’ magazine. She got it back marked with a “C” and showed it to our mother. That was enough to convince her, so she called the principal and had my sister transferred to a different teacher.

    1. So hilarious. Having worked in journalism, publishing, and educational curriculum development for decades, and after teaching at three large state universities, I’ve run across the same kind of thing repeatedly with my own kids.

      1. emncaity – you are doing your kids homework and getting Cs? 😉

    2. TIN, yes, as a sophomore in high school I had an English teacher like that.

  8. This reminds of a great bit in the movie “Back to School” where Rodney Dangerfield’s character decides to finally get his college degree, but he needs a little help with his English classes. . .


    And, just for the heck of it, the oral exam, with Dylan Thomas.

    1. Ralph Adamo – Dylan Thomas came to ASU to lecture and I knew the grad student assigned to try to keep him sober enough to get on stage. It was not an easy task. 😉

      1. Paul, this was during the day? Great story, and it would have been an honor to watch over him.

        1. Ralph Adamo – if I had been in charge of him we never would have made it. 😛

  9. This is not surprising. Literature teachers know more about the work than the person who wrote it. They went to English major school. 😉

    1. High School Level One….. Where you ensure your offspring has enough information to pass the GED and go one with their lives instead of wasting time worrying about prom dresses. Mine did exactly that at 15 1/2 on a Friday and began JC the following Monday – also attended every football and basketball etc game and both the Junior and Senior Prom.

      While her former class mates waited until June and age 18 to be sprung from durance vile mine was waiting for August to have finished two years of college and become a Junior at University. At nineteen going on twenty she had a Bachelors. At twenty going on Twenty One a Masters then was admitted to medical school and after that became a psychiatrist.

      She often said she enjoyed JC when she realized day onen the students wanted to learn and most of the teachers wanted to teach but considered the Bachelor curriculumn to be High School Level Two,.

      In the following years she (speaking two foreign languages) picked up the two Doctorates. Making the decision to sign off on the parental approval block at age 15 was without doubt the best decision I could have made. I didn’t have that choice nor that support when I was being forced to educate myself and still regret those ‘wasted years’

      Now it’s much harder as the caliber of education has fallen until even a Bachelor Degree is suspect.

      Recently in the last three or four years I’ve had occasion to work with scholarship programs and observe the level of education in a different country.. School half days work half days is common yet what we call highschool is concluded at at 15 and the next three years are preparatory for higher education. A foreign language is mandatory ajnd some classes are taught only in a foreign language. While ours are worrying about prom dresses their’s studying the great classics of literature that are not touched in the USA secondary system. Even those who go on to technical careers finish up with a year of ‘how to run a business’ butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers included.

      Yet we in the USA got caught in chain migration while turning away those with the skills we now to rebuild the infrastructure.

      I encourage all parents to take similar steps it’s well worth the effort and the product is less likely to turn nto mindless drones fit only to be …. Socialists.

      1. Great post, Michael. Your daughter sounds very accomplished and self-motivated.

      2. From another perspective I see high school administrators and staff engaging in too many extraneous distractions rather than upping the bar for higher expectations.

        One of these is a focus on infrastructure and empire building of the district.

        Time and time again over here the property owners and through pass-through expenses renters manage to be stuck with sometimes extraordinarily expensive palace schools through a revolving door of bond issues. The common situation is that the school district claims that the existing school (built thirty or forty years ago and sometimes less) is unable to house an influx of students or is outdated. Rather than add another wing or two to the existing school they build a completely new school and demolish the old one. Of course this often happens when the original bond on the school is retired and officials claim during the election that “your taxes will not go up”. Which is a sham because without the new bond to pay for a new school, the average household will no longer have to pay for a capital acquisition and their taxes might actually go down by a couple thousand dollars if they were not hoodwinked into approving a new measure.

        One of the disappointments of the legislature’s response to the McCleary decision in WA (where the courts ruled the state’s first constitutional obligation was to primary education) was that the state did not assume the debt servicing of existing school bonds and revenue receipts and would instead allocate funds to districts based upon actual need. (and avoid the empire building by local administrators). One has to wonder why the University of Washington has buildings that are seventy-five years or more in age and continue to be useful but a elementary school must be replaced every thirty years.

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