Alexandros has just e-mailed me his homework. The set task, after four hours in class of reading, language work and analysis of several model paragraphs, was for each student to produce a paragraph - paragraph, mind, not essay - of their own, introducing their country, mentioning the location, main attractions, natural resources and language or languages spoken. This is what seventeen year-old Alexandros took a weekend to come up with:
Greece is a small country in Europe. It has borders many countries, including Bulgaria, Turkey, and Albania . Greece has good natural resources marble .The capital of Greece is Athens . Many tourists stay in the city to see the Parthenon. There are also lots of other things to do outside Athens . You can go for swimming in the very good beach! Although the official languages is Greek.
Although the official language is Greek. Eh? Although the official language is Greek, what? The thought is dangling there unfinished because Alexandros has remembered he is supposed to chuck in a few althoughs and howevers, but he can’t remember what they mean. I had demonstrated the use of these linkers and found then that the entire class was starting and ending sentences in their drafts with one or the other, as if they were perhaps rest-points for the eye, or like selah in the Psalms. We went back to the whiteboard to sort them out. The sorting-out may have coincided with Alexandros’s visit to the bathroom or disappearance for a fag, but he has a dictionary, writing a hundred words is hardly an onerous task, and he could have checked the bloody meaning. Ρε Αλέξαντρε, πολλά ζητάω; Am I asking too much?
When I was seventeen and a sixth-former, I wrote three essays and three or more prose translations each week in French, German and Spanish, each task taking up about two sides of foolscap. We ‘ad no internet i’ them days, us, and none o’ them fancy e-lectronic dictionaries. Ours were Cassell’s bilingual dictionaries hefty enough to stun a swaledale. I can’t pretend I was a hugely conscientious student at that age, because I relied far too heavily on a good ear for idiom, a capacious memory for vocabulary and on Sprachgefühl generally rather than on solid graft, but I mean even so, kids these days, eh? Get away with murder.
‘This is adult education,’ I say to my Algerian pilots when they complain that they cannot write self-assessments and should not be expected to, as assessment is my cabbage patch, not theirs. ‘Self assessment is exactly what you need to be able to do.’ Still, adult education or not, I feel like giving Alexandros some demeaning punishment such as lines:
‘I must not submit half-arsed, unedited twaddle to Steve’ x 200
But this would not inconvenience him much – he’d simply copy and paste it then e-mail the result off to me.
He's a nice kid, I must point out. He's lively and quite a handful in class because of his energy, and because he's a good decade younger than almost everyone else in the group. But the total helplessness some students display when it comes to working independently drives me round the bleeding twist.