Typical undergraduates, the 18-to-22 kind, are at a crucial developmental stage. They are about to be told "no" for the first time in their lives in an academic setting. Someone is about to evaluate their work, say "This is shit," and demand better. This is a turning point. One of two things will happen. The student can say "I did something wrong. I need to figure out how to do it right." This student will, in all likelihood, go on to be successful in his or her endeavors. Conversely, the student can say "That professor hates me / is biased against me / doesn't recognize my brilliance." These students will go on to work as 6th-string bloggers for Powerline or Little Green Footballs.

That is college teaching in a nutshell – getting students to realize, in the age of David Horowitz, that I don't fucking care what you write about or what you believe. I care that you get the facts right, cite your research, employ half-decent reasoning, and separate fact from opinion. If I give you an F on your Ronald Reagan Was the Greatest Man Ever paper it is not because I don't like you or Ronald Reagan. It is because you can't write sentences in basic English, didn't do any research, and generally lack even a rudimentary grasp of a college-level research paper. It is not personal. It is not ideological. It is simply that you did something wrong. You can choose to learn how to do it correctly.

The editorial staff of the New York Times is learning what this feels like. The second they rejected John McCain's editorial submission, I shuddered. I knew what was coming.

The editorial response to McCain's submission is almost verbatim what a decent teacher would write on a bad high school or college paper. No one said "Your submission was shit and you should give up on writing editorials." No, like anyone dealing with a clueless student the editors practically re-wrote the editorial for McCain:

"The Obama piece worked for me because it offered new information (it appeared before his speech); while Senator Obama discussed Senator McCain, he also went into detail about his own plans … It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama's piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq."

If they weren't so busy getting indignant and going apopleptic about the damn liberal media, the McCain and his wingnuts might realize that the editor practically wrote the goddamn revised editorial for them. Look at that. It is a road map. It is a sugar cookie recipe for kids. It is paint-by-numbers. DO THESE THREE THINGS AND I WILL GIVE YOU AN A PRINT YOUR EDITORIAL. They are practically screaming this at McCain. They are begging him to write something that meets the bare minimum standards for publication so they don't have to listen to Michelle Malkin.

The pedagogical tone is hard to miss; it's a tone one only adopts upon realizing that The Student does not get it and is unlikely to figure it out. Frankly, McCain is getting more mileage from milking the martyrdom angle than he would from the silly editorial. But the sad fact is that there's no point at which he (or his blogosphere cheerleaders) will sit back and think, "Gee, maybe I wrote a shitty Obama slam piece instead of an editorial." Their twisted take on "objectivity" boils down the issue like every other: they ran a liberal editorial, so now they have to run a conservative one.

One thought on “EN MINIATURE”

  • What's weird about this is that McCain himself is the product of an educational era in which students had Strunk & White coded onto their DNA as part of an education that also taught them basic grammar enabled by logic and Latin. So there ought to be no question of competence here–though presumably he himself is not the author of the piece–my immediate response, based on my own work with undergrads, is that the 'editorial' was not revised because the three elements do no exist in a venue of fact–there *is* no new information, there *are* no plans, and he has no clue as to what *victory* in Iraq means. Or, of course, he *does* have info, plans, and a definition, but knows that if he reveals them, the American public will recoil from that collective dog's breakfast of Things They Don't Want.

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