by cheri block sabraw

In the days before 1995, in order to read literary criticism,  students had to go to the library, use the Dewey Decimal System, and browse the stacks with heads clicked to the right, ear to shoulder.

This is a story of repetitive ambush  the old- fashioned way.

As usual, this is my story.

But it is really the story of cheaters, the story of parents who want their kids to go to Stanford at any cost, the story of desperate over-scheduled  kids who are too busy to think for themselves, and finally, this is the story of a teacher who had nothing better to do on her Saturday and Sunday afternoons than to…..well. Let’s get on with the story.

Good Morning everyone.

Sorta Good Morning, Mrs. Sabraw.

OK. We’ve finished The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible and now it is essay time.

[Sigh.] Can’t you put this off?  All of our other teachers have given us way too much to do this weekend. Pleeaasseee.

No way. You guys enrolled in too many A.P. and honors classes for your own good.

No way. Listen. Just listen, Mrs. Sabraw. Just listen.

For physics, Mr. Van Bloy assigned an egg case design. We have to insulate an egg that, when we drop it from a crane, won’t break. That assignment alone will take us all weekend.

[Mrs. S is thinking about this request, and the awkward use of English.]

And Mrs. Needless is having us translate part of Moliere this weekend.

O.K. As I said five minutes ago, it’s essay time.

But before I pull the screen up to reveal your essay topic, I’d like to discuss how I want you to go about the assignment.

First, you are not to contact last year’s students or read any of their essays. Everyone, put up your hand and repeat after me: I, state your name, will not contact a senior about his/her Scarlet Letter essay.

I, state my name (ha ha), will not contact a senior about their Scarlet Letter essay.

That’s his/her. Everyone is a singular indefinite pronoun.

[Groan. Ticked off, but trying to maintain sycophantic façade.]

Second, you are to do your own work. No tutors, no older brother’s help. No Cliff’s Notes. Remember [ I take my worn and underlined yellow/black copy of Cliff’s Notes out to show them I know it by heart.] Everyone put up your hand and repeat after me: I, state your name, will do my own work and will not contact a tutor, an older sibling, or use Cliff’s Notes.

I, [grumbling]   James Lee, Iris Wu, Kavya Bulgari, Anu Pommu, and Chris Johnson, will do my own work and will not contact a tutor, an older sibling, or use Cliff’s Notes.

Third and last, reading literary criticism and then restating it in your own words without citing your source is cheating. Since you all are so overloaded this weekend, you might be tempted to plagiarize. Desperate people can do desperate things. Do not go to 813.52 at the library. Just think for yourselves.

Repeat after me: I, state your name, will not go to 813.52 at the library.

I, [highly irritated but hatching a plan]  Caleb Kim, Emily Geddy, Vijay Singh, Trinh Tran, and Mario Puzo, will not go to 813.52.

Great!! The paper is due on Monday.

[Bell rings and the week is over.]

On Saturday afternoon, around 1:00 pm, I arrive at the library, dressed in jeans and one of Judge Blah’s old army t-shirts. I have my camera, a stack of dittos with the pledge taken only a day before, solemnly and sincerely.

I find a study carrel, one near the window [for the view], one hidden from the stacks.

I am here.

At 813.52.

Before long, I hear voices, voices of accomplices who plan to get in and get out, quickly, so they can get back to the mink-lined egg case they are designing.

In their hands are small ripped pieces of paper, with numbers hastily scribbled on them: 813. 51, 813.67, 813.82.

Titles accompany the numbers.

I wait until at least four of my students are standing in front of literary criticism, heads cocked, searching for their falsie [so to speak].

Hawthornian vocabulary circles my intentions. Phantasmagoric. What an ignominy. Certainly, they are on the scaffold with their sins.

Flash!!  [Photo taken.]

Hello. What are you guys doing here?

We are looking for notes on Moliere.

Or gravity.

Or poultry management.

About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
This entry was posted in Writing and Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to 813.52

  1. andreaskluth says:

    So what’s at 813.52?

  2. Cheri says:

    Literary criticism.

    • Cheri says:

      OK. Here is the official Dewey Decimal 800 category, thanks to Wikipedia.

      810 American literature in English

      * 811 Poetry
      * 812 Drama
      * 813 Fiction
      * 814 Essays
      * 815 Speeches
      * 816 Letters
      * 817 Satire & humor
      * 818 Miscellaneous writings

      I don’t remember what 52 was. You caught me again. I shouldn’t write when I am taking care of two small boys for 5 days. 🙂

    • Cheri says:

      Most often tagged 813.52

      1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1)
      2. Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art by Barbara Elleman (1)
      3. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (1)
      4. American Indian Stories (Myths and Legends) by Zitkala-Sa (1)
      5. These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1)
      6. Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Writings by Sui Sin Far (1)
      7. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1)
      8. The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime… by Louise Borden (1)
      9. Tender is the Night: A Romance by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1)
      10. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1)
      11. Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman (1)
      12. The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck (1)
      13. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1)
      14. The Short Novels of John Steinbeck by John Steinbeck (1)
      15. Brodie’s notes on John Steinbeck’s ‘The grapes of wrath’ by Graham Handley (1)
      16. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1)
      17. The Essential Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway (1)
      18. Henry James’s waistcoat : letters to Mrs Ford, 1907-15 by bleachrosalind (1)
      19. The Wheel on the School by Meindert de Jong (1)
      20. Dear and Glorious Physician by Taylor Caldwell (1)
      21. Allison Bain, or, By a way she knew not by Margaret M. Robertson (1)
      22. The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1)
      23. U.S.A.: The 42nd Parallel / 1919 / The Big Money by John Dos Passos (1)
      24. The Annotated Charlotte’s Web by Peter F. Neumeyer (1)

  3. Douglas says:

    A carefully laid trap is so obvious, isn’t it? Yet so effective.

  4. With the internet now in every home, how do you, as a teacher, deal with the fact that to plagiarise, is easier than ever?

    Perhaps, with each paper you mark, you routinely key into Google two or three sentences in the paper, to see if they’ve been used elsewhere?

    Thus, while plagiarism now is easier than ever, to detect it is now equally so?

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Phillip,
      I don’t teach in the public school system anymore. One of the reasons I left (to open my own after- school academy) was that cheating had become the norm, especially among college bound students here in California where competition is fierce.

      At my little school, we have no grades and no credits, so learning takes on a new meaning for our students without the pressures from outside .

      My colleagues who still teach in the public school access websites (some school districts buy these programs) in which, as you mention in your comment, teachers key in sentences and parts of sentences to search for plagiarism.

      It’s all very sad to me.

      These are the kids who will lead us forward. They are smart and charming, but for many, the end justifies the means. The proverbial ethical blind spot.

      World wide, we see this generation in action. Of course, my generation (both Clinton and Bush) hasn’t done so well itself….

      • Mr. Crotchety says:

        Plagiarism in a patent is apparently legal. This is justified in citing prior art. (Quotation marks, not required?!) I’m having trouble getting over this. It is nauseating (literally).

  5. andreaskluth says:

    What a fascinating list, under 813.52. Some outliers in there.
    Dewey: I wonder if his system is moribund nowadays, a dated taxonomy in the age of “folksonomies”.

  6. Jwong says:

    Loved the story. I can completely relate to the situation! It is a good thing I have three clear offenses as written in my no cheating policy!

  7. A student says:

    Now I have nightmares about camouflage-clad former teachers prowling around library aisles like procrastinating classmates looking for money to lend. Thank you very much.
    More importantly, after reading this, I seriously question where I would be today if I had not sought professional help.

    Traps to live by.

  8. Cheri says:

    Nicely put!
    You must have been one of my talented but tortured students.

    I found professional help helped.

  9. Pingback: Claircognizance « Notes from Around the Block

  10. Pingback: Research the old-fashioned way | Notes from Around the Block

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