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.
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 poultry management.