Tuesday, January 12, 2010

History Essays

You don't get much of a post right now, possibly a better one earlier tomorrow morning, because I'm working on history stuff.

My teacher decided to inform us, today, that 30% of our exam grade (which is 20% of the course grade; therefore the essays are 6% of our final course grade) will be for typing two essays tomorrow. We were all operating on the assumption that they would be handwritten on Friday with more time during the regularly scheduled exam block.

He seems to expect that we will produce two single-spaced pages per essay, for 4 pages total. In my experience, a single-spaced page is around 600 words, so that's 2400 words we're expected to type in one hour, or 40 wpm (words per minute) continuous. Without even considering that we need time to think, or that we might not actually have that much to write, or that we might need bathroom breaks, or that we physically cannot type that fast. I personally type at 45 wpm in short bursts - under two minutes - and around 20 wpm for longer stretches, so 40 wpm will not be possible for me.

Mind you, this is a mid-level (I didn't have time to take AP History) college-prep course, in high school. With mostly average kids, and no guarantee of typing skills. So I'll prolly turn out better than most (I can hunt-and peck faster than most of my classmates can type with the traditional 'home row' method, which is more efficient at high skill levels but rather illogical for the Qwerty keyboard and rather inefficient for unskilled typists), but I'll still be lucky to finish one essay during the time alloted. Perhaps my teacher, when he sees that the assigned task is impossible, can be convinced to drop one essay, or to have one typed at home.

The three essays (of which we are permitted to pick two) are:

1) Analyze the Truman Doctrine from 1954 to 1975.

2) Discuss the validity of the following statement: "The failure of the civil rights movement in the 1950s proves that only violence can secure liberty in the United States"

3) Evaluate the presidency of Richard Nixon. Was he a failure or a success?


The first is a very bad essay prompt, because it excludes the Korean War and the majority of the Marshall Plan - the two single most important uses of the Truman Doctrine - and really only leaves Vietnam.

The second sets up a straw-man argument to be debated. I'm really considering taking this prompt and arguing the wrong stance - that only violence can create positive social change - simply to subvert the issue and maybe teach my teacher a few new tricks.

The third should be interesting. You could label Nixon as a blundering idiot or a foreign-policy genius. Perhaps I'll argue both stances: that on domestic issues, including Watergate, the man was a clueless asshole, while in international politics, assisted by Henry Kissinger, he was a genius who simultanously established detente with China and the CCCP (Soviet Russia). Perhaps in the form of two characters arguing, as thinkers much greater than I have used in the past.

In any case, I won't do exactly what my teacher wants or thinks. He wants two clear-cut essays, 5 paragraphs of meaningless bullshit, expressing exactly his views. He's going to get one essay and one original work of dialogue, with opposite views from his, and with facts and quotes he's never seen before. And the absolute worst thing that happens is that my grade drops one or two points.

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