Monday, February 20, 2006


Men in Hats, or, I'm Glad I Don't Teach Composition Anymore

With little ones, we don’t get out to movies very often. This weekend was a major exception, with two movies in two days. I took The Boy to see Curious George, and The Wife to see Brokeback Mountain.

Seeing two movies back-to-back prompted the inevitable comparisons, which, in turn, brought back memories of those awful “compare and contrast” essay assignments from my days teaching composition 1. What follows is a compare-and-contrast essay, in the style of a freshman composition student, about the two movies. I did my best to get the prose style right. For those who’ve never taught a class that involved grading freshman papers, you might want to take a stiff drink before reading more...


Although Curious George and Brokeback Mountain share many similarities, they also share many differences. Both involve men in hats, but the meaning of the hat changes.

Curious George is the story of a monkey and the man he adopts. The Man in the Yellow Hat works in a museum, where he never figures out that Drew Barrymore has a crush on him. He must be gay or something. He gets sent to Africa to find a statue that could save the museum. He doesn’t, but he could of if he had figured out how to read the map. A monkey steals his hat, which is like stealing his identity, but it’s a hat. It’s an example of nature’s inhumanity to man.

Anyway, the monkey follows the man back to New York City. They get into alot of adventures. Just when The Man and Drew Barrymore are about to hook up, George starts firing off a rocket. This is called symbolism. Then they go around the world again and again (The Man and George, not The Man and Drew).

Brokeback Mountain is about two gay cowboys. We know they’re gay cause they have sex. Also cause they don’t like Anne Hathaway, Michele Williams, and that chick who played Lindsay on Freaks and Geeks and is on ER now. They both wear cowboy hats, but not yellow ones.

The cowboys meet when their on the same sheep drive. They hook up cause it’s cold, but decide they like it. They go back to the real world and get married to women, but can’t stop hooking up in the mountains. Heath Ledger tells his wife he’s going fishing, but he’s not.

Eventually, they break up and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s brother dies. He wasn’t a very good cowboy. He always held his cigarettes like joints. Also, Anne Hathaway had funny hair.

At the end, Heath Ledger mumbles something meaningful to the other cowboy’s shirt, which is like a hat, but it has sleeves. This is called symbolism. The theme is man’s inhumanity to man, and their wifes.

Although the two movies were the same, they were also different.


If one of your students plagiarizes that for an assignment, I’ll be oddly proud.

Dean Dad, you'll need to revise it: I think that you used "it's" correctly every time! :)
I'm just so glad I'm a physicist!
While I am often known for sarcasm, please read this as sincere:

You are amazing! You absolutely nailed that one! (And I don't mean Drew, OR a cowboy!) Your ability to mimic that particular "style" if you will, of writing, is scary. Absolutely scary. Almost an example of man's inhumanity to freshman--while at the same time demonstrating freshman's (oops, sorry, "first year's") inhumanity to man.

I most appreciated the fragmentary thoughts that so often punctuate such writing. Random. Incomplete. And so defensible, at least to the student.
Well, you missed the five paragraph format... maybe you've been in class a few weeks already?
Aaagh! Rudbeckia is right. To be accurate, I should have switched between 'its' and 'it's' randomly.

And you threw in a random "their" for "they're," ten extra credit points. I nearly snorted my coffee all over the school monitor.

I have spent some time as a writing center tutor and this is spot on, complete with total mishandling of theme and symbolism.
And the parenthetical aside is both too thoughtful (what consideration for the confusion of the reader would this writer have?) and too elegant.

Bonus points for the random CaPitaliZatioN of nouns, inserting or appending of commas and other random punctuation marks. (I've heard that semi-colons make you appear smarter! Pass it on!)
I'm loving the "could of," myself.
Hear! Hear!

You had me at "They share many similarities and also many differences."

I had a student last year who wrote in a paper that "theory [was] hard and not easy to understand."

Woot! Imagine that!

"Could of" and the improper "their" for "they're" nearly caused spillage at my desk too.

Lovely way to being my grading week while the kiddies are off on expensive holidays I'll never afford.
I would have assigned extra points for a few "in-today's-society"'s, but this seriously took me back to my last comp class. I used to do a lecture called "FRESHMANESE" in which I wrote all these horrible things on the board and intoned, "If you ever use these phrases, it is without a doubt that you are between the ages of seventeen and nineteen!"
Throughout human history, the hat has been used as a symbol ...
This is so funny!! As the others have noted, your tone in this piece is perfect!!

Thanks for the laugh!
As Homer Simpson would say, it's funny cuz it's true!!

This, my friend, may in fact be my favourite post ever. Bravo!
Dude, this is BETTER than much of what I get on freshmen compare/contrast essays. You actually do have some analysis in there. You make a few (albeit unsupported) points. Oh wow. never mentioned Men Without Hats! What kind of comparison can this be without a control group?
Very nice, but I got a bit depressed when I recalled that I've graded biology-lab reports that were much less well thought out!
I'm trying to get myself psyched to read freshmen essays, and then I read this. Very funny but not very motivating for my purposes. Can I print out copies for my class to dissect?
It's missing the you's. Otherwise, really accurate.
Oh my; I am a community college lit teacher and JUST had this conversation -- may I print this out and/or link it to show to my class?
Feel free to use it in class. If I wanted to be possessive of it, I wouldn't blog it.

"Could of" and "alot" cause me actual, physical pain. Sharing it is the first step in healing...
Oh, man. Thanks for the flashbacks. [is grateful to be teaching literate seniors instead of misguided froshies]
This would be hilariously funny if it were not so damned accurate.
Not enough passive voice, and not enough filler. You could have written another thousand words without introducing any additional information or analysis.
I love this paper! I would TOTALLY enjoy reading it if someone submitted it for an assignment!
You are too frickin' funny! I'm HOWLING behind my office door!
Every year I used to write a paper in the style of an intro-level composition, so this cracked me up. If it were submitted as an actual paper, I'm guessing it would be in 13pt font (or Courier New), triple spaced, with massive margins?

Oh, and it would make some grand sweeping statement like "This proves..." or "All of my friends think that..." or something along those lines.

White Bear, I would love to see any notes or handouts you may have from your Freshmanese lecture!

I love "It's an example of nature's inhumanity to man."

But this sentence could defiantly of sounded much more smarter with the transitional use of "which":


"The Man in the Yellow Hat works in a museum, where he never figures out that Drew Barrymore has a crush on him."


The Man in the Yellow Hat works in a museum, which he never figures out that Drew Barrymore has a crush on him.
I taught a comp class less than an hour ago. The one suggestion I feel I should make is that you include "In today's society..." That one haunts me.
That was great --- thank you...

I suppose what I think is missing is due to my discipline. Frehsman philosophy papers generally start with a dictionary definition of one of the philosophical terms.
I laughed out loud. Thanks for the great post!
I have always found the Curious George books to be vaguely homoerotic. Your pentrating analysis has aided me in discovering why.
You have just illustrated why I never ever wanted to teach Composition. I didn't have enough of a sense of humor to get through even one composition like your post without taking to drink! Speaking of drink, I propose a toast to the English Teachers of the world!
Wonderful essay! It should also include the phrase "try and..." as in "I'm going to try and explain they're symbolism..."
Stunning. Just stunning.

I just read a stack of "compare and contrast" papers, and I really needed that.
I love the bit about the symbolic rocket! :)
Spot on + hilariously hilarious - my own entry for the greatest ever essay opening....ever is: 'In today's modern world' - which really happened.
about curious george. I would also go on to deconstruct it as a thinly veiled postcolonial fantasy about entrapping and so taming The Other.

this, of course, invites direct comparison to Babar the Elephant. a similar tale where we get to go to Africa and civilize the natives. Here colonized (elephants) become colonizers (of rhinos). And so on and so forth.

thrilled to have come across your blog! also thrilled not to have to teach composition any more;)
You must have got lucky with your freshman papers: this made far too much sense.

That said, the lack of actual comparing and contrasting - all too often read by the humble freshman to say "provide us with a linear plot sypnosis of each piece" - is spot on.
I don't get it. I thought it was well written and insightful. The movies sucked, though.
The only thing missing is the mile long title that somehow has a vague connection to something in the paper. My daughter just finished a paper that had a simple title but the essay was so confusing that I felt like it was a paper equivilant of the LA freeway.

Makes me wonder if education isn't helping to create their own monsters.
Spot on and a brilliant post - bears a very strong resemblence to the stack of papers on my desk at the moment.

You need a "X shows us" phrase - history shows us, film studies demonstrates, etc.
I'd like to have seen some 'random' use of single quotes. The use of italics for movie and TV show titles was also too correct.
Oh, pooh. I was going to point out the grossly correct instances of "it's," and the avoidance of the 5-paragraph format, but I see it's already been done.

Very enjoyable (in a sick sort of way ... I'm teaching the C&C essay in my class right now)!
I guess it is time for me to retire from my job at the University Writing Center--your essay seemed rather well done. It was organized and I could recognize a structure, albeit a despicable one.
Sadly, I completely missed the "could of" and their/they're issues. I think the parts of my brain that formerly detected such problems have been destroyed by overuse.
Seriously, the only flaw in your parody was that it didn't feature "the reason why" this and "the reason why" that. My students live and breathe the reasons why.
that opening sentence sounds awfully familiar to me - I wonder if I used it, back in my freshman days?
You forgot to start a sentence with "I feel that...." I keep telling my students that the brain has no nerve endings, so when they say they feel something, they're probably right, because they're certainly not thinking.

Regarding the interchangeable forms of "their": I find the use of "there" in place of the other two to be far more common.
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Having been a college English tutor, I've seen my share of essays like this. What bothered me the most was that students thought these were GOOD -- that they didn't learn in high school that this is NOT a proper compare-and-contrast essay.
I am a career changing community college student. I found this PAINFUL to read! However, it reads similarly to the papers submitted in my class, which, sadly is "Criminal Justice" with people that want to work in Law Enforcement. I think more than education is in big trouble!
You forgot to use the word "defiantely" as in, "The hats defiantly symbolize humanity trying to shade its vision of human weakness compared to animal honesty."

Also, you forgot to make ethical judgements with statements like, "this story was very ethical because people should be allowed to make their own choices even if their wrong ones."
Good job, Dean Dad. My writing partner and I (we have to wear hats because we teach at a military college, but they aren't cowboy hats, or yellow) published a short story last year in Yalobusha Review titled, "Gun Control," which is a faux freshman comp essay about, you know, Gun Control. We think it's funny and it has given our colleagues shivers.
Did one of my students write this for you? No, of course not; yours is way too sophisticated! I am an English Instructor at a community college, and I am up to my elbows in compare/contrast essays right now. I wish I had the time to share some of my stories, but my class is waiting for me. I invite all academics, and anyone interested in academics to my page, which, by the way, is the same as yours, but different.
Ha -- I posted a cartoon the other day to my site called "I Like Hats" --
This piece was absolutely hilarious and wonderfully horrible. Thanks for the extended laugh. I'm going to go cry now before I grade my own stack.
Very amusing, Dean Dad. I dimly recall my five years in teaching... One thing I remember from a comparison and contrast essay: "In Madrid there are many castles. In San Francisco there are no castles." Also this: "In Rocky V, he ran in the street and beat his raw meat." I also recall crying helplessly, overtaken by hysterical laughter, while grading that set of papers at 2:00 a.m.

There is nothing, nothing, nothing like turning your back on something everybody thinks you should continue to do.
I do teach freshman composition every day, and this is not all that much of an exaggeration. Nice work.
The best scholarly send-up since William Dowling "unearthed" the job application cover letter by Manfred Mickleson.
It's a lot better than many of the essays I get in my Intro to College Writing class. You just wouldn't believe it. Or maybe you would. . . .
As a retired CC writing tutor, I appreciate your wit and accuracy. As mom of a bright and sensitive kid about to enter college, I gotta plead for mercy. Be gentle good people.
As another former comp. teacher who jumped ship to be a dean, I empathize. I have read that opening paragraph eerily often, even after warning against it. I thoroughly enjoyed your piece. I did long for one of those awful mixed metaphors or startling cliches, often with other problems, so I am sending my two personal favorites from my days in the mines: "the timberwolf is a loan eagle" and "he tried to use me as againy pig."
I'm a first year composition instructor and my students have just turned in their compare/contrast essays. I now dread grading them! Spot on, though. I'm pained by how poorly these students write!

"One difference would be..."

say whattttttt
This satire so accurately points out the most overlooked concern of who is actually to blame for this kind of writing--the teacher who assigns a comparison/contrast essay instead of assigning an essay that might require some comparisons and contrasts.
Brilliant. So well done I thought you may have been serious.
Gorgeous. I'm definitely going to teach it.

BTW, it isn't just freshman comp. I recently graduated with an MFA/Creative Nonfiction from a well-regarded program. One of my fellow students -- graduate student, writing program, right? -- turned in a piece last semester that referred to his roommate's pre-Madonna behavior.
Is this really a bunch of adults making fun of the way freshmen write? Because these comments, to me, don't sound like they come from people who are educated enough to be teaching students at universities with any degree of respectability. That's just judging from the diction; the lack of maturity presents its own problem. If you can write someone off as unintelligent just because that person is under twenty, that speaks poorly of your own intellect.
You could kill two birds with one stone. You could portray yourself as being more erudite, and lengthen your composition, by changing "He must be gay or something" to "The point being is he must be gay or something"?

A former ESL teacher of adults
It definitely needs "From the beginning of time, humans have used hats to symbolize...."
It's a good thing you don't teach composition anymore. Too many errors for an English teacher.
I have a cowboy hat and really like it..
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