I thoroughly dislike professors asking throwaway questions in the requirements for writing assignments. Sometimes I think they are typing just to have something to put on the paper and not because it’s actually relevant or even entirely tenable. For example, I am currently sketching a framework for my review of an ethnography (Monique and the Mango Rains) for my Cultural Anthropology class. The professor has given us a long list of points we should address in our paper and the last one is “Discuss how this volume has broadened your academic experience.”
What even does that mean? I can’t stand vagaries of that sort. That’s not a legitimate, directional request, that’s lobbing a fancy-sounding phrase at us, then ducking and covering while it goes kaboom. It’s “Well, this sounds scholarly, so I’ll tack it on there and let them scramble to eke out something that could be loosely interpreted as fitting that description.” How has it “broadened [my] academic experience?” It hasn’t. It was a good book. I’m glad I read it. I found it very interesting. But, let’s be realistic, here. It is but one of many, many books I will read over the course of my college career. It has not changed my life, nor has it been a seminal point in my education. It was a mildly engrossing, occasionally thought-provoking story…that I still would have been completely academically fulfilled without reading. I am not going to go out tomorrow and join the Peace Corps, become a midwife, or alter the course of my education because of this book. It hasn’t “broadened [my] academic experience” except as a singular cog in the giant wheel of my overall college literary intake.
Because of the ambiguity of that imperative, I am going to be forced to make something up. This is not a problem, in and of itself. If there’s one area in which I possess superior skills, it is bullshitting. I can make up the most ridiculous twaddle and write it so it reads like a dissertation. I hate to do that, though. I hate being disingenuous and claiming something changed my life when it didn’t. I hate having to string together a bunch of academic buzzwords to fit a paper’s requirements, instead of just writing what’s in my heart and mind. I can play academia’s games and jump through their hoops like a good circus dog…but I don’t have to like it.