Friday, October 7, 2011

Always Trust the Eyebrows

Imagine a world...
There is nothing so utterly disheartening as being elbow-deep in grading a stack of severely repetitive papers about early American literature and suddenly realizing that the exact sentence you are reading floated before your eyes yesterday. I riffled back through and sure enough, found a paper with a sentence that curiously matched the one I was reading. The question is, did they cheat? Together, or separately and were unlucky enough to lift the same sentence? Or did they just both take it from the same source and didn’t know how to document it? Still, that was nothing to the paper I looked through an hour later, with English so impeccably store-bought that I read through only the first half a page before wandering distractedly down the halls of the English offices in quest of a prof to take the dirty document off my hands. I’d always wondered how instructors know that someone is cheating. Now I realize that their eyebrows tell them; mine lifted into a quizzical frown before my brain clicked. Always trust the eyebrows.

My high school students are such a delight. They're smart, they're funny, they're earnest, and their looking up to me as some kind of teacher-god doesn't make me uncomfortable as it does with my college students and adult students. And I'm free to up the ante on them, to raise expectations so they deliver more, while my college students are stuck in a rut of poor expectations and poor skills that seem mutually enforced, and I can't do anything about it because there's three profs and a grad student standing between me and pedagogic reform. 

Today we got into a discussion on norms in Norwegian classes; whether it’s anathema to raise your hand often in class. There’s a Norwegian cultural standard called the “Jante Law,” which is the social taboo against pushing yourself forward, and my students joked about it really being the “jente law” –“the girl law” – because it applies more to women than men. Some things never change.

 I learned in class today that native English-speakers are a minority in the English-speaking population of the world. Scary, right? That means English is more often spoken in pidgin than authentic twang. In some ways, it makes my position as a native-speaker more tenuous, less important; if most of the world speaks English with various garbled add-ins from their native language, then perhaps that is authentic English, and my clean Midwestern accent an aberration.

One of my Norwegian friends waxed poetic on me while drunk. He asked me for my favorite quote, and I gave him Tennyson’s “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.” But his sudden interest in literature was all a ploy; when I asked him for his favorite quote in return, he said something about true love being complete surrender, and moved his chair closer to mine. Unfortunately, I’m a lit major, and rather well-armed for this sort of thing. “Yes,” I breathed into his ear, “and do you know what Plato says?” He inclined his head eagerly. “That love is a serious mental disease.” Then we talked about rainproof backpack covers for a while.


  1. I've always been fascinated by the way the author Axel Sandmose wrote the Jante Law in the semi self biographic novel, "En flyktning krysser sitt spor". It's even stronger and more threatening in Norwegian than in your English translation. Instead of the word others, Sandemose consequently used the word US.
    You shall not believe you are better than us, shall not laugh at us e.t.c.
    Both the novel from the Danish town Jante and the Jante Law are considered to be important to self understanding and also of course it's implicated; do not behave like the inhabitants of Jante.
    It's such a gruesome example of oppressing and belittling mechanisms.
    I hope you find time to read the Law in Norwegian.

  2. A plagiarism story for you... Sibling friends of mine from long ago both attended a certain Ivy. The younger sib recycled his older sister's term paper for a class. He was caught. To his great surprise, not for plagiarizing his sister's work...but for copying the source that she'd plagiarized! -e.delman

  3. H-Dubs, you should have asked me for my favorite quote.

    "To be acutely conscious is a disease, a real, honest-to-goodness disease."

    Loooove your work.


  4. @Felisol: I must improve my Norwegian, first. And as an American, I can express total confidence in my ability to do so ;-)
    @Edelman: hilarious! Yep, it's getting harder and harder to cheat... oh those good old days...
    @BrianDeane: it's lucky you're not, then. =P Love the quote!