It’s that time of year again. Student papers are in and there are marking meetings to attend. But it’s all a bit hard to take—again. Helmet for Hamlet. That one’s getting old. Opheloria for Ophelia. There’s a new one. Someone in the meeting wonders if it’s catching. I eye the door. It’s closed so the students can’t hear us laughing at them. (Not at, mind you; just, you know, toward.)
We teach what’s called a “core unit.” You have to pass it before you can get your degree. For a psychoanalytic reading of Hamlet, a student cites Dr. Carl Hung. A Freudian slip, perchance?
The marking meetings are a ritual. Once a semester, we bond over bloopers.
Hamlet’s problem? He was shellfish.
Most of us are what’s called “casual academics.” As part of a cost-cutting initiative to reduce full-time staff yet still meet ever increasing enrollments, humanities departments such as ours rely on instructors-for-hire, but there is nothing casual about the fact that we publish, lecture, teach, grade and often counsel a vast body of diverse students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend university. Some, I’ve discovered, have never read a book. And not because of any language barrier. They’ve just never read a book.
To sea or not to sea. It’s all the same to them. What matters is getting that piece of paper that qualifies them as a teacher, translator, nurse or—God forbid—psychologist. We try and hammer home that a semi-literate school teacher will find him- or herself working as a glorified babysitter, and an ignorant translator will end up delivering skip bins, but it just doesn’t seem to compute.
Frankenstein created ‘new spices.’ Who knew? Some wag blurts out a weary zinger about a reanimated Victoria Beckham. It’s been two hours. The pile of papers seems to be getting bigger not smaller. Descartes, a student writes, was a jew list (dualist). The meeting erupts.
Perchance what’s rotten in the state of Denmark is that in spite of glossy government initiatives to make tertiary education available to all, most of these students sweep in from Skelltown High so unprepared for Frankenstein, philosophy, and $4 lattes that they’re set to fail before they begin.
Alas, poor scallop.
F’s and C-minuses. Coffee cups and water bottles and laptops. Plagiarism and office politics. You never know. Funding for summer schools, learning centers or literacy classes might just eliminate, or at least reduce, the rationale for these meetings. And then where would we find our fun?
Three hours later we have a winner: good old Victor Frankenstein, haunted by his double dangler.
Analyze that, Dr. Hung.