To My Young Readers

I know I have many readers who are either in high school or in college, and I want to address them in this post.

Dear younger generation, you are wonderful kids who will do great things and make the world a better place. I meet so many amazing young folks both in real life and online that it makes me proud to share a planet with you. Leah Jane, Jamie (voxcorvegis), Pen, Benoni, Miriam, Brittany Ann, Lindsay are some of the young people who amaze me with their maturity, brilliance, and sincerity. I’m an educator, so I love young people (in a totally non-creepy way) and believe in them.

I have to tell you, however, that one thing that might prevent you from achieving the greatness you deserve is not your politics, your sexuality, your life choices, the MTV, the social networks, or video games. It’s sloppiness.

Let me explain. I have really phenomenal students this semester. I grumble sometimes, but the truth is that they are great.  They all have a lot of insight and curiosity. But, God, the carelessness is killing me.

On Wednesday, I received 56 final essays from my students. I had exhorted them on numerous occasions to observe the following format requirements:

- Times New Roman 12 pt font,
- 1 inch margins on all sides,
- page numbers in the right-hand corner of the page,
- nothing should be bold-typed,
- nothing should be italicized except the title of a novel.

Can you guess how many people out of 56 managed to fulfill all of these requirements?

One. A single person.

The requirements are listed in the syllabus, I explained them in class both in English and Spanish on at least 4 occasions, I showed two PowerPoints listing them, I wrote them on the board, I prepared a handout listing them, and I gave out a check list the students could use before submitting the essay. I also explained in detail why observing this format was important and why it would be a personal courtesy to me to observe it.

I don’t think I could have done more, yet I only managed to get through to a single individual. And this is not an isolated situation. This happens all the time.

This kind of carelessness makes one come off as disrespectful and lazy even when one is neither. In my experience, people who end up winning in the competition of life are not the most brilliant ones or the ones with the best people skills. It is always the ones who have the best attention to detail and who are the most careful, punctual, and meticulous. And this works both in one’s professional and personal life.

Let’s work together to eradicate carelessness and sloppiness as the nasty pests that they are!

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28 comments on “To My Young Readers

  1. What’s really sad is everyone does papers on computers these days, where you can set up all your requirements automatically so no one even has to think about them. Imagine having to do that on a typewriter. I actually had a piece of paper with lines traces out measuring the margins that I’d put behind the paper I was typing on so I wouldn’t type past the margins. (I couldn’t do that today, standard copier paper is too thick to see through and they don’t make actual typewriter paper any more.)

  2. I have been having similar issues with my students. Maybe I’m cynical, but perhaps the answer isn’t to keep giving them the information over and over again. When we spoon-feed it to them, they don’t work for it, and thus don’t internalize it or learn anything – they just expect to be told the right answers and move on. Instead, just tell them once or twice, and leave it on the syllabus for future reference. Then, if they don’t do it right, they can suffer the consequences. I have found that my students will rise up to the challenge if I give it to them. So their first essays/labs they had to turn in, when they didn’t follow directions they lost points. Then they started following directions, and actually doing the work. College is “hard work”, and so they try to cut as many corners as possible, because there’s so much to do. If we let them cut corners by making it easier for them to do so, they don’t get any better.

    Though my students are still having trouble reading questions. We always put at least one (usually 2-3) questions in the lab that can be answered by reading the question’s introduction (usually 3-4 sentences long), without even looking at the specimens in lab. Easily half of the students will come to me to ask what the answer is, or if some particular thing is true that was said in the sentence before the question itself was posed. The most common thing I say in my classroom is “did you read the question? No? Why don’t you read the whole question, then see if you can answer it.” – But they have learned. Now, I have students come up to me, and say “Wait. Isn’t the answer to question 3 in the introduction? Is it really that simple?” and I just smile and say “well yes, so take what you’ve learned from the introduction and use it to answer the question. Sometimes we like to test your reading comprehension, too.” But really, the most common thing I IMAGINE saying in lab while I’m teaching is “RTFQ” (read the f**king question)…

  3. I’ve always been a huge perfectionist myself and this article you wrote reminded me of that part of my personality. I’m a cartoonist who has spent many years steadily practicing and self studying from some of the best from the past (E.C. Segar, Harvey Kurtzman, Robert Crumb, classic Warner Bros. and Disney shorts, etc.) and learning way more on my own than any art class I’ve ever taken. Yes, I’m an 18 year old who will start college in January since I was taking a semester long break from school so I could figure out for sure what I wanted to study and what field would provide me with enough income to live somewhere like New York or California. Sometimes I’ve been very harsh on myself as a result, but in the long run, my own drive to perfection and knowledge has gotten me very far in terms of the amount of insight, intellectual honesty, and wisdom I have acquired that public school education failed to provide me with.

      • Sorry if I wasn’t clear enough in my original post. Yes, I’m 18, but I was also talking about my opposition to being sloppy in my own work.

      • Oh my God, this is unbelievable. My list of ultra-mature, sophisticated, brilliant young people is growing. I now feel like I wasted my youth because I was a total immature idiot at 18.

        This makes your claims of advancing your intelligence through hard work and responsibility very believable.

    • The only thing with this is, the responsible students who care about formatting already understand why it’s important. Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to get through to kids is to threaten their grades. I’m an English major and in the classes I’ve taken, I know students take formatting conventions more seriously when the teacher says, “If you don’t adhere to MLA, your grade WILL suffer.” It’s sad, but many students can’t understand why something is important unless it’s directly affecting their GPA.

    • I explained both on the professional level (MLA requirements) and personal one (reading 56 long papers formatted in a variety of fonts, sizes and with parts underlined and bold-typed needlessly is too much of a strain.) However, even if I hadn’t explained this in detail, I think that learning to follow instructions is an important skills in itself.

  4. I am afraid that if, as an undergrad, I would have been your student I would have been a disapoitment. One of my university professors was really upset when s/he had to grade my hand-written final paper. I was a freshman. The year was 1998.

    My requirements are:

    12 pts TMR
    Double-space
    Do not modifiy margins

  5. Glad I was able to surprise you, Clarissa. You might also be interested to know that I was diagnosed with autism at the age of two weeks and couldn’t open my eyes during that time period. The doctors told my mother that I would still be able to become a doctor or a lawyer depending on how my prognosis went. I couldn’t even walk until my aunt in the Dominican Republic taught me to walk at the age of three and even when I was about five years old, I was in speech therapy in a Rhode Island hospital. Throughout elementary school, I was also in special education programs specifically directed at improving my motor and communication skills until the fifth grade, about two years after I had moved down to Georgia. By the fifth grade, I had proved the educators wrong and they placed me into a regular education classroom with limited assistance from a papaprofessional, and that’s the way it remained until the twelfth grade. Technically, I never really needed the assistance that much because of how independent I turned out to be as a person. My mother even noted that she had never told once to do my homework.

    Along the way, I gradually learned to overcome my shy personality with other people, especially in high school as I became more involved in religious activities. My cartoonist friend, Eddie Fitzgerald, of the Uncle Eddie’s Theory Corner blog was quite impressed by how effective early treatment of my condition was and how extremely focused I seemed to be. He couldn’t even tell that I had autism until I told him my story. Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead and the Greek philosopher Epictetus have been major influences in how I’ve been able to deal with problems, especially with the two foreclosures I’ve had to deal with just within the past year and my father’s restaurant closing down in 2010 among other things. I still believe in God, but I feel that I’m moving closer to being a lot more secular in my beliefs and looking at Christianity more in a theological sense, even though Christianity was another influence in how I was able to endure the many challenges and struggles that my family has had to address over the years.

    I just wanted to give you some more context to my thought process. I’m very fortunate that I didn’t turn out like one of my friends who has Asperger’s syndrome. He has had many anger problems in the past and was even sent into a mental hospital at one point. Currently, he’s also attending college studying international finance and identifies himself as a pansexual. He’s been ridiculed by many but he has a great attitude nowadays in ignoring all the ignorant critics from high school and college. I hope I wrote this message clear enough so you don’t accidentally misunderstand what message I’m trying to convey.

    • This is really phenomenal. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story. People need to hear such stories in order to realize that autism is not the end of the world and will not necessarily preclude one from having a very rich intellectual, professional and personal life.

      I have had a journey that is also similar to yours. I also am autistic, also love Ayn Rand, and am also religious. It took me a while longer to mitigate the effects of the autism and learn to handle social interactions better but it mostly worked eventually.

      “I hope I wrote this message clear enough so you don’t accidentally misunderstand what message I’m trying to convey.”

      - My previous comment was not meant as a criticism of your writing but more to convey how shocked I was to discover that somebody so young has this wide intellectual range and such a great writing style. I have to battle poor writing skills in my students all the time which is why it is so surprising to see a very young person write so well.

      I’m very glad to have you around this blog. What a great young generation we have!

  6. I’ll keep this in mind, my friend. The way my mind works means that I enjoy doing papers at the last minute, after dedicating most of my time to research, which leaves very little room for editing, but I’ll make room for it now, after taking this wonderful advice to heart.

  7. You just described the worst part of my teaching life. Almost NO ONE pays attention to my very clear instructions about style and format. Sadly, the only thing that has worked is docking them a grade or more for not following directions. Even then, most of them don’t bother.

  8. I’m OK with most of the requirements, but for crying out loud, Times Roman is about 20 years past its sell-by date. Microsoft chose a butt-ugly body text font, paired it up with an ugly knock-off of a boring sans-serif, and can’t we do better?

    I’d submit mine in Palatino, out of obstinacy.

  9. The requirements at my school are:

    - A title, bold-typed and underlined
    - Between 10 and 12 point font, in Times New Roman, Arial, or Verdana
    - Title of a novel, play or poem put in quotation marks
    - Name and tutor group put in header
    - Fully justified paragraphs

    The first thing I do after finishing an essay is go through and make sure I’ve hit all these criteria. :P

  10. “- nothing should be italicized except the title of a novel.”

    “I explained both on the professional level (MLA requirements)”

    Doesn’t MLA referencing require italics in the bibliography in some instances?

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