June 28, 2014

'Sin of Adulthood' and 'Ministerial Cramps' Are All in My Day’s Work

We have all seen online lists of
autocorrect-gone-wrong. But with some of my students' essays, the typos are
pure coincidental genius.

The mistakes are probably a combination
of an over-reliance on spell check and the tablet’s evil-evil autocorrect
function. Whatever it is, the serendipity of the words joining together in just
the right order gives me a much-needed chuckle when the burden of grading 50
essays every other week makes me want to chew on an electrical cord.

From more than 1,000 students in
composition courses, I’ve collected my favorite typos over the eight years that
I have worked as a professor of English at Pacific Union College. Now
that the school year is over and my last essays are graded, here’s what I’ve
learned. Note: the students' phrases are in quotation marks.

Perhaps because this is an Adventist
institution, students more often than not offer insights in comparative
religion: “For all intensive purposes,” I've found that "Christians claim to help out their bother in need," which
sounds like a solid decree as it is easy to help a brother, but helping a
"bother" takes the Golden Rule to new levels.

Christians, however, are not the only
ones who show up in essays. I have learned that "Buddhists are known to not purposefully step on an aunt to
preserve life," which likely helps to keep family harmony. Moreover,
not only was Buddhism a religion advocating pacifism, but "Confusionism was prevalent in China, consisting of collected
sayings attributed to the Philosopher Confucius."

It is no wonder that with these beliefs
about world religions, that an "angle
of the Lord" may appear from time to time, or that people who dabble
with the occult may become "denim

We have faith, however, that when we
face "trails and
tribulations," turning to the "prodical
of the lost son," may help us to "follow
God's diving command." Reading God's word may even help us to finally
come to a fashion decision about "the
right to bare arms." Additionally, people may even be forgiven for
committing the "sin of

In addition to religious commentary,
students wrestle with ethical concerns that revolve around how to be better stewards,
especially when it comes to contemplating how to protect our natural resources
while also attending to the needs of the self. They are very concerned about
finding "ways to get rid of the world's
waist," and "illuminating
pollution." Stewardship
also addresses caring for the animals on our planet. In a paper on beagles
being used as test subjects for makeup, one student believed:"Tasting
animals for research is just illogical," which I’m sure is a principle
on which we can all agree.

They also have a clear understanding of
cause and effect ("people reek what
they sew") and know that if we don't take care of our world, this
could lead to everyone riding "doom
buggies" because by being careless with our resources, we "inevitably reap havoc."

They recognize how economics works: "The housing bubble eliminated
treasonably priced housing," and that our government sometimes acts
illogically: "The TSA confiscated
all of my toilet trees."

In their essays, however, they show
that ultimately, living a "Christian,
mortal life" (or a moral one) is a fight to balance the desires of the
self over that of others, while recognizing that "the thought of our own morality frightens us and has us trying
every known elixir of youth," and "self
of steam is also very important."

It seems pretty clear that our health
message is getting through at the subliminal level when I encounter the
following sentences: "I avoid
eating high carbonated foods like pasta," and "Students need strategies to avoid giving in to beer pressure"
as well as focusing on the need to minister to “drug attics.” Moreover, "Patients
in a vegetarian state should be allowed the right to choose euthanasia."
Only on an Adventist campus (or in Berkeley).

Essays are not the only places where I
encounter these gems. Occasionally, a student e-mail will have me grinning all
day not because they’ve missed class, but because of their wonderful sentences.
As far as student excuses for missing classes go, I get the usual notices
about food poisoning and having a headache, for which I express sympathy. But
so far I have only had one excuse of "post
dramatic stress" and another for "ministerial
cramps," leaving me utterly stumped about how to respond.

And while I sit at my desk above the
"whiny roads leading to
Angwin," I contemplate the one student who claimed that, "Writing a good sentence is such an
accelerating feeling," and realize that when it comes to allowing technology
to dictate whether our written prose is perfect, "resistance is feudal."