A Monkey For Grades


ow that the semester is over, it has actually just started for me. While students go through the process of studying and taking finals, it is time for me to start grading them. And thanks to all the geniuses in the administration, my last final is December 20th. So while everyone is busy doing Christmas shopping and celebrating the season, I will be grading. Boo hoo…

But don’t feel sorry for me–not that I would presume that any of you would actually care. This is the life of a college instructor. what I need to do is think of a way to make challenging exams that are easy to grade. Unfortunately, the only challenging exams I know entail a good deal of writing. Multiple choice and True/False exams are easy to grade but don’t really test the students knowledge, I think. And I would know.

I think it was the summer of 1982. I needed one more class to fulfill my general requirements, and it was the dreaded science requirement. Yuck. Japanese was my major for a reason. It’s not that I hated math or physics. But I swear these very subjects hated ME with a passion. I would try my best in every one of these classes, but come test time, questions would confound me, formulas would transmogrify before my very eyes, Xs and Ys transposing at will. Bio and chem were no better. I thought it was just memorizing. Heck, if I could memorize kanji–Chinese characters–then I could handle a few Latin or Greek words, right? Wrong! Fortunately, anthropology would count as a life science and I thought I could deal with a few monkeys and Levi-Straus.

So I took a summer anthro course and from the very first class I knew I had made the wrong choice. But it was either Anthro or Bio/Chem, and I had hear many horror stories of these labs. UCLA can be very cut throat and there are rumors that students will deliberately sabotage the experiments of others to ensure a good grade. Pathetic. Where are the morals UCLA is so famous for? Well, I wasn’t about to try and learn the hard way. I opted to stick it out in anthro. Fortunately, I realized by the third class, that the assigned textbook was written by the professor. Yes, this is a particularly pathetic practice. I loathed professors that assigned their own books because this 1) ensured that they would receive royalties; and 2) they either had a low opinion of others in their own field, or they were too lazy to teach more than they knew themselves. The best professors lectured on what they knew–usually in their books–and had us buy and read the works of others (to be discussed in class, as well) so we would get a wider range of knowledge. On the second day of class, I realized he was teaching from his own book almost verbatim. On the third day, I stopped taking notes and just highlighted the book as he spoke. On the fourth day, I went to the beach. I only went to two more classes: the midterm and the final review. The exams were multiple choice and fill-in. I went to a total of five classes, skimmed the textbook and managed to get a B. College should not be this easy…

Anyway, I remember little about this anthropology class except that they mentioned Imo, a Japanese monkey, that washed its own sweet potatoes and scooped up rice strewn on the beach, dropped it into water, allowing the sand to fall and re-scooping up the rice to eat at her leisure. I remember thinking that maybe I was a little like Imo, too. I went to class, took my textbook to the beach, washed away what I didn’t need with the sun and sand and ocean, and only to retain what I truly needed–a passing grade.

I’m actually more American than Japanese, but I have been called a monkey once or twice in my life…

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