December 29, 2006

DRAG Paper

This post is essentially a post-mortem on something that died a fiery, painful, exceptionally delightful death in June of last year. It's called the DRAG paper. DRAG isn't an acronym, it's simply a description of the paper itself. . . . It's a DRAG. Many people believe it should be called the "This motherf---ing son of a B---- piece of s--- paper sucks and I hate it with the relentless loathing that not even the most crazy psychopathic killer could hate his worst enemy", but TMSOABPOFPSAIHIWTRLTNETMCPK is a really long acronym that's too hard to remember and swearing isn't allowed at school. So, we stick with DRAG.

Allow me to explain: There is a class at my school called American Humanities. It meets every day for an hour and a half and last year had 63 students in it. The curriculum is split between two classes: Honors American Literature and AP US History. The AP US History class has the AP test as its major project for the year. Honors American Literature (abbreviated as HAMLIT by the nerdy "I can easily get an A in this class because I'm a suckup" people) has the DRAG paper, which was invented back when the class was first began. It's a 4, almost 5 month long research paper on a book that is decided upon by the teacher. Our teacher decided that the book would be The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. We were to spend 2 months researching a thesis that we developed and then 2 more months constructing the paper. We were to have, if I remember correctly, at least 15-20 sources, endless amounts of note cards, and in the end, a finished paper.

So, from the beginning now. This was our teacher's first year teaching this particular class so she was inexperienced with the DRAG, ergo, she decided to restructure the entire thing and make it up as she went. That turned out to be a very bad idea. Ask us to do something that, when we asked clarifying questions, resulted in her saying "I don't know, let me think about it" and then never getting back to us.

The first step was to create a thesis. Simple enough! What should my paper be about? Well, unfortunately, this was the thesis from hell. It consisted of two parts: the "observation" and the "importance" (holy cow, just typing this entry is bringing back very bad memories). The observation is simply something you noticed in the novel. The importance is some contrived and philosophical meaning that this detail in the novel had. Once you had your two parts of the thesis, you had to word you thesis in such a way that it made sense. Nobody could. I kid you not, more than half of the 63 students were still rewording their thisis in the days leading up to the due date, even though they had written the thesis 4 months earlier. In order to get an acceptable thesis it was almost mandatory to go in after school and have a one on one session with the teacher. I opted out, there was no way I was going to go in after school in order to succeed, school is for school time. It's not like I missed class and had to make something up, she was essentially extending class time into the afternoon. Not ok. Anyway, the thesis sucked. End of thesis story.

Then we got the format for our paper. In Oregon schools we have this thing called the "Five paragraph essay". I don't know if that's standard everywhere, if it is then you know what I'm talking about. Basically, the paragraphs are 1) Intro, 2-4) Body paragraphs, 5) Conclusion. Well, I seem to remember this conversation happening:

Teacher: I've decided on a format for our "research paper" (she hated the name DRAG) that I think will work well for us.
Students: *Brace themselves*
Teacher: I think we need 8 paragraphs.
Students: *groan, gasp, pound fists on tables, yell "what?!", "No!"*
Teacher: Now hold on! It'll be ok! Your just replacing your normal body paragraph with two, one for your observation and one for your importance!
Students: *GAAAAAH! Some students are startled when they actually see flames dancing in the eyes of the students sitting across from them*

This was the day when everybody in the class began to hate the words "Observation" and "Importance".

Now since our teacher was developing this entirely new way of constructing the paper, she needed to give us examples of what to do. So, she decided to write portions of a mock DRAG paper as an example. Her thesis was something along the lines of "Mark Twain depicts Huck as a vampire in order to symbolize the way slaves were mistreated in the South before the Civil War". It was a lot more wordy and fluid, but that was the jist of it. Ridiculous, right? Well, most examples, in any class, are kind of "out there" and unrealistic, just so that kids can get an idea for the format and not any ideas for the paper itself. Well, here's the crappy part. We all felt like garbage every time we learned something new because we couldn't, for the lives of us, construct a paragraph that made sense or find the right quotes in the novel to support our thisis, yet she would just up-and-write a masterful chunk of DRAG and actually prove that Huck was a vampire. We had no excuse then! If she could prove that Huck was a vampire then we were expected to prove anything! It sucked. . . gauranteed failure.

So, the research began. Libraries, online databases, novels, blogs, anything under the sun! I read countless pages of literature on Huck Finn. Countless. TONS! Hundreds, I kid you not, of pages, all about a novel that I didn't even really enjoy. I took all my sources and put them in a zip folder so I could share them with you.

Go ahead, download it. Open it up, look inside, maybe even open a file or two! I read all of it. Multiple times. Some of the files are upwards of 50 pages. Booooo! Anyway, research began and digging out sources started. I'd have to say that was the easiest part was simply finding tons of crap and reading it all.

Then came the actual writing. Ever just sat down and written something? Then, looking back, thought "Wow, that was really good!" because it showed character and was actually fun to read? That's how I feel about my blog. . . if I'm bored I'll go back and actually read entries I wrote because I enjoy them. Well, this paper was not like that. It was the most structured, unforgiving thing in the world. Every word had to be carefully planned. Every sentence needed a transistion word into another sentence (transistion words were given to us in a huge list), each sentence needed a certain amount of analysis and a certain word order. No sentences could have "to be" verbs (the words "is am are was were be being been has have had do does did shall will should would may might must can could"), nothing could be in passive tense, and on top of all of this, we were supposed to use style that would make our paper interesting to read and convince our readers that our thesis was true. In other words, we were supposed to bore people whilst entertaining them and prove that we were right while not sounding like egoists. Not possible.

Each paragraph, when the structure was followed correctly, ended up being about a page and a half to two pages, normally closer to two pages. The writing continued, on and on. We would turn in chunks at a time and we would get them back graded. We'd cry for a little bit, compare the notes we got on our papers and laugh at how much we sucked, and then rewrite the whole thing again. One of my favorite comments I got on my paper was when my teacher circled an entire paragraph and wrote in capital letters "NEVER!" Yeah, that was my favorite. Another was when she circled my thesis and wrote "This makes no sense at all. Come see me." There were a lot like that. Anyway, everytime I submitted my thesis it always came back as wrong, so I just kept rewriting it until the paper was due.

So, finally, after all the dust had settled, we'd written our papers. Each person's research paper (with citations) was about 20 pages long. 63 kids in the class. 1260 pieces of paper. Throw in the staple in each bundle and the pile of papers was about 2 feet tall, no joke. We were all kind of hoping that our teacher would try to pick up the stack and hurt her back, but she didn't.

So that was it, the DRAG paper was finally done. . . or so we thought! Oh no, there was more! Two weeks later our teacher dropped this little beauty:

Teacher: So I have some news on your "reasearch paper"s.
Students: *Would've braced except that they were tired of bracing and just decided to take it in the gut*
Teacher: I'm going to need photocopies of all your sources stapled and highlited. They'll be due on Monday of next week (it was Thursday).
Students: (There really aren't words to describe the reactions of everybody in the class. Honestly, I'm not even going to try to make up an analogy. Instead, I'll just post a snippet of a conversation I had with Truman where we were griping about it. Enjoy!)

SwingWitDaBlues: i think the photocopy bit was the straw that broke the camel's back
SwingWitDaBlues: and by break I mean turned it to dust in the most horrifically painful way imaginable
DinjackPD: hahaha
DinjackPD: I keep looking back on that day and kind of wishing we'd all had rotten fruit and vegetables
DinjackPD: or torches and pitchforks
SwingWitDaBlues: omg, we would've used them!
DinjackPD: or a gigantic rail on which to ride her out of town on
SwingWitDaBlues: it was one of those "just sit and laugh in disbelief at how much it sucks" moments
DinjackPD: I wish I would've yelled 'Oh, that is BULLSHIT!'
SwingWitDaBlues: all of us, at the same time
DinjackPD: even Melissa Schutz and Emily
SwingWitDaBlues: yep!
DinjackPD: ah, god
DinjackPD: man, that class blew goats

Get the picture? That was a rough day. Very rough. Terrible in fact. Yes, quite terrible.

Here's the fun part! After I had turned my paper I went home and shot my copy of Huck Finn with a BB gun repeatedly (at least 200 rounds). Then I taped bottled rockets to it and blew it up. Then I burned it. It was dead. Of course, that was before I knew I was going to need photocopies from it, that exact edition so that the page numbers would match my bibliography. Of course that wasn't the edition the school had. It was the edition that the bookstore had run out of and that I had to drive an hour to a different city to purchase for $15, only so that I could photocopy 6 pages and then never use it again. GAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!

All in all, the DRAG paper sucked. Here's a link to my final paper.

I got an A, thank god, but it wasn't a high A, but it was an A. The paper was an entire semester's grade. That's half the year. I needed an A. I leave you now, with some parting words from me and Truman:

SwingWitDaBlues: we should make a facebook group
DinjackPD: there's already a group I've seen called 'APUSH Sucks' or something
SwingWitDaBlues: but it wasn't called "Honors American Literature with McElliott, the scariest woman ever, sucks!"
DinjackPD: I wouldn't call her scary
DinjackPD: unless you mean scary as in 'child with a loaded gun' scary
SwingWitDaBlues: yeah, that one!
DinjackPD: her childishness being her lack of knowledge of how to teach the class
DinjackPD: and the loaded gun being the drag
SwingWitDaBlues: :)
SwingWitDaBlues: we're the dead little brother
DinjackPD: hahahha
DinjackPD: she shot all 63 of us
SwingWitDaBlues: with one bullet
SwingWitDaBlues: through and through
SwingWitDaBlues: in fact, it turned in mid-air and came back through our bodies a second time

Hope you enjoyed!


Greg said...

I have soooo much to look forward to. Thank You Michael! You have just made a part of me die by just thinking of the horror that is before me in Humanities. I'm definitely screwed, I might as well jump off a bridge right now to get it over with.

Molly said...

Yes thank you Michael...thanks a ton. I do belive that it may be a lot better with Mr. Curry, but then again, it will be my first ever drag paper. Each year we are faced with another awful project, each in which my emotions get ahead of me..WAY AHEAD of me.

Freshman year, sludge test...resulted in me only half way done with the project the day it was due, with all my partners gone doing it alone after being in there after school and before school for 2 days (oh to find out the substance we couldnt figure out was water. Screw science.)running into the band room the period I had it, and go to Mr. Mac alomst in tears rambling on and on about why I couldnt stay for band because of this stupid sludge test! Then he had to have someone calm me down for a while and then let me go. I did get like 104% on it though so I was happy.

Sophmore year...historical fiction paper with Mclean. I'm sorry I can't even go into this...sludge was freshman year..this was only last year and I think I will go crazy for the remainder of my life if I go into this...lets just say, I cried A LOT. But I got a B on the paper, like the best grade I could get with Mclean. 13 pages of hell is what it was.

Now this, great, thank you Michael. I think I may go throw myself off a bridge with Greg, and just let that be the end. Good gosh. Great what in the name of god am I going to do? Cry, thats what. Lets just hope Mr. Curry is better.

Have a good time at the party tonight I wish I could make it, it would have been fun. Too bad Lacey can't go, but have a good time anyways!!!!! See you at school on Tuesday.

Anne said...

I think I'm going to join Greg and Molly with that bridge thing.

So not looking forward to it.

Stacy said...

I am in love with the citation of the work by "Gotskillz, ECheat"

All in all, it sounds like a terrible assignment. I read through bits of your paper, and noticed several instances where things sounded really awkward-- until I remembered the strict restrictions on what types of verbs you could use. Good God!

Master Jacobo said...

Oh my God, Michael. I'm so glad I read this. A friend of mine in Humanities found it and linked it to me.

This is Jacobo by the way. I think it says that. Oh well.

Lily Hyunh already told me to expect to HATE Huck Finn the novel by the beginning of the paper. Ironically, no one really expressed feelings for Huck. Over half the 70 of us (yes, the numbers have grown) wanted to kill Tom Sawyer.

Anywho (and yes, we are aware of non-Standard American English words now) this makes me want to cry for you. Because it's looking like she's going to expect 6-7 paragraphs from us, and a page-range of 10 to 12. Not 16 to 20. I'm seriously willing to shed tears for you.

I know you're a math person, but the Burning-Hated-Pieces-of-Paper seems a theme for Junior Year, because I've already planned bonfires for this semesters math assignments, and for next semesters. Already have a house volunteered. Burning Huckleberry Finn seems a splendid idea, and I hope to the pagan gods of fire and explosions that paintball paint is flammable, because that will be the initial release of my loathing.

I already feel small tidbits of your pain, and I will without a doubt be feeling all of it, just to a lessened degree, in due time.

We were literally introduced to the vampire thesis today. She said she made that up this year.

She also said she made HAMLIT up, because we didn't start using it until about a month in. She's ripping your class off. And I believe me and my friend are going to exploit her. Because that really isn't fair.

I really hope MIT treats you well, and that you respond to this. BTW, our class all has Facebooks now pretty much, lol. Specifically remembering u had one, but it's gone, so I issue a sad face to that.

Good night and good luck, and MTFBWU.


Erica. said...

Haha...Oh, Jacobo.

So this DRAG this an Oregon school thing? Or just a Sprague high school thing?

Yes, with Mr. Curry, it is MUCH better. Despite being nit pickier than your average American Lit teacher, the assignment is much easier.

In fact, mine is due in 9 hours, so I should proceed to finish that... Oh, dear god.

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