Gonna take a sentimental journey

1953? No, 1853.
I’ve been marking the AS class’s persuasive essays this morning, and what an effective job they’ve been doing persuading me that it’s not permanently 1953 in this country, but actually 1853 because of some of the sentimental drivel I’ve been reading. I’ve got to that point where the comments I’m writing are ceasing to be civil as I read that voluntary programmes “make the world warm”, and how my little darlings were all off at some orphanage just recently, taking sweets to the orphans. I’m not sure whether this is genuine or whether it came off the Internet (either in English or Chinese) or whether it has spread from a single source in the class or whether it’s a well-known piece of mawkishness from, say, Senior English for Schools.
The AS class is meant to have written a persuasive essay on (mandatory) voluntary work for high school children. The book’s American; the sentiment’s American; their writing casts them, rather improbably, as American school children because they can’t make the jump to think about this from a Chinese perspective instead. This is particularly marked in a couple of essays which are pastiches of two articles in the book. At best, the essays are argumentative rather than persuasive, although the bounds between the two types are probably rather fluid.
As for the arguments themselves, a couple of students were claiming that instead of having even a tiny amount of leisure time as an escape from the overbearing, overlong, critical-thinking-lite Chinese education system, they ought to be using that non-existent time to work some more. Duh.
I’m pleased to say that by using the AS English Language paper mark scheme, I’m dishing out suitably low marks as a corrective against the ridiculously high marks that the marking criteria in North Star force me to dispense. But they all (PAL included) need some sense of perspective because every time they get good marks for their writing, reality – that the meaningful content of their writing is fairly mediocre – disappears behind that 8/10 they got. Sooner or later, something they write in English is going to be marked principally on content rather than language, and their ideas are going to be found wanting. I haven’t wholly abandoned the linguistic aspect of all this, but the AS class are meant to be doing a course in academic English and I don’t see why their writing shouldn’t be marked on the basis of its academic quality.

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