Monday, November 27, 2006

A pretty decent nonplagiarized essay...

Jesus as Pantokrator
6th-Century Mosaic
Ravenna, Italy
The Christ, but no Christian hero?
(Image from Wikipedia)

... has landed on my desk, and since I bemoan the work of the cheaters, then I ought to praise the work of the honest, especially if it aims high and does well.

This particular essay begins so well that I initially thought that it must indicate yet another instance of plagiarism:
Controversy swept over Christians around the world as the Harry Potter books became international bestsellers. Was it a dangerous book that could influence people, especially young children, to confuse the fundamental beliefs of Christianity with the fictional but pagan ideas from the world of magic? Or was it just a children's fantasy story that didn't deserve such a huge reaction? Even now, as the seventh Harry Potter book is yet to be released, some people claim that it is anti-Christian because it explains the world order in laws of magic that holds no room for Christian doctrines. Others say that it actually promotes Christian values such as love, courage to do what is just, and forgiveness. Similarly, Beowulf is often among heated controversy on whether he is a Christian or pagan hero figure, as there are frequent references to the Bible and acknowledgements of one divine God that rules the earth in the text. In this essay, I will try to prove in a completely textual perspective that Beowulf in Beowulf cannot be identified as a Christian hero in comparison to Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight because Beowulf dissatisfies the crucial conditions of a Christian hero that are visible in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
I'm not sure that one can properly use "dissatisfy" in this impersonal sense. Ordinarily, the word puts emphasis upon the mood of a disappointed individual, not upon an abstract failure to meet criteria, but this provides such a useful extension of the word's semantic range -- by concisely capturing the sense of the wordier phrase "fails to satisfy" -- that I'm nearly willing to accept it.

In fact, I think that I will accept it, and for all I know, my student's usage might even, technically, be correct. Anyway, I'm feeling generous due to the overall good writing and the student's mastery of the engaging introduction.

That said, I don't happen to agree with this student's thesis, and the paper goes on to define "Christian hero" too narrowly as "a hero who is a Christian." As I point out to my student, this definition would exclude King David and every other Old Testament hero, who are -- admittedly -- not themselves Christian but who are certainly heros to Christians. It would even exclude that greatest of heros revered by Christians: Jesus himself. He may have been the Christ, but he was no Christian.

Ultimately, this narrow definition detracts from the student's otherwise fine effort because it makes the analytical job too easy. All that one need do is show that the hero Beowulf is not a Christian, and one has proved that he is not a Christian hero.

That might work -- in a bare, technical sense -- but it ignores as irrelevant all the interesting things that one might otherwise notice concerning Beowulf's status as a symbol of Christ.

Thus, the paper can't quite achieve the highest mark, but it's nonetheless a joy to read.

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At 5:05 PM, Blogger Tony Lawless said...

You should be more generous to your students. They should not have to agree with what you think to receive a first class grade.

At 5:11 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Tony, my students don't have to agree with me to obtain a good grade. Why do you think that they do?

At any rate, I am generous with my students. I grade on improvement, so even if one fails the first draft, an A on the final draft can result in an A for the semester.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:36 PM, Blogger Tony Lawless said...

Because you say:

That said, I don't happen to agree with this student's thesis, and the paper goes on to define "Christian hero" too narrowly as "a hero who is a Christian.

At 9:53 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I see.

Well, my point is not that the student is disagreeing with me but that the student has missed something important that needs to be addressed.

This first draft is intended as a learning experience for the students. I correct every error and pose lots of questions on all sorts of points to force students to rethink their positions.

Nobody (or almost nobody) receives a good grade on the first draft, but everybody (or almost everybody) obtains a much better grade on the final draft -- and a corresponding grade for the semester.

As noted above, I grade on improvement.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:41 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

An interesting thought from your student.
In Beowulf, Christian values are projected into a warrior ethos.
In Gawain, a warrior ethos represents Christian values.
Two very different kinds of symbolism are at work. As for Harry's CS Lewis turned inside out, with one crucial difference: CS Lewis could write well! I like your student's thesis, though it doesn't understand the typological nature of Christ in poetry. Guess s/he hasn't had to face Spenser yet. I have to say that it is quite an ambitious essay: to take in one text would be enough in a UK university. Here's a nice essay title: "Compare and Contrast the Christian Hero from Beowulf to Milton." That's a good test of IQ!
I agree with you: an ambitious essay, but a limited definition. I expect you to set your students an essay on numerical composition soon: they wouldn't be able to rely on Wikipedia for that! Just think, no plagiarism to worry about...short essays too!

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, interesting way to put it:

In Beowulf, Christian values are projected into a warrior ethos.

In Gawain, a warrior ethos represents Christian values.

As for the typology of Christ, the student shouldn't have missed this since I directed attention to it in class, but students sometimes fail to catch things that I say.

Jeffery Hodges

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