Yesterday evening I learned that my essay was graded low: only 76 points out of 100. It was in the subject I really liked, the professor was a brilliant lecturer, and I thought I understood the material.
I thought demonstrating my knowledge was the main thing, so I had expected a higher grade. I prepared well: I summarized the instructions, I consolidated information from different sources, and I even felt happy about some clever compact sentences I managed to produce for describing DNA, epigenetics, neurons, and hormones. None of that seemed to matter.
I analyzed the professor's notes about the sequence of presentation, the citation format, and the unneeded verbiage. Most of the comments were about these three aspects. There were some about repetition, but I could not detect any repetitiveness.
First, my description of structure was followed by the explanation of it with the corresponding functionality on each step. However, it was the opposite of what was wanted: a definition first, a complete structure second, and only then all functionality. There was a reason why I chose tightly linked structure to function presentation. Defining something is best accomplished by its function, this is where I started. Isolated descriptions without immediate connection to the function and purpose of the structural element were not what I usually wanted from an educational writing, and we were supposed to teach in our essay. Such separation never aided neither my own learning nor that of those I instructed in math, language, or art.
Second, I fused information from different sources in almost every sentence. I thought it was necessary to achieve a non-repetitive narrative flow. I provided in-text citations separated by comma. This clever way to maximize the informativeness and readability by minimizing repetitive citations turned out to be disastrous. I have gotten a multitude of comments about the necessity to cite separately.
Third, I provided too much unnecessary information. We were allowed to use only lecture notes and chosen articles, and were warned that if we do not mention anything in the essay, it would mean we do not know it. The logical overlap in the rules I sensed turned out to be complete when I sketched the logical fields on a piece of paper: everything that could be designated as superfluous could be arbitrarily chosen as essential, and the rule of distinguishing between the two was unknown.
In general, my presentation was described as confused and illogical. It took me a few minutes to convince myself that nothing was insulting in this part of the educational process. The massive release of stress hormones should not wipe out my enthusiasm with the course. I questioned my ability to grasp unusual tasks and recognize underlying standards - maybe my neural circuits were failing? Could my epigenetic switches in the recent non-academic years left me incapable of higher intellectual functionality?
I had prepared for an office hour with the professor to develop a strategy for the future. There was also an upgrade option: I could write an extended essay for a chance of a higher grade.
I told myself that there were high standards of scientific writing and we were been taught through trial and error. Composing this style of essay was an art form in itself, and I wanted to gain the skill. I connected the instructions to the assignment with the difficulty to instruct someone in something like visual composition, and it gave me the piece of mind. My "how I was supposed to know" questions and the bizarre parallels to Catch 22 were quieting down as I switched back to the current war analytics. Still, something was bothering me too much when I fell in sleep.
I woke up early and suddenly the next morning, with complete clarity.
It was about another essay!
The only one essay in my memory for which I got such a low grade: three out of five, from my favorite teacher in the 7th grade in my new school in South-East Ukraine. I could still see the page in my thin composition book covered with red ink all over. The blood rushed to my head when I saw the page. When I was able to focus through my temporarily blurred vision on what was marked and why, I realized that I was looking at some ball-pen doodles, circling around several paragraphs, with exclamation and question marks only. The teacher of Russian literature, who seemed to enjoy my commentary in class, had absolutely hated my response to her essay topic. It was about heroes of war. What had I done? I described the quiet battle fields with dead soldiers, in detail, with questions.
You see, it was a time of freedom and explosion of investigative journalism over the swampy, still bolshevik-like ideology. I had teachers ranging from Stalinists to some concealed free spirits. The best political magazines had circulated through our family friends. In one very popular journal which was called
Little Light (Ogoniok), I read an article that was based on newly declassified or leaked documents and testimonies about the WWII personnel losses. They described how soviet Russian generals let soldiers die in mass for stupid reasons, holding to indefensible areas. They made some soldiers run ahead in the attack, and not only political prisoners. The sacrificial bodies were followed by those who shot everyone in who hesitated in the back. Soldiers died in numbers that were hard to comprehend. Ukraine Republic alone suffered the loss of about 1.6 million mobilized defenders, and 5 more million civilians died under the Nazi occupation.
Being shaken to the core with this reporting, I depicted another side of war in my 14-year-old writing assignment. Describing the aftermath of a senseless battle, I asked whether the word "heroism" should be misused to justify unnecessary death. My teacher refused to point out any specific mistakes in my grammar or syntax and implied that my work was close to immoral. I cannot recall neither her words nor her name, but I do remember the feeling and the questions I had left - they were puzzling me for a while.
It was striking to me this morning, how symbolic this low-grading coincidence happened to be. I was reminded of that failed heroism-essay after the seventh month of war in Ukraine, at the point when the mobilization in the Russian Federation had just started. This total mobilization was not for defense but for invasion. It seemed to be not much better than in the occupied Ukrainian territories, where men were forced out of their homes and workplaces to be arrested to serve as the low grade cannon meat. The Russian Federation used the entrapped inhabitants of the gray war zone to run ahead, followed by the missionaries from the illegal private war corporation: the first line took the fire, uncovering its origination points, the second line eliminated those reluctant to die and provided the Ukrainian forces location data to their artillery. New battalions of the human wave attack, the forced Ukrainians and now Russians and their tyrannized minorities, will be thrown straight into death and injury without proper equipment or training. This time around, they will kill our people, mostly the young volunteer-warriors, who are giving their all to defend their country from the army that is still based on soviet tradition of warfare, and is lead by some dumb and murderous generals.
Looking back, it was sad not to chat with that teacher about poetry any longer. She started to ignore me in topic discussions, and once she even called me dirty in front of the class because my favorite old tennis shoes were never white anymore. Girls should conform and be neat. What else should they do? Should they grow up into cookie-cut support base members of an invasive death cult, like Russian girls did? Should they cheer in farewell to their husbands and brothers, stripping their children from livelihood and any ethical foundation? I watched hours of recording of such women where they rejoiced in terror that their government imposed on the independent people who speak the same language. Some encouraged their fellows to commit more atrocities and looting. The oil-blood money was flowing to their accounts. Come to think of it, I used to respect that teacher of Russian literary tradition precisely because she did not look or act like a woman from the tasteless hoards of formless females, raging at each other in submissive uniformity. She, however, never liked me ever after.
Had she lost her father in that previous war? Is she still alive now? Does she have a son?..