Saturday, May 05, 2007

Continental divide

"Today there are many global issues all across the world." It must be true because I read it at the beginning of a student paper. Unfortunately, that paper fails to consider the global issue that currently has me a bit befuddled: global ignorance, or possibly ignorance that is merely hemispheric or continental.

I was alerted to the problem when I stumbled upon the following sentence in a student paper: "According to Regina Saskatchewan who works for the Leader-Post,...."

A yes, Regina; I know her well. Simply capital, even if she tends toward the cool side.

I was willing to grant the student the benefit of the doubt and entertain the possibility that there might be an actual journalist named Regina Saskatchwan working for the Leader-Post, but no. It took me maybe 30 seconds to confirm that the student was referring to an unsigned article in a newspaper published in Regina, Saskatchewan. Why didn't the student realize this?

1. Time crunch. Thirty seconds? Too much!
2. Apathy. Looks like a person's name, sounds like a person's name, must be a person's name, and if it isn't who cares?
3. Ignorance. Saskatchewan? Isn't that some Eskimo word for "Gesundheit"?

This is just one of several students whose Works Cited pages were stuffed with articles from Canadian newspapers despite the fact that they were writing about topics that had nothing to do with Canada. I noticed this trend on the drafts and I mentioned it in class, along with a stern warning about relying heavily on secondary or tertiary sources. Why rely on a Canadian newspaper's account of a speech given by an American government figure when you can easily find the full text of the speech itself online? This little warning did not make much of an impact, however, and now I understand why: I assumed that students would recognize a foreign source when they found one. A student who thinks Regina Saskatchewan is the name of a reporter may not be equipped to make informed decisions about the provenance of his sources.

The other day I had to explain to a student that conspiracy-theory websites ranting about the Illuminati and their ilk might not be the most reliable sources of information for his research paper, but then he wanted me to explain to him who the Illuminati are and how one becomes one of them. I already have my hands full trying to teach thesis statements and keep the Semicolon Fairy off my back, and now I'm supposed to also teach conspiracy theory AND geography? I need a vacation someplace where my students will never find me. But where?

I'll ask Regina. She'll know.


JM said...

So I'm grading essays now and one of my students just quoted a Saskatchewan newspaper. What the hell?

Bev said...

I've noticed that Lexis-Nexis tends to return a lot of Canadian newspaper articles. What kills me is that many of these articles are based on the same AP reports, but instead of going straight to the source, students will quote the AP report out of some provincial rag.

Innisfree said...

Question: Does your university teach geography?