Back in December, I posted one of my college papers on my blog. This paper was for my New Testament class which wanted me to make the case for something I didn’t believe was true.
Specifically, I had to argue that there are different versions of the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew and Luke (and Thomas) because the gospel authors each had an ax grind and were twisting the truth to fit their needs. Since the assignment said I could make my own observations, I thought I could give the position the class took, while also giving my own views. This would show that I understood the material taught in class, but disagreed. While I was aware this would probably hurt my grade to some extent, I thought I would still get a fairly high score.
I was wrong.
I ended up getting a “C” on the paper, and it had nothing to do with the quality of writing, or failure to follow the details of the assignment. I got a “C” simply because I didn’t agree with the bias of the class.
Here is what the official grading looked like.
Writing skills: Good. Well organized.
Connection to the reading: Excellent! Judicious use of quotation.
Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation: I appreciate the essay took a different approach, but the argumentation is extremely flawed and more or less disregards the teachings of the class completely. It is likely that Jesus did give a parable on a shepherd and the 1 and 99, but for very different reasons than what the essay gave.
What was so wrong with my analysis, synthesis, and evaluation? It was different from the class.
Well, that seems kind of reasonable though, right? I mean, college classes are always right, so if you write an essay defending something the class doesn’t teach, then you must be wrong.
The only problem is that in this case, my class was taught by a highly biased professor who used a highly biased textbook. Additionally, we weren’t allowed to use any outside sources on any of our assignments. Hmm…
Our textbook was written by Bart Ehrman, who is far left as far as Bible scholars go. Ehrman is far more skeptical of the Bible, its writers, and the content than what is generally accepted in academia. Not only that, but we were being taught that the views we were receiving in class were the views held by most scholars, and that these views were fact. This was completely false.
Moreover, there were a few times when the professor mentioned the existence of opposing viewpoints, but he would never describe them, choosing instead to keep the class one-sided. Therefore, I think I am justified in trying to argue against what the class taught, since it is a class based heavily on speculation.
However, none of this should have mattered because my paper followed the criteria in the assignment.
“Assignment: This paper is intended as an opportunity for you to make your own observations about one or more texts in their contexts, using the methods of critical analysis that you have been learning. Therefore, do NOT rely on secondary literature such as commentaries on the internet. You are expected to use your Ehrman textbook and your HarperCollins Study Bible.
Directions: Your final essay is to be 5-7 pages, double-spaced and in 12-point font
The parable advances a different theme in each gospel. Compare the three different versions of this parable, considering the full context of each version in its respective gospel. What are differences? Explain why the versions are different. For example, concerning Matt and Luke, where is the original version? What does “the largest sheep” mean in Thomas? In the final analysis, do you think that the historical Jesus actually declared a parable about sheep (or a coin)? Why or why not?”
You can go read my paperhere
and decide for yourself if I followed these criteria or not. Personally, I think I did, and so did the grader.
I met with the TA who graded my paper soon after I received the grade, and he told me how he graded it. He told me that if I hadn’t included all of the parts detailing my own views, I would have received a “B”. This is because I parroted back what was taught in class, followed all the directions, and the writing itself was solid.
I would have received an “A” if I had thought outside the box and provided a perspective that was unique, insightful, or that went beyond what the class taught. The TA admitted that I did indeed go beyond the class with my paper, and that it was very unique and insightful. So I should have gotten an “A”, but there was one tiny problem.
I was wrong. Or rather, I was “just plain wrong,” as the TA put it, so I ended up with a “C”.
If you read my paper, you see that I argue that we have different versions of the parable in different gospels because it’s likely Jesus told this parable many different times and with different details depending on his audience. I provide reasoning for why I believe this; however, the TA concluded that my analysis was complete “speculation.”
Okay, so my argument is speculation, but the argument from the class that the versions are different because each author had a personal agenda isn’t speculation? Really? The TA was there 2,000 years ago? How does he know Jesus didn’t tell his parables multiple times as he traveled? Aren’t we all speculating? Furthermore, there are other Biblical scholars who don’t believe as Ehrman and my professor believe, scholars who would agree with me.
The grader had his arguments for what he believes, and I had mine. The assignment told me to make my own observations, and that’s what I did, while also describing what I knew the class wanted me to say.
And yet, still the “C” remained. Apparently, they didn’t like my observations.
I met with the professor (whom I was on good terms with) to try and get a better explanation from him for why I had received a “C”. An hour and a half later (of mostly him talking) he basically said all the same things my TA had said. However, he was a bit more sympathetic.
He explained his own history growing up in the church and how some of what the Bible taught began not to make sense to him, but when he asked his pastor about it, his pastor basically told him to overlook it. His pastor had no answers for him, and my professor felt betrayed. He ended up dedicating his life to studying the Bible for the purpose of discrediting it.
He told me that he understands that I’ve probably grown up going to church (I haven’t) and that it’s probably hard for me seeing that what I believe doesn’t line up with the facts (I wasn’t seeing that.) Apparently he has had a lot of previous students who were like me (or whom he thought were like me), Christians clinging to what they had been taught at church rather than accepting “the facts.” I wonder how many he has led astray with his teaching.
I realized any further debate would be fruitless, so I let him believe what he wanted to believe, and left, but not before my professor recommended more classes he taught on the Bible to me. I told him thanks for the recommendations, but in my head I said “no thanks.” If his other classes were anything like his Intro to the New Testament class, they would be so one-sided as to be a waste of time. Skeptical atheist speculation is awarded an A, while Christian “speculation” gets a C, or worse.
To rub salt in the wound, the human-pin-cushion girl who sat next to me in class (and was close to failing the class) told me that she had gotten a B on her paper after only spending two hours on it. She pontificated for several minutes about how it was one of the worst papers she had ever written, and yet she still got a “B”. She became even more thrilled when she learned I had received a “C”, since I had earned a bit of an “overachiever” reputation among those who sat next to me for my rather frequent objections to the material being taught.
I had spent hours and hours on my paper over the course of several weeks, even getting mocked by my peers for making an outline that was longer than the required length of the paper. And yet, I could have gotten a better grade had I taken much less time, left out my “own observations”, and simply parroted back the material taught in class.
This is college; a bastion of ideas and thinking outside the box, it is not.
Linked up at:
A Wise Woman
Hope in Every Season
I Choose Joy
Live and Learn Farm
Living Well, Spending Less
The Modest Mom
What Joy is Mine