Sometimes teaching a freshman-level college course feels like a game of Chinese Whispers. I give the students the information, but the information isn’t the same when I grade their exams. Some of the words are recognizable, but the message got lost. I’m pretty sure that this results from trying to cram thousands of years of history into one study session the night before the exam. The product of these all-night cramming sessions can sometimes be startling and amusing.
Here is a sample of statements in exams and essays from my sections of “Western Civilization I” for the 2014–2015 academic year, along with my reactions.
1. “Ziggurat was a Pharaoh.”
Actually. Pharaoh is Pharaoh. Ziggurat is a building.
2. “The Code of Hammurabi was a set of rules the Sumerians had to follow by that was written by Jesus.”
Even though I teach at a Baptist university, the answer isn’t always Jesus.
3. “Greece’s civilization was different I believe but I don’t remember much about it.”
Then you won’t mind if you don’t get many points.
4. “The genocide of an entire island is not hospitable.”
5. “The Athenians were one of the most tactile and intelligent warriors.”
I don’t think that means what you think it means.
6. “Alexander the Great wasn’t he in the first triumvirate? Or was he the emperor?”
Believe it or not, your professor is looking for answers.
7. “The thing that sparked the fall of the Roman Republic was when they allowed Athens in their land (aka Germans).”
So much wrong.
8. “Hannibal is the first person to create the books for bibles because it used to be big pages they would have to flip through.”
If the answer’s not Jesus, try the Bible.
9. “Julius Caesar’s biggest victory as a hero was that he was assassinated, leaving people shocked.”
10. “Nero was a Roman philosopher who formulated the major Roman philosophical ideas of his time.”
Really bad emperor, yes. Great philosopher, no.
11. “The fall of Rome was a terrible time for Romans because they had been invaded, steam trucks were driving over men and women and children.”
I don’t know what a steam truck is, but I know the Romans didn’t have them.
12. “Gregory the Great was a pope who became a saint about 1000 BC.”
Remember how we talked about “BC” meaning “before Christ”?
13. “Muhammad was a muslim monk, he worshiped Buddha.”
No and no.
14. “Caliphs derive from Muhammad Ali after his death.”
We all miss Muhammad Ali.
15. “The Middle Age civilization was very secular having many religions that catered to a lot of cultures.”
Did you listen to anything I said?
16. “Vassalage is a trip made to Mecca once a year.”
Well, at least “pilgrimage” and “vassalage” sort of rhyme.
17. “England didn’t really associate with the rest of Europe because they liked for everyone to be the same and if it wasn’t then they didn’t have a relationship with you.”
England in the Middle Ages or a girl in middle school?
18. “The Crusades were caused by the Jews not converting to Christianity.”
Will you stop blaming the Jews for everything?
19. “Summa Theologiae is a transcription of Sumerian theology.”
20. “Summa Theologiae are the theological traditions of the Summa Muslims.”
False etymology plus poor spelling.
21. “Flagellants were philosophers during the renaissance that changed way we looked at being a real man.”
Real men can take a beating.
22. “Decameron is the name given to the ten commandments in the Old Testament.”
Not really the same thing at all.
23. “Machiavelli (not Tupac) was an emperor of the Roman papal state and a descendent of Edward III.”
Well, at least he knew it wasn’t Tupac.
24. “This occurred between 2000 BC and 1200 AD.”
Sometimes a correct answer still isn’t good enough.
sometimes students get it. Every now and then someone even makes an “A” in the class.
Believe it or not, it’s possible.