Cultural Notes for Discussion: Before the Reading
1. Have you ever been in a situation where you felt you were not being treated fairly? What did you do about it? What do you think you should do? Are there ways to talk about the injustice and have it remedied?
2. The play you are about to read is about students not being treated fairly by their teacher. Have you ever been in a class where you felt you were being treated unfairly? What was your situation? Could you do anything to change the situation? Did you?
3. Do you think that all students should be graded according to the same set of criteria? Why? Why not? Do you think there might be other criteria, such as a person's innate ability for the subject - or lack of it - that should be considered also?
Copyright ©2004 by Gary Carkin
CHARACTERS: 4 Actors
PROFESSOR JAMES (Freshman English Teacher)
BETSY, PAT, JACKIE (Students)
SETTING: The setting is a women's dorm room. In the room, are Betsy and Pat who are roommates. Jackie will come to study with them. They are working on papers for a freshman English composition course.
Pat is at the desk, stage left. Betsy's at desk, stage right. They are both writing and then erasing. Finally:
BETSY: Ah. (Puts down pencil) I'm so tired of writing! And nothing seems to come together right.
PAT: Just keep trying, Bet. You're bound to improve.
BETSY: I don't know whether it's a matter of improvement. Whatever I write, the grade is always the same: D- or D.
PAT: Well, Professor James is just a hard grader, I guess.
BETSY: But you keep getting A's and B's. I don't see that much difference between what you write and what I write. (Pause) I think he's prejudiced.
PAT: Prejudiced? Why?
BETSY: Well, remember he gave that so called "diagnostic" test the first day?
BETSY: Well - although he says he doesn't grade them, I think he categorizes everyone according to the results - right from the start.
BETSY: And I wasn't feeling well the first day of class. I just zipped through that first composition without thinking. My mind was more on my stomach than on my writing.
PAT: Why don't you tell him?
BETSY: What difference does it make? He should change his grading when I produce something better. He doesn't. He's got me placed in the "D" category and that's where I stay. I'm tired of it.
PAT: Let's test him!
BETSY: Test him? How?
PAT: Look, Jackie's coming over tonight. She's just like you. Everything she passes in she gets back "D", D+, D-. It's got her bugged. That's why she's so terrified of the final.
PAT: So. If I'm getting A's and B's and those should change to D's, we've got some proof of what you say.
BETSY: Why should they change?
PAT: If I should pass my paper in under your name and he gives it a D automatically, we've got proof!
BETSY: What about Jackie?
PAT: That's even better. I'll do the same for her.
BETSY: What about you? What will you write for yourself?
PAT: I'll use yours and Jackie's paper. I'll say that one is for extra credit. Get it?
BETSY: Got it! If he gives those A's because they're under your name, we've got him!
PAT: And with four papers, that's certainly enough proof.
(There's a knock on the door)
PAT: That must be Jackie. (Goes to the door. Opens it) Hi, Jackie. Cheer up, we've got some news for you. Come in here. (She brings JACKIE in. They sit down on bed. BETSY joins them, right.) We have a plan to expose Professor James's grading!
(They freeze in talking frame)
(End of scene one)
The setting is the same as scene one. Pat is at her desk, writing. Jackie knocks at door, excitedly. Pat goes to open it.
JACKIE: Guess what? I got my paper back early. I got a "D" again! I mean your paper did!
PAT: Really. (Takes paper and sits down at desk. JACKIE follows to desk) I can't believe it!? He really does think in categories. Pat: "A". Jackie: "D". This time, Pat "D". What a difference a name makes. And look. He doesn't even say why things are wrong! He just underlines things and I'm supposed to guess what they mean - I mean, you're supposed to. He just looks at the name and reacts accordingly.
JACKIE: I wonder what he'll do with your paper. That is, my paper of yours.
PAT: There will be nothing on it but a "Good job. Keep up the good work.” B+, I'll bet.
BETSY (Opens door and rushes in): I've got our papers back. (To PAT) I asked him to give me yours since we we're roommates. Look, the one I wrote for you got an "A" - Note "Marvelous writing, keep it up." What bunk! And he's been giving me D's right along. Now look at the one you wrote for me. All underlined in red ink! He really just marks anything. Doesn't make any sense. And of course, I get "D" again.
PAT: When Jackie gets back "her" paper that she wrote for me, we'll really have him - if he gives me an "A".
JACKIE: Let's go to his office right now. I'll bet he's finished correcting "your" paper by now. - I mean, my paper.
PAT: How much do you want to bet there are no corrections, no underlines, and an "A"!?
Jackie: I'll bet you a passing grade!
(They all laugh and exit)
End of scene two
The setting is Professor James's office. His desk, behind which he is seated, is stage left, facing entrance, which is stage right. The desk is piled high with papers. Professor James's head is between the two piles of papers. He is asleep and snoring loudly.
The three women come to his office door and knock. Silence, except for snoring. They knock again, more loudly. Still there is only snoring. Finally, they bang on his door loudly and call:
PAT, BETSY and JACKIE (Together): Professor James! Professor James!
PROFESSOR:(Raises head. Blinks)
WOMEN: Professor James, are you there?
PROFESSOR (Awake at last. Straightening up): Yes. Yes. Come in.
PAT: We just happened to be passing your office, Professor James, and I wondered whether you had finished correcting my paper yet.
PROFESSOR:Oh, yes, Pat. Sure have. (Shuffles through papers) Here it is. Looks like you got an A again as usual. (Smiles. Hands paper to her)
PAT: (Taking paper) Thank you, sir. (Looks at it) Not any corrections, Professor James.
PROFESSOR:Not one. Didn't need it. (Smiles)
PAT: Well. I have a confession to make, sir.
PROFESSOR: What's that?
PAT: This isn't really my paper.
PAT: No. It's Jackie's. She wrote it for me to see whether it would get an A. (Takes out other paper) And this one Betsy wrote for me. You gave it an "A as usual".
BETSY: And ours --
JACKIE: Which Pat wrote for us,
(BETSY and JACKIE together) got D's - as usual.
PAT: How do you explain that, sir!?
PROFESSOR (Taken aback for a moment. Then smiles): Oh, ho. I suppose it does seem confusing, doesn't it. But it's just an old pedagogical technique of mine. You see (to BETSY and JACKIE) both of you girls have real writing talent, which I want to encourage. I don't want you to get lax, loose, to become unchallenged. So - I have to grade your papers more strictly than Pat's - whose writing, although good and acceptable by a general standard - has nowhere near the depth and creativity that your papers have revealed. Your D's and D minuses are simply signs of my encouragement for you to work harder - to really refine your skills. Don't worry. For the final grades, you'll all be receiving A's, without a doubt. (Smiles, compassionately)
BETSY: Oh. Well. Thank you, sir!
JACKIE: Now we understand. Thanks so much, sir.
PAT: I'm glad we came to you first, sir. Before going to the dean.
PROFESSOR:(Still smiling) I'm glad you did.
WOMEN: (Together) We'll be looking forward to the final. Bye!
(They wave and go out of office. Professor James stares after them for a moment)
PAT: Well, if you can't beat'em, join them!
JACKIE (To BETSY): Hello, Shakespeare!
Betsy (To JACKIE): Likewise, Hemingway! (They shake hands)
(The women laugh and exit. PROFESSOR JAMES sits down, puts head back down on desk, and snores.)
1. Describe the characters. What are their relationships with one another? What does each character want?
2. What is the main idea of Professor James's argument as to why he graded the girls’ papers the way he did? Summarize his argument.
3. Do you think that Professor James is honest in his explanation or do you think that he comes up with it "on the spot"?
4. When Professor James corrects papers, he just underlines the areas that need work without comment. Do you think this is a good way to encourage student writing? Why? Why not?
5. What do you think of Pat's plan to expose Professor James's approach to grading? Do you think it is appropriate for a student to take action like this? Do you think it is a reasonable plan?
6. In the end, they almost "blackmail" Professor James into giving them all good final grades. Do you think that this is appropriate or should they report their experience with Professor James to the dean?
Details, Details, Details
1. Why is Betsy upset?
2. Why does Betsy think that she doesn't get better grades?
3. How does Pat intend to expose Professor James's grading?
4. What grade does Professor James give the paper Pat wrote for Betsy? For Jackie? The papers Jackie and Betsy wrote for Pat?
5. What is Professor James doing when Betsy, Pat, and Jackie come to his office.
Who says it? To whom? About what or whom? What does it mean in the context?
1. "You're bound to improve."
2. "Well, Professor James is just a hard grader, I guess."
3. "I think he's prejudiced."
4. "Well, remember he gave that so called "diagnostic" test the first day?"
5. "I just zipped through that first composition without thinking."
6. "It's got her bugged."
7. "Get it?"
8. "He really does think in categories."
9. "What bunk!"
10. "I have a confession to make, sir."
11. "But it's just an old pedagogical technique of mine."
12. "I don't want you to get lax, loose, to become unchallenged."
13. "Before going to the dean."
14. "Hello, Shakespeare!"
15. "Likewise, Hemingway!"
Practice the expressions above for stress and intonation.
Cultural Notes for Discussion: After the Reading
Discuss the following in small groups, then, report to the whole class.
1. This play is about creating stereotypes. How does Professor James stereotype, and therefore discriminate, against Betsy?
2. From reading the play and knowing Professor James's character, what do you think is the reason for Professor James stereotyping his students?
3. The play is also about grades. Do you think that hard work and effort by a student should be reflected in his/her grade or do you think that a student should be graded only on the quality of the product produced by the student?
4. Have you ever felt you were being stereotyped by others? When? Where? What could you do about it? Do you have stereotypes of Americans? Blacks? Hispanics? Gays? Other groups? Why do you think you have these stereotypes?
5. What do you believe is the best way to grade students? What things should be considered in grading?
Follow Up Activities
1. Make 3 - 5 questions of your own about this play.
2. Write a one-paragraph summary of the plot. Use appropriate tenses.
3. Imagine that you are Pat telling the story of what happened to a friend. Tell the story using appropriate tenses. The class can offer help and corrections.