I’m not much help with my maturing kids’ homework these days. They covered my high school Algebra knowledge by fifth grade and the only science that ever interested me was whatever Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker concocted in the Muppet Labs.
So, I was elated when my son recently asked for my help with writing an essay for English. I don’t know an atom from Adam, but I do have some mad writing skills so I eagerly sidled up next to my protégé at the computer ready to wax poetic.
“Okay bud, where’s your file?”
“I gotta login first,” he replied.
He explained how they use an online writing program that electronically evaluates and scores based on six categories: idea development, organization, style, word choice, sentence structure and conventions. They receive 0-5 points per category and can submit up to thirty revisions to improve overall score. My son was frustrated because he was supposed to have a minimum of 25 points before turning in the assignment, but after several revisions he couldn’t get above twenty.
This seemed like a scheme for English teachers to pawn off manual editing work to a game of Angry Words, but I was up for the challenge. Bring it on, you hack auto-editing literary device!
After helping my son revise the introductory paragraph, we checked our progress: 22 points.
By the time we wrapped this baby I was sure we’d crash the program with brilliance no static computer-generated intelligence could adequately appraise. Our early success motivated us to revise the rest of the paragraphs before submitting for an updated score. We worked intensely, following the program suggestions to “show control of both simple and complex syntax” and “avoid generic word choices and clichés,” blah, blah, blah. As if we needed help.
We finished with a bold summary statement and submitted our completed revision. As we anxiously awaited the score, my son excitedly estimated a 27. I estimated higher but, beyond any score, I’d earned the respect of my fourteen-year-old son who sometimes won’t even be seen with me.
Two hours and four masterfully revised paragraphs later, and we’d lost a point?!
My son’s face fell.
My ego crashed.
After that, we reworked, rewrote, revised and submitted twelve more times without gaining a single point. My son gave up and went to bed. Determined to beat the %$@# writing program, I degenerated to the equivalent of a loady gamer World of Warcraft addict who neglects basic human needs to reach the next level. Eventually I used up all the revisions.
A few sleepless hours later when I sent my son to school with our lowly 21-point essay, I told him I thought that online writing program was a faulty, lazy replacement for a discerning human editor with half a brain and a red pen! I told him I’d be interested to know from his actual teacher how an essay skillfully crafted by a professional writer could score so low!
I told him I was sorry I let him down.
Apparently my son thought I meant what I said about asking his teacher. She gave me some constructive feedback on the essay with a red pen.