A is for Assignment

| March 11, 2014
Be careful what you ask for, because you are likely to get it. Isn’t the assignment one of the central paradoxes of education? We can hardly think it without the assignment. Or what if the assignment were to attempt just this? Is it that the assignment is precisely not what it is? The stand in. The signature.
Is our outrage at plagiarism just this, recognition that we are not what we say we are? Copy and paste, we find our arbitrary request mirrored back to us. Is it the failure of the assignment, or rather of the student to not step up and go beyond it, that confronts us with the essentiality of the mechanism itself? To do the assignment is to cover for the assignment. Its need. Because the assignment covers, in turn, for the horror of the vacuum. What if we did nothing? What if nothing were asked?
There is an aesthetic to assignments. An art. Or at least one. We know them when we see them. This is their comfort. And their banality. They are already done. Let it look like this. Or within this range. One would do well to acknowledge that one is doing the assignment. This serves as a convenient form, but also is the critical function. Show that you are doing it. A funnel introduction. A date at the top of the page. A certain way of phrasing sentences that doesn’t bother pretending to have come up with this on its own. A certain marking of time. Of obligation. “In conclusion…” Do we shake this? Is the specter of the student doing their own work, finding their voice, the last expected form of capitulation? Make us proud…
To receive an assignment, or rather, always a stack of them, to have asked for this, is troubling. One realizes, belatedly, partially, what one asked for, what one hoped for. For the other? For oneself? Too much, and too little.

Be careful what you ask for, because you are likely to get it. Isn’t the assignment one of the central paradoxes of education? We can hardly think it without the assignment. Or what if the assignment were to attempt just this? Is it that the assignment is precisely not what it is? The stand in. The signature. Is our outrage at plagiarism just this, recognition that we are not what we say we are? Copy and paste, we find our arbitrary request mirrored back to us. Is it the failure of the assignment, or rather of the student to not step up and go beyond it, that confronts us with the essentiality of the mechanism itself? To do the assignment is to cover for the assignment. Its need. Because the assignment covers, in turn, for the horror of the vacuum. What if we did nothing? What if nothing were asked?There is an aesthetic to assignments. An art. Or at least one. We know them when we see them. This is their comfort. And their banality. They are already done. Let it look like this. Or within this range. One would do well to acknowledge that one is doing the assignment. This serves as a convenient form, but also is the critical function. Show that you are doing it. A funnel introduction. A date at the top of the page. A certain way of phrasing sentences that doesn’t bother pretending to have come up with this on its own. A certain marking of time. Of obligation. “In conclusion…” Do we shake this? Is the specter of the student doing their own work, finding their voice, the last expected form of capitulation? Make us proud…To receive an assignment, or rather, always a stack of them, to have asked for this, is troubling. One realizes, belatedly, partially, what one asked for, what one hoped for. For the other? For oneself? Too much, and too little.