Any college professor knows the depressing feeling that comes when you stay up late marking a stack of papers, and a high percentage of students don’t even bother to pick them up. One instructor made an art installation out of abandoned student essays.
As an instructor of art for the past 7 years, I have had the
disheartening experience of encountering illiteracy at the college
level with a frequency that far exceeded my expectations. Having taught
at the University of California, Santa Barbara; Fresno City College;
Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, FL; and Bakersfield College, I
decided to collect the hundreds of student essays written for my
classes that were abandoned by their authors (the fact that these
students did not find the retrieval of their work to be important was
in many ways discouraging enough). I decided to archive these student
essays as documentation of the growing illiteracy problem, for what I
found in the contents therein mirrored and sometimes surpassed the
I suppose, too, that there’s some self-selection involved — perhaps
the students who care least about their writing are the most likely to
abandon their essays, while the best writers were proud of their work
and wanted to pick it up. A lively discussion on the comments page.
The context in which the students’ intellectual property is used — as
evidence of the nation’s illiteracy — is problematic, as is the fact
that the students weren’t given the opportunity to consent to their
work being used this way.