The Archaic Bylaw
[Reddit Writing Prompt ] You're a college professor and grades for the semester have just been posted. One disgruntled failing student comes to you with an archaic copy of the school's bylaws and a pair of weapons. They're invoking a rule from the time of the university's founding allowing them to “pass” through trial by combat.
I glanced down at the papers Ms. Fox had placed in my hands. It was a printed screenshot of the archaic bylaw from a book I had only seen once in all the years of my professorship at this historic liberal arts college. It had been a long time since I had read it, so I quickly scanned the perfect calligraphy, grasping the meaning while looking for grammatical errors...out of habit. I had a masters in English Literature and been teaching writing courses at varying levels for just over three decades. It was flawless in grammar and flawless in the explanation of a tradition that seemed medieval at best.
“We fight our battles with words in this era, Ms. Fox, so, as stated in the code—If you will look here on the page” (I drew attention to the code duello), “the challenged party has the choice of weapons. I choose words as my weapon. I would like you to hand-write a 2000-word essay titled, The Origin and Decline of the Duel, summarizing its influence on the formation of early America. I will do the same. We will meet back here in my office at dawn to submit our essays to Chancellor Wright. It will be an anonymous submission, judged only on the merit of the writing.”
Ms. Fox's shoulders slumped, and she shuffled from one foot to the other while staring down at the floor. She knew she was failing Introduction to English Composition, and I doubt she saw this coming.
“What happens if I lose?” she hesitantly inquired.
“You will receive the F that has been a result of your lack of motivation and effort. You also were absent many times and failed to hand in assignments. I would be willing to reconsider the F, however, if you will take on some extra credit writing assignments and we will move forward from there. The ball is in your court now Ms. Fox, and I truly hope you succeed.”
I was excited to get home to begin my essay. The last time I had been met with this challenge, the failing student went on to graduate with honors and became a Pulitzer Prize winning author. I knew from the couple of hastily typed assignments that had actually been turned in, Ms. Fox held that kind of talent. She just didn't know it...yet.
As Ms. Fox turned to leave, I said, “Oh. One more thing. It must be legible, and it must be written in cursive.”
This was my ace-in-the-hole. We all knew that Millennials didn't know how to write in cursive.
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by a Reddit writing prompt
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