Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A ChatGPT-Free Blog About French Class

For the record, you can be assured, or disappointed, that everything you read in my blog is written by me, not by a ChatGPT program. 

This bold new world of artificial intelligence written communication is unsettling to a traditionalist like me. As someone who labors, or at least tries to, over everything that goes out under my name, I am saddened that human endeavor is being superseded by bytes, especially when programs are supplanting schoolwork. 

Not that I was a purist when it came to taking shortcuts for completing homework assignments. In the 15 or so minutes before the start of classes of my elementary school sixth grade there was frenzied activity as classmate after classmate copied the homework assignment completed by one of our peers, the same boy each day. What made the activity frenzied was our benefactor’s almost indecipherable handwriting. 

I can also recall mining my brother’s essay for an eighth grade critique of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People.” 

And for a general science project as a high school freshman I offered the results, with pictures, of an experiment in home incubation of fertilized chicken eggs. Notice I said “offered,” not that I actually ran the experiment. No, that was the work of Marty Riss two years earlier. 

Science was never my bailiwick. It was to Marty. He became an osteopath. I became a journalist, a profession that disdains plagiarism.

My reliance on copying other students’ homework ended when I went to college and began working on one of the college newspapers. 

Gilda, on the other hand, never relied on someone else’s brain power. Except for one truly amazing deception. She was an excellent student in all subjects but had no ear for foreign languages.

She had taken three years of French in high school. She had passed the Regents exam. But she openly admits she almost immediately forgot all of her French and thought she would never need it again. 

Unbeknownst to Gilda, Brooklyn College required every student to be proficient in a second language. BC tested everyone in their chosen language to either exempt them from additional classes or assign them to an appropriate level. 

The test was multiple choice. Knowing she would place poorly, Gilda breezed through the test by simply circling A, B, C, or D in consecutive order throughout the test. Amazingly, she ranked among the highest scorers and was assigned to an advanced French literature class. 

She delayed taking the course for two years but, realizing the class was required to obtain her degree, she enrolled in it during her junior year. By then Gilda was part of Russell House, one of the school’s most desirable social organizations.  

Talking about her French class dilemma with another Russell House member Gilda found her savior, a French major. They agreed on a plan of action. 

For a two-part midterm test on Sartre, Gilda would use her multiple choice strategy for the initial section. French literature tests, however, included an essay component. For that part Gilda’s friend would create an essay, Gilda would memorize and submit it.  

Now, you’re probably thinking, how could her friend possibly know what the teacher would ask about Sartre? You’d be right. She didn’t know. But the friend reasoned that her essay would be so cogent on the writings of Sartre that the teacher would look favorably on it even if it did not exactly relate to her question. 

She was right. Gilda received a B on the full test. But she was not yet out of the woods. Complimented on her essay and knowledge of French, Gilda was asked by the teacher why she did not speak up in class. She replied she was too shy to talk in class. 

Anyone familiar with Gilda knows that is not the Gilda they know. 

For the final exam she repeated the ruse. For the class Gilda received a B. 

To this day the only things Gilda remembers from French class are Où est la bibliothèque? (Where is the library?) and “Quelle heure est-il?” (What time is it?).