"I have, basically, an eraser. It's, like, at the bottom of my backpack," so says a college student who's in a team of four persons working on an in-class exercise. She hoists her backpack up on the table and rummages through the main compartment. After a few tries she retrieves the eraser, holding it up triumphantly and offering it to another student on the team.
The other student accepts the eraser, uses it on a worksheet the team is filling out, and the erasure opens up a new blank space ready for the next answer.
"Now I forget the other answer," says the team member with the paper in front of her, holding her pencil point over the paper but not writing anything. "I'm stuck. What did we just say?"
"Here, let me," another says, taking the pencil and paper. "Oh wait, like, I forget, too. What answer were we, like, going to say?"
Nobody on the team could remember the replacement answer they wanted to write. Finally one member held up the paper to the light, making out the faint indentation of the erased word — and wrote that word again.
"We have, basically, our same answer. Do you think we'll get credit for that?" the writer asked. "At least we put something down," said another. "We should, like, get credit for, basically, trying."
[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of health services administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]
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