Finally Finals: Ten for Today (and Tomorrow)


Click, click, tap, tap, ping…the room is a jitter with typing and timers. It’s final exam day, the last day of the semester, school year and year, almost. It is all three for me. Tomorrow I jet off to another land until next year.

 
The tension in the room agitates me, always does, hearing the sighs and coughs, seeing the head scratches and screen light bounce off the wide pupils of mad typists-thinkers. They’re exhausted. And so am I. I’ve stayed up late and gotten up early to finish grading their term papers, the culminating work in this writing course.
 
I hope I’ve taught them something. I always wish that–some affect I might have.
 
But some of them, I will have barely touched the shell of their minds. There’s a young man in my class who stares at me and smiles the entire class. He attends almost every class and looks engrossed in my lectures, detours, tangents and lessons. He watches attentively as I scribble dry erase marker slashes and dashes and dots on the white board. His eyes absorb the light of the projected screen filled with words and pictures.
 
But his work is crazy, of a parallel existence. He’s a photographer. He loves art.

He’ll smile and tell me that he’s got this essay down. But then he’ll hand in some garbled, riffing, hip-hopping, slap-dash jive bullshit about…frankly, I don’t know what. I read, trying to find the thread of his pieced together logic, the color of his world, or sliver of his memory filtering through disjointed fragments slithering between whole sentences and never-ending, like a river meandering down the shallow incline along a stony road, sun-blazed along red rocks, not a ripple, trickled to a narrow rivulet…and dry. Done.
 
I won’t reach him in time. It’s not his semester to catch on. That’s okay. I know it. I think he does too. He wrote a few final papers, two of them incomprehensible, but the third one…it’s practically logical, relevant and convincing.
 
I whisper during the final exam to him with a stone cold face: “You pulled it off.” He smiles. Of course, he does. It’s a breakthrough, but too little too late.
 
And on the way out, he says, ” See you next semester.” Yeah, he knows. I hope to see his smiling face in January, the new year, new semester and new beginning.

 
Image: touch-tap: pixabay

Coddled College Kiddies: Ten for Today


It’s the gap. I teach from 1 to 3 then 5:30-9:45 on Wednesdays. So, I work in the adjunct faculty room in between classes, lounged on the couch, correcting papers as it so happens today. Last night, I had 8 more to correct for tonight’s class, which is right next door to the faculty room. 

Two other young instructors inhabit the room. A knock at the door, and I let in a muscular, sleeveless t-shirted young man, who could be a very young adjunct (they all look young these days) or a student. He drops his backpack next to one of the room inhabitants as he whisks past me without so much as an acknowledgement of my existence. He is intent.

Beginning with a list of his laudatory behavior loudly proclaimed–I completed this chapter, did this review…Will there be a quiz on this today?–he engages his young, dark, curly haired instructor with the milk chocolate skin and thick, black eyebrows. She has a gentle manner. 

“Yes, good, good. Very good…”

But then he moves on to the speech he made the other day in class, when he came to class dressed up in formal clothing, something not so easy for an out of state student who pays high fees to attend. 

“It’s unfair, you know. You kind of beat me down, took my wind a little, you know. I mean it was a great idea, dressing up, and then, you know, you go make it a requirement that everyone has to dress up. And it’s not fair. You know what I’m saying?”

She’s listening patiently, and so am I, though my thoughts are racing with this kid’s typical college student at this community college by the beach stance: the classroom is a democracy and I get to voice my feelings about what the teacher did, how it’s run. I shake my head motionlessly. 

He would do well to sit in on my class where I make it clear that college is not a right but a privilege. Don’t take my class if it doesn’t suit you. It’s not high school. There are other teachers for this intro course.

“I am trying to understand you. What’s not fair?” She replies to Mr. Whiny pants.

“Well, I thought of the idea of dressing up and then you make it a requirement. You know some people can’t afford to dress up for a class, like lower income people. And you made it a requirement. But you know I thought of it, kind of my advantage, you know, and then you made it for everyone to do. You took away my leg up.”

I groan–audibly. I’m not cut out for teaching any more, maybe. I get my carcass up from the couch and leave the room. 

Scribus Mundanus Me


 
Perhaps you have to be a teacher or know one to smile at this article a good friend sent me today, but I enjoyed seeing myself typecast as a certain type of teacher. Though I have taught my share of literature courses and may have been Libris Scholaris, especially in grad school as a Teacher’s Assistant, guest lecturer or contract lecturer at the university, but I am quintessentially Scribus Mundanus all the way these days, as I stare down a pile of ungraded essays beckoning me to my desk even at this late hour. 

John Minichillo on Timothey McSweeney’s blog writes “How to be a Better Teacher-Person Through Apathy: On the Heirarchy of English Professors, a Nonmenclature: Scholar-Type, Teacher-Type and Artist-Type” to illustrate and caricature teachers on this very week of the teacher. I have been all three, but teaching three composition courses this semester and some semesters four or more, I relate to this description:

The second type of English professor is the composition scholar, or teacher-type, Scribis mundanus. They use the word “text” with far less frequency and their obsession lies in “pedagogy,” a word never uttered outside of universities, but a catch-all title that means, broadly, “teaching.” While Libris scholares teach to make a living, so that they can study texts, Scribis mundani have always wanted to teach, and they have a way of resenting other professors who don’t engage in the frequent self-examination of their own teaching practices. They believe in a growth model for teachers, so that they are involved in teacher training and/or disseminating self-assessment tools, and they command their classrooms with a dynamic flair. They are forever pondering goals and outcomes, and will dole out experimental assignments, so that during any given semester the class content, approach, or grading methods of Scribis mundanus may have completely changed from previous semesters. The field of composition developed out of necessity and it’s the new kid on the block. At the beginning of the twentieth century students were interested in literature, and classes were introduced where these students would write “themes” each week, so that these primitive papers became what was graded in the course. Over time, English classes were separated into literature classes and writing classes, and composition was the methodology that grew up around paper writing, which became the subject, whole and entire, of composition classes.

I am a teacher. I am in it to teach. I use the word pedagogy, yes. Reading “texts” and creating art are collateral benefits that go with and develop from the art of teaching. Becoming an expert on others’ writing and teaching others to write, I have improved my own writing. The reciprocity has quite satisfactorily evolved into paid self-enrichment. 

Mundanus? Sure, the comp grind, as it is referred to in the biz, has its mind-numbing moments, for example, that pile on my desk that promises endlessly winding, often pointless poor prose as well as the surprise satisfaction of a well-turned phrase. I’m happy merely to find the few that followed the assignment directions. But then I remember that my own writing, discipline and substance have developed over a life-time, several decades. What can I expect in mere weeks? 

Maybe the next professor down the comp chain will have better luck weeding out the disorganization in this semester’s crop of students’ harried developing minds and the bad habits cemented over the years. In three weeks, my tenancy with them will be up (except for those who choose to try again with me). And then it’s summer school!

 
Image Credit: http://www.edweek.org

Dark Matter, Does it?

“If the multiverse idea is correct, then the historic mission of physics to explain all the properties of our universe in terms of fundamental principles–to explain why the properties of our universe must necessarily be what they are–is futile, a beautiful philosophical dream that simply isn’t true. Our universe is what it is because we are here. ”
Alan Lightman, “The Accidental Universe”

Astronomy week, when the class and I read two essays, one about the relationships of the sun, moon and Earth–and one human to another, and one about the aim of science to figure out who we are, why we came to be, is an exciting week for me.

I wax on about the mysteries of the universe, the idea of the multiverse, Big Bang, Intelligent Design, Newton and the Theory of Gravity, Darwin and the Theory of Evolution, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, ten or more dimensions of space, quantum theory, quarks, string theory, Inflation theory, dark energy and matter, the complete absence of a theory on how the human brain creates consciousness, and the overall pursuit of a fully coherent cosmos that adds up to us–what scientists had hoped to achieve through speculation, calculation and logic, beginning with observing natural laws, up til recent history when the Hubble deep field experiment revealed the probability of a multiverse.

The project to discover the cause and effect chain to everything had to be abandoned with thrown up arms, seemingly also abandoning the aims of the preceding thousands of years’ work. Alan Lightman writes about this interrupter known as the multiverse in “The Accidental Universe.” And when I ask students, who look at me as if I am on a 70’s psychedelic trip, what this all has to do with them, their reality right now, no one can answer–not even the ones who desperately want to answer something, anything.

Like history, the cosmos is just too far away. They cannot feel it, not even as a dream they may have had and can recall in that hazy sense of remembering a distorted reality deeply imprinted in another realm of consciousness.

“Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.” Lightman

And so students interpret that faith in the unknown not as the spurs to discover what is out there but as the sigh of futility. It has so little to do with their immediate aims–surviving school, work and social media.

But it is human arrogance to require relevance to the human condition. Or that the multiverse is created in our own image, running round ourselves like the orbiting moon to Earth, Earth to the sun.

“The disposition of the universe–that crazy wheelwright–designates that we live on a wheel, with wheels for associates and wheels for luminaries, with days like wheels and years like wheels and shadows that wheel around us night and day; as if by turning and turning, things could come round right.” Amy Leach, “You Be the Moon”

I miss the eloquence, enthusiasm, sincerity and passion of this scientist to make the real imaginable and the imaginable real:

Our weekly or sometimes bi-monthly lunch date

  
“How was class today?”

“I finally convinced my students that writers are like magicians. They make something out of nothing. Turning a blank sheet of paper into an essay is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, changing the properties of one thing to transform it into another.”

“And they bought that?”

“They did.”

“Because you hold their future, namely their grades, in your hands, you think?

“Maybe. Whatever it takes.”

“Sounds like teaching is a lot like extortion.”

“There’s a lot of ‘or else’ in life, not just in teaching. Everything is a matter of dangling carrots or dodging sticks: Pay your bills on time or pay penalties, finance charges or lose your electricity. Pay your bills on time and build good credit, so you can have more credit. Sticks and carrots.”

“Speaking of which, I’ll get the check this time. You paid last time.”

“Carrot. You want me to show up next week to reciprocate–or retaliate, right?”

“Clever girl.”

Pratyahara and Pencils: teaching writing is about seeding awareness in students

  
This was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached — not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling was not sticky or blocked. Therefore in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.

Bruce Lee 

Pratyahara and pencils populate my thoughts today. Back to school, I can smell the freshly sharpened pencils—not that anyone sharpens pencils in my college classes so much. The sensory memory recalls the time of year: fall, school, endings, beginnings and lifelong learning. Cycles that inspire.

Inspiration arises in peculiar places. During a particularly dry creativity spell, I sat through the annual English department meeting last week at school, my employer, and felt a sudden spark. It was midway through a workshop on workshopping (silly sounding but fruitful) when I began to write about…

Continued here

Argue!

  
Should vivisection on animals be universally banned?

California’s gun control laws are the strictest in the nation and do not need tightening.

Costa Rica’s Preventia policies are unjust and inhumane.

The papparazzi need to be reigned in from their reign of destruction.

Coed education beats same-sex education miles high.

Long Beach police officers are doing a great job despite the public outcry against police brutality.

The higher divorce rate among military families compared to non-military familes cries out for resources.

Street art is not graffitti!

Torture has its place in terrrorist prevention.

Inception is not a coherent thriller.
 

It’s end of the summer semester research term paper time. So many arguments, so many readily available resources, and so many fallacies.  My students, weaned on the Internet, both master and destroy logic. Familiar with the bounty that is the network–social, educational and otherwise–they can research. They find stuff. However, likewise products of the world wide of webbings, traps for the unweary, they believe without discernment. 

Teaching young minds to think in verticals and horizontals tasks the impatient and weary. Entitlement does not only measure ownership attitudes; the right to be right falls in the heap of our stuff. Ours. Mine. Not yours.

How else does the abounding madness of polarizing non-sense stop: me vs. you, right vs. wrong, with us or against us? Isn’t that the major premise of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals--keep the pressure on with conflict so power can slip in its agenda? 

I responded to a social media prompt on a relative’s Facebook page about the minimum wage not being about bickering over which unskilled worker should get two dollars more than the other. Two good responsive posts about the issue over dignity of work, skilled vs. unskilled worker…and then it came: the post about me, me, me and what I do and don’t blame me for trying to work and make money. 

Buzz kill. There is no response to a hijacked discussion of a public issue by someone’s feelings about his or her life or imaginary persecution–a failure to read and understand a public forum’s purpose in the shades of meaningful and polite interaction. 

Teach a mind to think, reason and discern: rule one of a civilzed nation.
 

credit: http://static.squarespace.com/

Leotard

  

 
On my dresser, crumpled like sin lies a leotard,
gold lamé scarab’d like a 24 carat snake skin,
black lycra arms tightly tubed, trimmed in lace
sewn to this gay garment celebrating costumes
and splayed over orderly folder’d paper stacks
inches thick with frayed efforts, struggling pens
of students composing in discomposed anguish
for the A’s, B’s and C’s drifting over their heads
hovering above their walking shadows at the go
as trudging destiny to seats betraying no means
that end in hours sipped in blind ears and minds
mending time in threaded thimbles of mothers
who cajole and credit them with bygone myths,
those about education and scaling mountains,
inheritances emptied from bank accounts dried
long ago spent by the crackhead loan pirates
and bank note worshipers of voodoo financiers.