Monthly Archives: August 2007

Just a Tiny Bit of Thinkin’

O’Mama mentioned to me the other day that one of her current students, who happens to be one of my former students, asked her if she would reveal to him the address for this humble little blog.

She declined, of course; Mama knows I’m not in the business of advertising that I have this blog and, in fact, that I make a pretty big deal about NOT mentioning it within a three mile radius of TCC, so I’m not entirely sure how this young man (for whom I happen to have a very big soft spot, by the way) found out that I even keep a blog, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of days now, wondering just how difficult it would be for someone to track me down. Do you know what I found?!

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I may has well have put up a frickin’ neon sign.

My students get two email addresses for me; the one the school issues that is linked to the portal (which is a PITA for me to access and often won’t allow me, as a Mac user, to download the attachments they send), and the email address that I also have linked.. wait for it.. to my blogs. Two seconds’ worth of thinking – and eight letters typed into a Google search window – would net the seeker the addresses to both my blogs AND several of my recent entries (not to mention my Flickr page and the mentions of me that are made in others’ blogs).

This boy is smart, clever, and charming, so why hasn’t he found me on his own already?!

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Filed under funniness, the good ones

Grammar Wednesday

Mrs. Chili is stumped, class, and I’m looking for some clarification.

The other night, I was watching football on television, as I am prone to do this time of year. I’m constantly amazed by John Madden (and not in a good way, either). Here’s a man who makes his living talking – describing people and actions to a listening public. There are SO many other, more eloquent announcers on the air that it astounds me that this man still has a job. Seriously; the guy sounds like a moron.

Anyway, I was sitting there watching the game – it’s pre-season, so I don’t really remember who was playing; I think it was New Orleans and Kansas City – when a player missed a catch in the flat on a third down seconds before half time. Madden comes out with something like this:

Now, if he would have caught that, we’d have a different game here!

First of all, DUH. One of the things that annoys me about this man is his brilliant ability to point out the patently obvious. Second, I’m not sure that the tense he used makes any sense in the way he used it, but I can’t articulate why I feel that way.

It’s the would have caught that made me twitch. That just seems wrong to me, but I can’t find anything in my references to tell me why it’s wrong. Would one of my linguist friends – or someone who paid more attention during the classes where verb tenses were taught – help me out, please?

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Filed under General Griping, Grammar, popular culture

Procrastination

I just didn’t have it in me today to confront Henry about his work.  He didn’t really give me much of an opportunity – he showed up late to class as it was and bolted as soon as it was over – but I’m not sure I would have taken him aside even if he had been on time or lingered after class.  I just wasn’t up for drama today.

There’s always Thursday.

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Outraged

There’s a bumper sticker that I love that says “if you’re not outraged, you’re just not paying attention.” Well, I’m paying attention, and am I ever outraged.

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I went to visit Joe yesterday. I’m going to be having a conversation with Henry about the quality of his work in my class – or, rather, the lack of quality – and, anticipating a confrontation rather than a conversation, I’ve given Joe the heads-up on my plans. I emailed him samples of Henry’s “work” and a synopsis of our last conversation – the one in which Henry was “offended” by his progress report – and essentially told him that I am interested in covering my ass here. I want full transparency on my part so that if (when) this boy comes to my bosses screaming oppression and discrimination, the people in charge will already know my side of the story.

I’ve mentioned before how much I love my boss, but it bears repeating. This man really is wonderful. He’s fair and even-handed, he really listens, and he’s realistic and practical. He doesn’t have any irrational fantasies about what his faculty have to deal with: he’s taught these kids himself and knows full well what kinds of behaviors they’re willing to demonstrate in order to get what they want. I feel very much that Joe respects my unwillingness to bend to the will of the students who come off with entitlement issues or to pass students who’ve not demonstrated sufficient skill in my classes. In turn, I feel that he understands that I am willing to work with students who are responsible and self-aware enough to ask for exceptions to my policies, and who follow through on their promises when I do.

So, back to Henry: I brought in samples of the boy’s work to back up the claims I made in the email. I made the point of saying that I don’t KNOW that Henry’s going to freak out about the zero he earned on his mid-term, but that there’s nothing in my observations of him to date that makes me think that he won’t. Joe asked to see the “writing” samples I brought, then turned to his computer and did some clicking, eventually coming up with Henry’s grade history.

Are you ready for this?

The kid passed composition with a C average. Did you catch that? He PASSED COMPOSITION.

Joe turned around to see my jaw hanging open like an idiot’s. “You’re serious,” I asked; “Henry passed composition?!”

He was serious – Henry’d taken the class last term and passed it. Henry is a solid C student all around, as well.

I have no idea how this happened, especially if the kid’s work in my class is representative of his work in his other classes. He cannot write coherent English, and I am mortified to think that one of my colleagues thought his work sufficient to pass him. My suspicion is that this passing grade was either a social promotion, the result of threatening on the part of the student, or a weariness of the process and a lack of hope for a better outcome that inspired this professor to slap a C on the report card and be done with it. I had hoped that didn’t happen here (what a naive and silly girl I can be!), but I was wrong. So. Very. Wrong…

I don’t know who that colleague is, but I wish I did. I’d love to find out what about this student’s work earned him a C in a writing class. Truth be told, I also want to know who this professor is so I can know what to expect of students who’ve taken his or her class.

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Filed under colleagues, concerns, frustrations, General Griping, I love my boss, Yikes!

‘Bugs Has Been Writing Poetry

… and some really beautiful poetry at that.  Go on over and check out one man’s way with words…

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Filed under admiration, colleagues, Poetry

I’m No E.D. Hirsch

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of “cultural literacy.”

I think it has to do with the fact that I’m noticing that many of the references and allusions I make to my students as a means of making connections are missing their marks. Really, I’m most often leaving con trails over the poor kids’ heads: these babies have NO idea what I’m talking about.

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Of course, a lot of that has to do with generational differences. We grew up in different times, my students and I – a lot of these kids weren’t even born yet when Tianamen Square went down; they didn’t exist when Challenger blew up, and they have no frame of reference to even think about the Cold War. As a result, a lot of the materials that I bring into my classroom are incomprehensible to these kids because they don’t have the background to make sense of speeches from Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan or Albert Speer.  They’ve not had a good education in history and, I suspect, they’re probably lacking in the other disciplines as well – I can speak to the fact that they’ve been shortchanged in their English education, that’s for sure.

Of course, some of this happens with every generation. I remember my parents talking about remembering EXACTLY where they were when Kennedy was shot, and I remember feeling strangely left out that there was no defining moment for my life like that. Now, post 9/11, I know that it was ridiculous for me to think that way: I understand now that most of those defining moments are marked by profound tragedy.  My in-laws lament that kids aren’t being taught “the classics” anymore and, though they’re never quite clear about what “the classics” are, their point is well taken.  We don’t know the same things – we’ve maybe taken diversity, at least, as it applies to curriculum design, a little too far.

I really believe that, as a culture, there are certain things that we should all be familiar with – things that help to define who we are as a people and which give us common experiences and vocabulary to help us make connections with each other. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that ONLY certain things should be taught to the exclusion of all other things, but I really do think that we wouldn’t do ourselves any harm if we tried to make at least a few things compulsory in school; the Constitution, for example, or certain poems or works of literature; the events of the Native American extermination, the Holocaust, and subsequent genocides that have been allowed to happen in the world; some history of science (I wish I knew more about Galileo, for example, or Copernicus); a better understanding of economics and the interconnected nature of our world today.

I almost feel as though we’re out of touch with one another; that our country is so huge and our reluctance to adhere to educational standards is so great that we’ve forgotten that we NEED common experiences to connect to each other and to feel as though we belong together.

So, here’s my question: If you were the Grand and Benevolent Ruler of Everyone, what things would you make prerequisites of citizenship? If, at the end of one’s general schooling, before one moves to a specialty, there were an exam, what questions would be on it? More importantly, WHY would you choose those things?

Just as a bit of fun, go here to see how you score on various “cultural literacy” tests.

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Filed under concerns, frustrations, Learning, popular culture, Questions, self-analysis, Teaching

The Hits Just Keep On Comin’…

As part of their mid-term exam, my communication students were given a copy of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech and were asked to answer five essay questions about it.  I emailed them after the class in which they received this assignment, reminding them of the questions, directing them to a video link to the speech, and asking them to:

Please be sure that your answers are typed and grammatically clean (full sentences, capital letters where needed; in short, try not to make the same errors I was complaining about on Tuesday).  Your answers must be complete and comprehensive: don’t just phone this assignment in, please – really THINK about what I’m asking you, read and listen to the speech more than once, and give me responses that show evidence of complex thinking.  Wow me with how brilliant you are. 

The first question asks:

Why is Dr. King’s speech so powerful and such an effective piece of persuasion?  Do you think that time has any impact, positive or negative, on the effectiveness of the speech?  Explain. 

Here’s a real, live answer I got to this question:

He uses history a as crutch, and the history of segregation and the pursuit of black people.

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Sometimes, it’s hard NOT to be despondent….

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Filed under concerns, frustrations, General Griping, Grammar, Yikes!

Civics on Saturday

I’m thinking of starting a new weekly feature on this blog.

A few weeks ago, I asked Gerry – formerly a serviceman and attorney; currently an observant intellect whose experience and insight I greatly respect – if he would be interested in teaching me about the Constitution.

You see, every time I teach a public speaking / communication class, I give the students a quick rundown of the First Amendment.  It is not unreasonable of me to expect that none – NONE – of the students will recognize the thing when I put it up on the board and, further, that none – NONE – of them will be able to tell me exactly what the amendment actually does.  I then go around, for several days, feeling depressed by how little students leave high school knowing, and fearing for the future of our country that the next generations aren’t learning about the very foundations of our society.

Then, it occurred to me: I have a passing familiarity with the founding documents of our country, but I am by no means an expert.  Being the proactive and inquisitive sort that I am, I started looking for ways to remedy that.  I think that there are some things that every American should know, and a solid background in the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution and its subsequent amendments is an integral part of that knowledge base.

Gerry declined my request of tutelage; he told me that he’d be bored with the exercise, and we all know that bored teachers make for bored students.  I respect his not wanting to go over this stuff with me, but I still want to know, so I’ve decided to do the investigation on my own.

Starting next Saturday, I’m going to begin a series here where I’ll take a section of one of the foundational documents and do what I do best – I’ll analyze it, I’ll ask questions about it, I’ll try to think critically about it.  I’m going to start with the Declaration of Independence which, really, should be the focus of only one entry: the D.o.I. isn’t really that long or complex, and I had the opportunity to think about it this summer when the Chili family went to Colonial Williamsburg, so I’ve got a bit of a ‘head start.’

I’ll print the text of the document I’m investigating in the post, I’ll link to reputable websites and text references concerning it, and I’ll try my best not to correct our founding fathers’ grammar.  I’ll ruminate a bit on it, try to dig up interesting facts and stories about it, and try to integrate it into my own knowledge base.

Here’s where I invite you to come on this ride with me, and to please, PLEASE correct me if I come up with something blatantly wrong.  I’m a novice to Constitutional scholarship, and I invite those of you who know more than I do to add your thoughts, experiences and insights to my journey.

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(I’m going to post simultaneously to both my “teacher” and “personal” blogs – I think that this topic applies both to my personal and my professional lives, and I don’t want to miss out on the insights and comments of those who only read one or the other.  If you read both, I apologize for the redundancy; it’s only once a week.)

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Filed under crossover, Learning, Questions, reading, self-analysis

I SWEAR to You…

… I DON’T make this shit up.

Check out the response I got from a student for an assignment concerning Joss Whedon’s Equality Now speech (which, by the way, is amazing – go watch it first… I’ll wait….). Remember please that, as always, I have done no editing whatsoever; what you see here is what I got straight from the student (who, because I am kind, shall remain anonymous):

When I first heard him he was very slow and plain and then he liven things up and as comical humor to his speech. HE uses Q&A in his speech. But the way he wrote his speech as real like he just talking away like it was nothing at all. Just his tone alone stand out, he was serious but the same time you can tell he’s he not he was juts having fun . The way he spoke to the audience was relax and cal and there was no hostility at. He wasn’t abrasive and attacking his audience he had a point and he got it crossing fairly god to me it is he could of done better with his audience but then again he got it across that what really mattered.

Seriously.

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One I Probably Can’t Reach

Alternately titled “Mohammad Expects the Mountain to Come to Him”

I had a very long, very interesting confrontation with a student the other day. It’s been rattling around in the back of my busy mind for a while now, and I think I may have enough distance from it to be able to express it here with some degree of coherence.

I’ve mentioned this boy before; for the sake of anonymity and convenience, we’ll call him Henry. Henry strutted into class on the first day and, in his introduction to me and his classmates, essentially announced that he is who he is and anyone who doesn’t like that can go pound. He told us that he speaks Ebonics, that he has a mean temper, and that he doesn’t care what people think of him; his attitude forms an almost visible sphere around his body, and the range of his disdainful and annoyed facial expressions is impressive.

Henry hasn’t proven himself to be a stellar student. He often wanders in late, plops himself in the same seat by the window and puts his cell phone on the table in front of him (it often buzzes messages, which prompts him to pick it up and reply in the middle of classes). He waves to people coming past his window, he waves at them again through the window in the door as those people come into the building and, more than once, he’s attempted to carry on mimed conversations with folks in the hallway. Nine times out of ten, Henry will be gazing out the window when I look at him, and he only rarely offers up questions or comments: almost all of his class participation has come at the other end of my actually calling on him.

He’s failing the class. His refusal to do the homework has left him with quite a few zeros to overcome, and his test results at the midterm were unimpressive. Because of his grade, I was obliged to write a progress report for his department head, which I had to discuss with Henry before submitting. I went to the boy when the rest of the class was on break on Tuesday and informed him that I know he can do better than he’s doing, and that a little effort on his part will likely yield him much more satisfactory results grade-wise. At the bottom of the report, I wrote “Henry is inconsistent with his homework and seems unmotivated in class.” He signed the report, I took my copies and moved on to the next student.

At the end of the class, Henry came up to me with his attitude in full force. “I’m offended by what you wrote on my progress report,” he told me.

Offended? Really? What an interesting verb to use! Why, exactly, I asked, was he offended?

He went on to rant that just because *I* didn’t think he was motivated didn’t mean that he wasn’t. Sure, there have been homework assignments that he hasn’t handed in and yes, he did complain about having to watch the Bono speech, and he doesn’t really participate in class, and he can see why I would think that he’s not motivated, but he IS motivated, and he’s offended that I wrote the comment on the bottom of his progress report.

I stopped him at this point. “Henry,” I said, “if you can understand why I don’t perceive you as motivated, how is what I said on the progress report MY problem? You are not showing me that you care about doing well in this class. You are giving me no indication that any of this matters at all to you. If I’m justified in my perception of you, why are you offended?”

His response to this was that, if he weren’t motivated, he’d have just taken the comment on the report and said “fuck it, I don’t care.” His coming to me to complain was evidence, in his mind, of his desire to do well in the course.

I wasn’t buyin’ it.

The conversation went around like this for quite some time and, when Henry figured out that I wasn’t going to back down from my assessment of his character in my class, he changed tacks. He told me that the reason he doesn’t participate in class is that he feels disrespected by me and his classmates.

Up to that point, I was pretty calm and even-keeled; this little crack fired me up a fair bit. He was accusing me of dismissing his opinions, and he was heading to the issue of race to back himself up.

I don’t frickin’ think so!

I, very sternly but very professionally, stomped on him. First of all, I told him, you may NOT blame others for your lack of participation. NO ONE in my class has been disrespectful to ANYONE in my class – it’s even written in the syllabus that I will NOT tolerate any kind of disrespectful or dismissive behavior. Secondly, I have NEVER, EVER been disrespectful to or dismissive of him. As a matter of fact, I told him, I’ve been particularly attentive to him in an effort to try to draw him out in fruitful and appropriate ways. I told him, on no uncertain terms, that he may not accuse me of oppressing him when that is so plainly not the case.

To his credit, he did back down from that argument, but turned it around to accuse others in the class of being rude to him. “They don’t like to listen to what I have to say,” he claimed. “They dismiss me and disrespect me and that makes me not want to say anything. If they don’t like who I am, that’s too bad for them.”

Ah-HA! NOW we’re getting somewhere!

I tried my best to explain to dear Henry that – what a coincidence! – we happen to be in a COMMUNICATION class! I also reminded him of something that I said to him on the very first day we met; his goal for the course was to learn to speak clearly, slowly, and in a way that makes people want to listen to him. I reminded him of the concept of social contracts – that we modify our behavior and/or tailor the delivery of our messages so that we can interact with people in meaningful and productive ways, even if (and especially when) we don’t see eye-to-eye with those with whom we’re trying to communicate.

I pointed out to him that his “love me or fuck off and die” attitude doesn’t leave much room for negotiation, and asked him how he feels when presented with choices like that. His answer (obviously) was that he hated people like that, at which point I asked him why he should expect any different as a response when people are faced with those same kinds of options from him.

This kid has a lot to offer. He’s had experiences, as a multicultural student, that many of us in the classroom haven’t had. He has perspectives on issues and questions that the rest of us may never consider. I told him that I truly believe that he matters – he’s got something important to say that we all should hear. We’re not going to listen, though, until he learns how to TALK to us. Ranting and blustering and preaching and blowing attitude isn’t going to cut it. He’s got to learn to get past these walls he builds. He can’t expect us to come all the way to him – he’s got to meet us at least halfway.

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I have NO idea if he heard me or not. I hope he did, but my experience with students like him tells me that he may have nodded and thanked me for my time, but he likely went outside and complained to his friends that I’m just an ignorant, racist white bitch who has it out for him because he’s different. That’s the mode of thinking that’s gotten him this far, and I fear it may be too late for anyone – even someone who actually cares – to change that.

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Filed under concerns, frustrations, Learning, student chutzpah, Teaching, Yikes!