You’re Not Going to BELIEVE This…

Did I call it, or WHAT?

Last week, I left my speech students with an assignment to watch a speech on YouTube and respond to it. Since I have a bit of crossover in the classes, I asked them to watch different speeches – my early class got Bono’s acceptance of the Chairman’s Award from the NAACP and my later class got a commencement speech delivered by Bill Clinton.

My goals for the assignment were manifold; I want to get a feel for their writing voices, I want to see how well they listen, and I want to try to learn a bit more about who they are and what’s important to them by what they choose to highlight about the speech they were assigned. It would be great if some of them can use the chapters (they were supposed to have studied) in the text to analyze the construction of these speeches, but I’m not expecting anyone to get quite that far.

Remember my Ebonics kid? I woke up this morning to find this in my inbox from him regarding the assignment (and, as usual, please note that no corrections have been made by me):

dear mrs. Schilli

sorry to say but i cannot CANNOT listen to Bono’s NAACP speach. To me its a perosnal thing but i do not have a likeing for bono, for me to hear some one like him who put him self out there to get his good name out when he clearly knows nothintg aobut anything and say hes a god guy and he’s getting involve with politic and other worldly events. I can give two crap about him because last semester i had to do a topic about him at UNH and i was to do a speech about him, many minorities including my slelf and my dad do not see that his action are clear. I undertsand that hes atrying to get the word out but hesd doesn’t know jack crap baout what the hell is going on in the world today you just run his mouth and put his two sense in and throw money out like hes a nice guy . i know his intention is good but you’re a gawd damd musician do what you’re best at and shut the hell up …

sorry for this, excuse me for my outrageous rant i just don’t beleive a guy like him deserve anything that is prestiges please give me a another topic and ill be more than oblige to do so for me i have HIGH respect for the NAACP and oi take that campaing seriously because they help many minorities such as my self and other during my high schol year about slef awareness and our future as a whole .So please undertsand what i’m trying to saya nd give me a nother assignment so i can replace this one . thank you

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I’ve not responded to the kid yet because I’m still in a state of shock and can’t quite muster the professionalism that will be required for me to tell him that I don’t give a damn that Bono upsets his oh-so-cultured sensibilities. There are going to be a lot of things we’ll read this semester that a lot of people aren’t going to like – one of the prominent pieces of speechwriting we read is from an admitted Nazi; a repentant one, but a Nazi nonetheless – and that part of being an educated citizen is being able to be open minded enough to listen to messages that may be coming from distasteful sources.

I’ll compose something sufficiently stern, yet professional, in the shower after breakfast.

I KNEW this kid was going to be a problem. I was fully willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I was hoping against hope that my first impressions of him were wrong, but CLEARLY they weren’t.

I still can’t believe it…

**Edited to include the response I’ve crafted for the kid. I’m running it past my boss before I send it to E-boy, but I think it adequately hits the mark for which I was aiming:

E-Boy:

While I appreciate that you have strong feelings about Bono, I am not willing to alter the assignment to suit your wishes.

It is highly likely that there will be instances in life where you will have to deal with people you find distasteful. In fact, it is likely that there will be material that we will investigate in class that will rub a lot of people the wrong way – one of the primary texts I use in many of the classes I teach is an essay by an admitted and convicted Nazi. The point of the assignments I give is NOT to promote or endorse the ideas from the speeches or essays – or the people who speak or write them – but rather to expose my students to a wide range of ideas, styles, and issues, and to generate thoughtful analysis of them.

George Bernard Shaw wrote that an education is “a succession of eye openers, each involving the repudiation of some previously held belief.” Being an educated citizen means, among other things, being able to listen to a range of voices and ideas, and being able to give them thoughtful, reasonable consideration – whether or not one likes where they come from. Your discounting of Bono, while perhaps appropriate to what you’ve thus far been taught, is inappropriate for this class. I do not expect you to like the man; I do expect you to listen to and consider the message, however, and to participate meaningfully in the discussions his work generates in our class.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Chili

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26 Comments

Filed under concerns, Learning, Teaching, Yikes!

26 responses to “You’re Not Going to BELIEVE This…

  1. First, let me say how much I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. I discovered it a week or two ago and I look forward to your updates. I’m considering teaching as a second career and your entries give me some insight into the world of academia.

    Second, I love your no-nonsense approach to your students. There’s an expression I’ve used in my professional life, which some people find a bit harsh, but I think you share the sentiment. When someone in a subordinate position (not necessarily a direct report) whines about performing a task, I like to remind people: “The monkeys don’t run the zoo.”

  2. Michael! WELCOME! I love adding new voices to this space, and I’m looking forward to your insights as a professional considering teaching. Each sector has a lot to learn from the other, I think, and we should start seeing each other as resources.

    I am nothing less than astounded at this kid’s chutzpah. From the very first class, he’s set himself up to discount his rotten behavior by saying things like “I don’t mean to be rude, BUT” – I see a lot of people do that: disclaim terrible attitudes or behaviors and then do the “that’s just who I am, like it or not.”

    I find this unacceptable, PARTICULARLY in an educational setting. I would never, EVER have challenged a teacher the way I’ve been challenged by this student (or others before him) and I’m wondering just where in hell they got the idea that this is an okay thing to do. I know for sure that my own children will never behave this way – it’s perfectly okay to disagree with a teacher, and it’s perfectly okay to not appreciate an assignment or some bit of material, but the way to get one’s point across is not with a ‘shut the hell up’ rant, but rather with solid, intelligent discourse.

    GAH!

  3. The first sentence of your response is absolutely perfect. “Students’ wishes” – arrrrrrgh!!!!

  4. Let’s see if I can apply his thinking to my life: I get it now! Since I don’t like grading papers, I shouldn’t have to do it, right? And since I don’t like talking to parents about problem students, I shouldn’t have to do that either… Same thing with paying my bills! I’m starting to like the world this kid thinks he’s living in.

    Your response was right on the money.

  5. And I don’t like red lights and pedestrians! Just kidding.

    Mrs. Chili, I learn some pretty good lessons from you. I like how he spelled your name, too.

  6. nhfalcon

    My first instinct is to agree with you, Mrs. C., yet I feel compelled for some reason to throw a word of caution out there for you – this kid definitely strikes me as one who’ll play the race card for everything it’s worth. If he feels he can get his way and / or make life miserable for you by claiming you’re a racist, I’m betting he’ll do it.

    Unfortunately, in this day and age, being called a racist is roughly eqivalent to being accused of sexual harassment – it doesn’t matter if you really are or not; the accusation is enough to sully your name. Going through your boss for approval before you send the response was a VERY smart choice.

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m absolutely on your side. I’m just cautioning you to tread lightly here.

    Another thought that just occurred to me is that it might be deemed unreasonable on your part – rightly or wrongly – to not offer the kid another assignment. During my internship I learned to come up with alternate assignments if a big enough stink was made by a student and / or his / her parents about an original assignment. As long as the student learns what I want him / her to learn, the argument goes, I shouldn’t have to force him / her to do something he / she doesn’t want to. Other students didn’t have to read Bono’s speech, why does E-boy?

    Again, I’m on your side. I’m just trying to brace you for possible counterarguments.

    Oh, and Michael? I love the “monkeys don’t run the zoo” bit.

    The US Navy SEALs have another way of putting it – “You don’t have to like it, you just have to DO it!”

  7. Falcon, I’m absolutely sure, without the even slightest HINT of a doubt, that this kid would play the race/poverty/language card any chance he got. I’m TOTALLY covering my pretty white ass on this just because I KNOW how badly it can go down from this point on. I very much appreciate your chiming in about this, too; I’m feeling your concern for me.

    To address one of your points, no, other kids didn’t have to watch the Bono speech…yet. They WILL, though – it’s part of my curriculum. I didn’t give the two classes the same speech at the same time last week because one of my students in one class is the roommate of one of my students in the other class, and I want to try to give them different pieces so they have to NOT collaborate on their homework once in a while.

    While I understand that I COULD give this kid another speech to watch, I’m still not inclined to do it. First, I think, especially this early in the semester, it sets a REALLY bad precedent for me: if E-Boy knows that he can manipulate the course to his liking, I’m positively doomed – he’ll never approve of anything, much like Tense pointed out. Second, I stand by my point that being educated means that you know how to process things like this. Not everything we encounter comes from sources we like. That doesn’t make the points any less valid, nor does it discount the experience of getting around the distasteful bits to find the value in the messages. Third, I’m with you and Michael; I’M the one with the degree. I’M the one with the experience and the expertise and I’M the one the college trusts to run the class. E-Boy DOESN’T have to like it – I’m not ASKING him to like it, and I’ll tell him that as soon as my boss approves the note. I DO expect him to suck it up, though, and to make the best of the situation. It may be the best lesson he learns from my class.

  8. Leah

    I think you handled this exactly the right way. If he wants to play the race card, then throw it back in his face: why should he get special treatment for being black? Doesn’t that essentially make him the racist rather than you?

    What I would actually do in this case is let him know that you appreciate that this assignment created such an impassioned response from him, and to honor his feelings, you are now giving him an assignment to write a speech on exactly what is wrong with Bono in partnership with the NAACP. It’s obvious that this kid has no idea why he has a problem with Bono, he just does. Tell him to put his money where his mouth is, and you want to know why he feels the way he does, researched and footnoted. Time for a lesson in formulating one’s beliefs out of actual education rather than blind “because my dad says so” opinion.

  9. nhfalcon

    Nice call, Leah! I like the way you think! πŸ™‚

  10. jamie

    I simply don’t understand WHY this kid thinks he can change his assignment? I have children in various stages of school, and we have many discussions of assignment that aren’t “liked”. But THEY ARE DONE.

    When you are in school, that’s what you DO.

    I agree with the other posters, Mrs. Chili, be careful of this boy. He’s dangerous.

  11. sphyrnatude

    This one is easy: “I’m sorry if you don’t like the assignment, but this is a class, and the assignment is for the class. I will not modify class assignments to cater to students personal preferences. If the assignment bothers you that much, skip it and accept the “F”. Life will involve many tough personal choices, and this may be one of them. If you wish to be able to choose the details of what material is covered in your education, you may wish to consider private tutors.”

    Oh yeah, and I’d make sure that you keep a major paper trail, warn your dean (or whatever passes for a supervisor there), and make sure they know what you’re doing. If you let a student play the race (or whatever PC angle they choose) card even once, you are no longer in charge of the classroom. Part of my opening lecture often includes the “this is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship” idea. It may be worth pointing out that if a student truly has issues with an assignemnt, they CAN always just skip it. Of course, they will get a “0” if they do….

  12. Just to update you all – Joe approved my response to the student and I sent it out a few minutes ago. I know he’s on campus, because I drove past him on his way back to the main building as I was leaving the school about ten minutes ago. I’ll update you as events unfold.

    I agree the kid is dangerous, which is why I’m making sure that EVERYONE who as ANY power over me is PAINFULLY aware of what’s going on – and why I ran my response past Joe BEFORE I sent it out. A brief conversation with a colleague at the photocopier this morning revealed that she thinks the kid’s a pain in the ass, too, and that it’s going to take a lot of work to teach that arrogant, ignorant streak out of him. She’s not sure that I’ll be the one to do it – neither, frankly, am I – but she’s sure that the tack I’m taking is the right one.

  13. First off you must change your name to Mrs. Schili immediately. I will only respond to correspondence from the new spelling. Totally wish I’d thought of it. AWESOME.

    Actually, the kid did the assignment. He just did it really badly. He’s supposed to respond to the speech and he had a really strong response to the first image – the speaker walking out on stage. A response so strong it seems to have prevented him from watching the speech and gaining examples to back up his point. You could offer to grade that e-mail as his response. Oh crap, you’re in that pass/fail part of the semester, it’d be much better to grade that when the red pen has come out.

    I would be almost inclined to write him a much shorter response, “Dear Unschili, I understand that you have a problem with your current assignment. As a consequence of your creative spelling, poor grammar, and lack of proofreading I am completely unable to understand what that problem is. Perhaps if you revise your e-mail we can come to some common ground and begin to discuss the topic at hand. Love, Mrs. Schili”

  14. I’m not surprised. We have too many students who feel that we need to accommodate them, even at the expense of their learning. Your assignment is not unreasonable, however, his reason’s for not wanting to complete it are very unreasonable. I would be interested to hear how it all works out.

  15. Repudiation??? giggle…you aren’t really expecting him to understand your reply are you?? I think you were correct in one of your posts….you need to start grading emails…in fact….I have that idea on the back burner before I submit my fall syllabi. I think Kizz had a great idea with her reply email..however, that could get us fired now couldn’t it??? I am just so getting a kick out of reading all about your experiences…it is like deja vu for me…I try and explain these daily ‘quirks’ of the job to my husband but he just doesn’t ‘get it’. thanks for the giggles today..although I understand it is not quite so funny for you..but you are being quite brilliant about it πŸ˜‰

  16. Danielle, I knew that he WOULDN’T understand the reply; I pulled out my best teacher attitude for this one. I figure, if I had to struggle to understand HIS email, it was only fair that he has to scratch his head over mine…

  17. Denever

    Yo, Schilidawg, if GBS don’t work, hit him with some Robert Frost:

    “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”

  18. I think you’d better shorten your sentences and use shorter words or E-boy isn’t going to understand a thing you say in your eloquent response to his rant. πŸ™‚

  19. Organic Mama

    Mrs. Schili;

    Oooh, I loved that. This boy obviously needs to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into real educational experiences. How wonderful for him that you will not only take zero crap from his ebonicsness, but you will give him eloquent growth opportunities that require him to actively adapt or fail spectacularly.

  20. Wow. I almost fell out of my chair while reading his email. Reading my be the wrong word, let’s go with deciphering. I’m totally speechless. It’s just unacceptable for him to send out that poorly worded email. I can’t even comment on changing the assignment because I can’t get past his wording.

  21. Oops, reading MAY be the wrong word

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