Tuesday, October 7, 2008

These are (some of) the Happy Stories

Kate defends her dissertation today. That's happy. That's very happy. Incidentally, for those of you keeping score as to who is smarter/wears the pants/whatever in this relationship, the title of her dissertation is FUNDAMENTAL PROCESSES OF GOLD NANOPARTICLE MATRICES FOR LASER DESORPTION/IONIZATION MASS SPECTROMETRY
. It isn't actually all bold-face and majuscule and whatnot, but a title like this really sort of implies such typography.


I promised happy anecdotes/stories related to teaching to balance out the sad stories from yesterday. Here goes:

At BJHS, one of the activities that led to friction between myself and the program director was the following - I told my class to imagine themselves a few years down the road, sitting in a bar, when one of the patrons loudly says "Those stupid spics can't do shit." How do they react? The first response was to kick the guy's ass. The class was somewhat surprised when I actually wrote that on the board. Further responses were to go talk to him and to prove him wrong. I asked what would happen if we did in fact go beat the guy down. A couple of people noted that the 11 o'clock news would just show another nonwhite person from the South Side getting arrested. OK, next option, talk to him. Much as I'd love to say that's a great idea - we're in an English class after all - we decided that the guy isn't likely to listen. Final option, prove him wrong. But how? The class was very, very quiet for a full minute or two. I finally pressed one girl directly - "Prove to me that you're not stupid." She leaned over and whispered nervously in Spanish to her friend. Very good, I said, you can speak two languages fluently. That's certainly proof. We then went around the room with each person demonstrating some undeniable skill. I don't expect that it was a life-changing moment, but each kid left that day reminded of at least one thing at his or her immediate disposal that would refute bigots.

Other moments, these all involving college students I've taught (and as opposed to the first story, examples that developed organically/without my direct intervention):

The young man whose favorite radio programs were talk shows hosted by Limbaugh and Hannity, and the young lady who, in her words, had "literally hugged a tree." Every day after our Intro to Rhetoric and Composition class, they'd go to the computer lab and spend half an hour to an hour in friendly debate and sharing of information.

The young lady whose final project for Intro to Rhet/Comp was an analysis of drug use in her small hometown. She ended up using information from that project to get an internship with the FBI, which fortuitously led to her participation in fieldwork (actual drug busts, etc), and last I heard from her, she's pursuing a graduate degree before applying to the FBI for a career position.

The 8-9 students from last Spring's Intro to Creative Writing who still hang out with each other to cook and write (and give me crap, as I deserve, from time to time via email).

Being taught some basic ASL by a deaf creative writing student and the class interpreter (this experience became my performance poem "Sign of the Turtle").

The paper casting Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree as the narrative of an abusive relationship. That same summer session (this was an Intro to Lit course), very very smart treatments of Marie de France's Guigemar and comparative linguistic analyses of The Declaration of Independence and A Declaration of the Rights of Woman. OK, I laid the basic groundwork for the papers, but left so much room available regarding the topic that there was still a huge amount of creativity in these choices. It was my first time teaching Intro to Lit, and I felt overjoyed that the "give them enough rope with which to hang themselves" approach would not fail, despite the bad rep undergraduates often have (especially among grad students).

1 comment:

Dan said...

I like today's blog. It shows why you rock and in my opinion, bring out the best in all of your students. It is not the old man/woman at the front of the room preaching on adverbs, it is making people think, and how to act. You break down barriers, walls, anything that keep kids grounded to the stereotypes that drive the mundane real world. For someone new to this "real world", it is nice to see that someone is still trying to touch the stars. Ok, so this was way too...i don't know...pick out the cliche phrases but in short, i really liked the blog for today.