Sunday, March 15, 2009

Seriously. Sunday.

If I ever get to teach a developmental English class where I am allowed significant control over what I teach, I won't require them to answer questions like "What are the different kinds of paragraph development? What are the six sub-categories of expositional paragraph development?" Instead, I'd have them write a lot of personal essays, and maybe do one final project that was kind of persuasive or argumentative.

This week, I graded 93 essays describing "someone" the students "know" (not my instructions). I always find grading this assignment heartbreaking, because the paragraphs typically demonstrate that the people writing them have, like all of us, very deep and profound feelings, but they don't have language to articulate them. Moreover, the curriculum of the class that I'm teaching (which, again, I didn't write and which totally sucks) doesn't give them language to articulate them, or even really talk about the difference between abstract and concrete. The _best_ students describe their wives, husbands, boyfriends, parents, grandparents, children, in the most abstract ways: "To know him, you must get to know him" or "her hair is of fragrances unknown." It pains me to read sentences like this.

I've often ranted about how lacking the language to articulate something abstract means that you don't understand your feelings. I half believe that, but I also know that there are ways of articulating feelings that are not verbal. So, the challenge for many people when they write is to articulate feelings in writing that they don't express in verbal ways. I read my student's paragraphs and think about all the young students I have who marry so early, and then divorce so early, and have children, too. I think about the arguments they have with their lovers and spouses--and how they don't seem to have language to articulate to themselves, let alone to someone else, how they are feeling. It freaks me out!

I remember saying to one of my best students at CSUSM: "Dump your boyfriend and move to LA." I'm sure that was inappropriate of me to say, but I had to--she was so intelligent and smart. However, I know she didn't dump her boyfriend and move to LA. She said she liked "the lifestyle" here. She lived in Temecula. What was it that she liked about living in Temecula? It certainly wasn't the beach. So what did she mean by "the lifestyle?"

When I was young, I got bad advice from my family and friends. My students are young, and they also get bad advice from their family and friends. But the advice they get is worse. Too many of them are married with children before they are 25. If you have no college degree and 2 kids and you are 25, your life is going to be hard. It makes me so angry. I want to slap their parents and friends and the newspapers and their teachers. I remember thinking some version of "why didn't someone tell me X?" all the time when I was 25. Why don't more people tell their students and children and friends "dump your boyfriend and move to (insert city name here) or "you don't have to get married" or "I think it's a great idea to get the fuck out of here" ?

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