Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Thoughts Upon Starting a New Semester of Teaching

Those who are in college trying to earn a degree in order to better their lives are working hard. They are sacrificing. Some of them might not much like their classes, or at least some of the required classes, like the classes that I am very likely to be teaching. English. Essay writing. The research paper.

It’s hard for them, sometimes, to see how it’s going to matter in the future. I get it. And yet, I also know it is going to matter to them in the future.

This term, when administering a start-of-class diagnostic essay, I asked students to write about their previous experiences with English classes, writing, and/or reading (with thanks to Bob Zacny, who suggested the prompt). The results have been fascinating. Some students have written passionately about how much they HATE English classes and being told what to read and write. In fact, the finest diagnostic essay that was written was written by a young man who passionately and persuasively argued how much he hated English classes and being told what to read and write.

It was beautifully written. Passionate, clear, concise – all you would want in a well written five-paragraph essay. Now I need to figure out how to channel this young man’s passion into the assignments that he’s going to have to write on in this course. I can’t change the curriculum, but perhaps I can help make a connection, or help him make a connection to something that interests him. He’s a very good writer and I want him to learn and succeed.

Earlier this evening I was thinking about composing a blog about the “grotesque disconnect” between the Wall Street bailouts and the lack of jobs for so many in America today, and that is likely a subject I will return to, but, it seemed to me that this subject, this thinking about, “How do we effectively teach our children?” seemed somehow more important.

We need to teach our children. We need to meet them where they are, and we need to understand that they inhabit a world that is FAR different from the world in which many of us, or at least, I, grew up. I did not have the distraction of the Internet or the pleasure of the iPod when I was growing up and first enrolling in college. Nor did I have the beneficial parts of the Internet (research, hello?) when I was first in college. But, students today need to learn how to marshal these resources effectively, and they need to learn how to judge the reliability of what they are finding on the web. There are a lot of bogus websites out there.

At any rate, I’m rambling now, so should stop. I guess the point of this blog is that I think we all can write. It’s about writing about things or issues or ideas that we care about – that’s what matters. That’s what makes our writing worthwhile.

So, write. Express yourself. Even if it’s only for you to read in some distant day.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thoughts On an Early Autumn Night

A lot of my fellow bloggers write wonderful posts that celebrate blessings and things for which to be grateful, and I am very glad they do. I also have much to be grateful for and thankful for, and I often like to write about those things; but I can’t help but point out what craziness I see in our so-called national leaders when I see it.

The Minority Leader of the United States Senate is on record as saying that his most important priority is to make sure that president Obama is a one-term president. There’s simply something – a GREAT deal of something – that’s wrong with that. (And let me be clear, if the American people decide that Mr. Obama should be a one-term president, then they’ll decide that, fine. But for a legislator – a leader, no less – to say that that’s his number one priority is unconscionable. Why? Because he was elected to serve the people, that’s why.)

How about approving emergency aid for counties and states hurt by massive flooding or hurricanes or droughts? (All of which have occurred in the past several months.) How about closing tax loopholes that allow some of the largest and most profitable corporations in our country to pay NO taxes, while they are also creating no jobs? (Nope, can’t do that. Can’t tax the ‘job creators.’ – How can they be called job creators if they are creating no jobs?)

What we are hearing in these early days of the presidential campaign is discouraging to say the least. And it is – much of it – not very connected to reality. Mr. Obama cannot blame the previous occupant (with thanks to Garrison Keillor for the term) all that much on the stump, but the fact remains that the previous occupant started two wars that weren’t paid for and pushed through congress a massive prescription drug bill that wasn’t paid for. Are those nothing? No, those are billions – nay, trillions – of dollars! And, we wonder why we have such a debt problem now? Never before in the history of this country has our citizenry been asked to go to war without making a concomitant sacrifice. Never before.

But in the 2000’s, we were told to “go out and shop.” There’s leadership for you. We should go shop?

How about the people fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan? How about those soldiers who lack the body armor and other equipment they need? (Or, needed?) How does our shopping help them?

I, a self-proclaimed fiscally conservative social liberal, think it’s time we bring back the draft. If we had the draft, I doubt we’d still be in Afghanistan or Iraq. We – this country – are sending our poorest people to fight for… for, what? For ready access to oil? I get why we had to go to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, but isn’t it interesting that now that Obama has overseen the killing of Osama bin Laden and some 15-20 other Al Queda leaders, the Right still doesn’t give him any credit for that? Hell, we haven’t seen so fierce a warrior as commander-in-chief since Harry Truman, who, in case you’ve forgotten, dropped 2 nuclear bombs. (Not a bad reminder that we remain the only country to have ever deployed nuclear weapons.)

I wonder how we can stop this madness. I wonder how we can reset our course. I wonder why Warren Buffet’s staff pays more, as a percentage of their income, in income taxes than he does. (He wonders the same thing, by the way.) This is nuts.

It’s time for more change. More change. More change.