Thursday, July 30, 2009

It was an argument by analogy. Analogy!

I'm here again with tales of students. This one isn't so much frustrating as funny. Very funny. So funny that it makes me giggle just thinking of it. Because I am a bad person.

Anyway, the assignment for the final paper in this class is to react to Arthur Levine's and Jeanette S. Cureton's "Collegiate Life: An Obituary." In this essay, they argue that the four-year residential college is dying, due to a number of pressures caused by a shifting population of students and changing goals for college education. In the final section of their essay, they provide a number of possible courses for colleges to take to retain a sense of community. One possible essay I suggested was discussing those solutions and considering their efficacy.

Early in the essay, however, they also included this paragraph:

Think about what you want from your bank. We know what we want: an ATM on every corner. And when we get to the ATM, we want there to be no line. We also would like a parking spot right in front of the ATM, and to have our checks deposited the moment they arrive at the bank, or perhaps the day before! And we want no mistakes in processing-unless they are in our favor. We also know what we do not want from our banks. We do not want them to provide us with softball leagues, religious counseling, or health services. We can arrange all of these things for ourselves and don't wish to pay extra fees for the bank to offer them.

The essay then went on to suggest that students want a similar relationship with the university that we want with our bank. My student read that to mean that students want the same things. I got an essay discussing whether an ATM on every corner would be effective in building community and retaining students from matriculation to graduation (though she didn't use those words). Apparently, frequent ATMs would be a draw for this student, though she thinks that every corner might be excessive.

Am I wicked for laughing? It was just a rough draft . . .

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

And life keeps getting better and better

(If, gentle readers, I am boring you with my tales of student failures, I apologize. Writing about it reminds me that I am building up a store of amusing anecdotes about the failures of today's youth, and keeps me from dismembering them and using their legbones as drumsticks to beat on the drums I made from their heads.)

To continue the saga: This morning, at 9:48, I received a text from the student who texts me (who had, by the way, texted me yesterday to inform me that she wouldn't be in class because she had to ice her leg - when I was young, they gave you ice in bags, and you could take it with you to places like class) asking what she was supposed to do for class today. I sent a weekly schedule around last Friday. I emailed her yesterday afternoon giving her - for the second time - the links to the readings for today. I sent a hard copy of the readings home with her friend from class. When I pointed out that I'd emailed her, she said that she didn't check email. This perhaps explains the rash of texting.

Also, in the opening minutes of class (as I write, they're writing a quick reflection on last night's reading, and she's frantically trying to do it) she mentioned that she had a big philosophy paper due yesterday at 5, and by working all day, she managed to finish it. This sorts oddly with her professed need to stay at the gym to ice herself for 2 hours yesterday morning.

And another student just raised his hand and said he couldn't do the writing because he didn't understand the reading from last night. I admit, it's the Preface to John Henry Cardinal Newman's The Idea of the University, but we did spend about 15 minutes yesterday talking about what they were going to read, with me pointing out important quotations. And the question he's being asked to answer is "what does Newman think is the point of a university education?" and the entire second page is taken up with describing this. He's discussing the foundation of University College Dublin and notes that when the Pope founds a university, "his first and chief and direct object is, not science, art, professional skill, literature, the discovery of knowledge, but some benefit or other, to accrue, by means of literature and science, to his own children . . . so, . . . when the Church founds a University, she is not cherishing talent, genius, or knowledge, for their own sake, but for the sake of her children, with a view to their spiritual welfare and their religious influence and usefulness, with the object of training them to fill their respective posts in life better, and of making them more intelligent, capable, active members of society." This seems straightforward to me, especially in light of our discussion yesterday. And I understand that it is written is somewhat difficult 19th-century prose, but if you don't understand a reading, don't you 1) look up the words you don't know 2) read it again or 3) go to the internet and find a commentary (of which there are several)?

I have to say, though, I love Newman's vision of the university. My last two weeks of class are definitely going to be spent trying to inculcate in my students an understanding of the reasons for a liberal education, and a desire for something beyond the narrow confines of a professional degree. I'm going to make them think they have to be well-educated in multiple branches of knowledge in order to be successful human beings, damn it! (And I'm going to fail, but I think my class next fall is going to be built on discussing what a university is and ought to be. It's a topic that I think college freshmen need to at least think about!)

Monday, July 27, 2009

The continuing saga of the silly students

I got a text message 10 minutes before class started.* It said "Did u cancel class tday like thurs?" (I'm teaching a writing class; weep for me). There had been no suggestion, lets just be clear, that I was going to cancel class today. In fact, I had sent an email on Friday reminding them of their assignment for today. And another one yesterday, in response to the text message "Hey, whts die tmorrow?"**

What lesson have I learned? First, and most importantly, the less my students listen about out of class work, the more I make them write sitting under my eye so I can MAKE them do work. Second, this is the last time I will make my cell number available to anyone who can't spell.***

*Let's just be clear to begin with that I in no way encourage texting from my students. In fact, I actively discourage it, pointing out that it takes me more time to type the response, and I don't have a text plan so they are costing me money.

** This text message was the fifth I have received from this student. After the first I told her not to text me. I soon received another text correcting the spelling to "due."

*** I reserve the right to amend this rule, but it will now always include students. They are not to know how to contact me by phone until they have proved that they can email responsibly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ethics, schmethics

So my students are being as dense as a bucket of sand. Or rather, four buckets of sand. They are refusing to enter into the spirit of learning how to write persuasively. Which is a problem. Usually, I have them write a letter applying for a job that they want, talking about their past experiences. None of these kids have had a job, or want one now. Or, apparently, can imagine a world in which they might want one.

They are resistant to all my exercises trying to get them to persuade. (And this class is without a research component, so it has to be things they already know about). They won't consider audience. They're driving me nuts.

So I have hit on a possibly unethical way of motivating them. Today, I'm going to get all four of them together, and tell them to brainstorm ways to persuade me not to have class on Thursday. I'm going to tell them that they have to think about it from my point of view - the goals of the class, my responsibility to the university, the carefully wrought schedule - and each write me a short letter attempting to persuade me that it is a good idea to cancel class.

If they enter into the spirit of the thing, actually think about what would convince me, then I'll give them the day off (with an assignment to do that will take about an hour).

Is this wicked of me? Should I feel guilty? (Because part of me hopes that they do it well so I don't have to see them on Thursday).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Big Brass Ones

Actually, to be fair, they were bronze. Leo and I went for a picnic supper in Forest Park to honor our mid-July cold snap, and while strolling around Art Hill, we saw a sculpture that I couldn't make into anything other than a pair of testicles and a penis. (And it's not just me - Leo couldn't either).

I love public art! And from the little raised pedestal on which this installation rests, you get a really good view of St. Louis riding off to the crusades with his sword raised high. (See, there's a penis that is also not a penis!)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Did it grow legs?

Seriously, how does a can opener vanish? Have I spent the last 10 years harboring a kitchen appliance with occult tendencies? What else is going to vanish with it? Will the sink take it into its head that it would like to see Asia?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It's just a little bit of murder

I am about one more stupid question from tearing my students limb from limb. They (well, really only two of them, but in a class of four, that's enough) are driving me so far up the wall I'm going to have to get suction-cup shoes and figure out how to eat while being upside-down.

Yesterday, we went to the computer lab to do some easy research for their next paper. They're all officially supposed to start as freshmen in August, but for various reasons are getting a jump on their coursework (for the two I want to murder, being good students is not the reason!). Their assignment was to research a major they were interested in (on the university's webpage - not all that trying) and use that research to write a short, informative essay on the major.

One of my students complained that this assignment was dumb and he couldn't see the point.

Which is funny. Most of the assignments have no intrinsic value - the students aren't learning important information, but rather are learning to write - and I've got no problem with them noticing this. But this one actually has value beyond the practice writing. I mean, they're gathering information about the major they want to sign up for . . . this is a good thing.

He also told me that he couldn't find any information. I showed him how (in 2 easy clicks) to get to the page he needed. Two minutes later he said he was done and asked if he could leave. There were 45 minutes left in class.

Also, if you hear "you might want to do X" from a teacher, you pretty much assume that they mean "if you want a good grade, you might want to do X," right? Not that they're just telling you that you might sometime wish to do that . . . seriously. And if you ask if you need to do something, and the teacher says yes, you wouldn't then say "I'm not going to do that - it's too much work."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kids these days . . .

On Saturday, one of my students telephoned me. She mentioned that she was stuck in my car and she needed me to let her out. I informed her that she certainly was not in my car, and she had phoned her English teacher. She apologized, and hung up.

This morning she informed me that it wasn't her fault. She was drunk.

This leaves me with a multitude of questions.

1) How the hell do you get stuck in a car? Can't you usually unlock doors from the inside?

2) Why was she drunk at 3 on Saturday afternoon?

3) Why did she tell me she was drunk? Do I look that nonjudgmental? Because I most certainly am not. I judge. Frequently and with vigor.