Friday, January 26, 2007

Starting Over

I've just gotten my first written work of the term from my students, and, as usual, I find myself feeling the inevitable frustration, the tightness at the back of my throat, that accompanies the snidely evaluative tone with which they address the authors of course texts, the rampant disregard for the niceties of the apostrophe, the slapdash use of citation, the reliance on cliché. Just one semester, I'd like to not get a paper that talks about how the most important factors in literature are "enjoyment" and "relatability"--which means that the text can somehow be distorted to offer a truism the student has just recently discovered! In her own life! And it is Sooooo True! How did Jane Austen/Toni Morrison/Hunter S. Thompson/Brer Easton Ellis know?

Tomorrow I will shake myself off, sit myself down, and remind myself that they don't mean to be patronizing, irreverent, or obtuse. They are not writing this way simply to annoy me, or their other professors. It is, of course, my duty--and almost inevitably, with my students--my privilege to help them learn to assess, interpret, and critique without resorting to the tone and criteria of their previous teachers: "This author tried to talk about too many points in his reading, and his sentences were long and boring, making them impossible for the reader to relate to." "This poet clearly could not come up with a better word to rhyme with 'Madagascar,' so instead she leaves the reader hanging." "The story had too many characters, and I could not relate to any of them." "Literature is subjective; each person has their own opinion and nothing can change that."

As each semester begins, I remind myself how much they will improve. I relish their insightful contributions to class discussions. I curse whichever previous professor did not actually enforce the paper deadlines or other course policies so that the students see mine as merely gentle suggestions. I regret the decaying cultural fabric of America, and the popular sense that good grammar is at best suspect and at worst traitorous. I lament the death of the mind, the rampant triumph of late capitalism, and the underappreciation of the semicolon.

And so, the real work begins. Again.


At 7:16 PM , Blogger OTRgirl said...

Wow; that sucks. (subjectively speaking)

At 2:06 PM , Blogger Yankee, Transferred said...

Just catching up. As the parent of a college first-year student, I cringe. I hope she's not doing that stuff.


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