One thing I neglect in composition courses, or at least have for the last couple of years, is class discussion, especially of controversies and current events. Yes, even current events. Two reasons, lame as they may be: 1) out of a class of 25-30 students, about 5 will be sufficiently informed to contribute anything to a discussion; and 2) I do not want to know any more about my students' 'thought processes' than their essays and assignments already offer. Clearly falling down in my duty as Warrior of Critical Thinking but it is self-protective--far too often, I have ended class discussions shaking with anger, dismay and fear for not only the distant but immediate future b/c of what was said, what was not said, what was known and what was firmly believed despite all evidence, contradiction, common knowledge, etc. Last week, I made the necessary mistake of having my comp students search the textbook for issues of interest to them. I got the usual 10% wanting to 'write on abortion' (including a student who submitted the same abortion 'idea' that I rejected last session), a few listing the death penalty, at least one advocating stiffer punishment for juvenile offenders, a few on racial profiling in post-9/11 America, and one young woman who explained she'd like to write 'about evolution,' something she admits she 'knows little about' but is interested in researching to see why on earth it is taught in schools. (Not hers, obviously.) My advice: choose another topic. I imagine an argument like one proposed a few semesters ago by a young woman (the University is overwhelmingly female) who wanted to change her topic, 3 weeks before the portfolio was due, 4 weeks into the research period, to the 'fact' that most Americans want NO separation between church and state. As incredulous as I was, she was more so when I told her that no poll done in recent memory shows those results and that most people, religious or not, benefit from the separation of church and state and that she would find little support for that that was trustworthy or that was not right-wing, semi-fascistic propaganda (I didn't pull 'semi-fascistic' on her) and she would end up failing the paper. She wanted to argue that Americans want a theocracy like Iran or Saudi Arabia. Did she think she belonged in a burka? Or should be denied a university education? Or permission to drive? Marry whom she pleases? Not have her genitals carved to represent some fucked up ideal? She dropped a week later.
My students want to proselytize or Jerry Springer-ize in class. And I do not have the strength, the patience or the instant recall of facts (Robert Olen Butler
says a good fiction writer has a terrible memory and I fit that 209%) to deal calmly or educationally with such moronicity. I need to learn. At least until I have a plausible Plan B to make the same salary I get teaching elsewhere. No mean feat. There is still no middle class to speak of here.
Summer creeps toward me. I think my body has suddenly realized that, unlike the past few years, nothing is winding down now for the long-needed, long-ago-earned and 2-months-too-late summer break. I can't concentrate, I can't make lesson plans, I panic at the thought of Sunday b/c Tuesday is on the way and I fear this week will end like the last 4, with me immobilized by back muscle spasms, tension building all week until it explodes in my back and shoulders. And nothing helps teaching like not being able to sit up or move your arms.