That writing class with ethics was in the fall quarter. I hate it when the clock changes and it gets dark earlier. Maybe in addition to my normal depression I have seasonal affective disorder as well. The writing class was late afternoon, early evening, and while we were sitting there the day would close down, light would go away and dark would come on.
I remember sitting there in that ugly room with the students all spread out against the wall. Some in front of me, and some sitting purposefully to the sides to stay as far out of my range of sight as possible. One of the Latino guys was big and brusque; he talked a better line than he could write. One of the Caucasian guys was clearly a serious stoner, and I heard the next quarter that he was in danger of being kicked out of the dorms because he kept bringing kegs into his room. Another of the Caucasian guys was incredibly neat and appeared to be perhaps a minister in training. He wore his ink black hair in a version of what used to be called a flattop.
One of the Asian guys loved to play basketball and the other one had glasses and pimples. The Asian women all seemed to have names I couldn’t pronounce correctly. They were all small and thin and polite and refused to say anything. English was the second language of half of the students in that room.
They were going to complicated lectures on ethical issues and they had been assigned portions of Mill and Kant to read. This was horrible. I sat right in the middle of the room and asked, well, what was discussed in lecture today. I made them take out their notes. Reviewing your notes is a way to memorize the material I said. I mentioned the student who thanked me after taking a midterm because if I had not made them go over the material he said he would have gone into that midterm completely unprepared for what awaited him.
We sat there and I just made them go over it and over it. But I couldn’t keep up with all the lectures. We couldn’t do that every class. To spice things up a bit, I on my side assigned for their first paper a bit of Machiavelli from the Prince. I guess this wasn’t technically “ethics,” but ethical issues were involved and I thought too that they might be able to argue with or against Machiavelli and that in turn would give their papers a bit of organization.
This is academic writing, I told them. People might argue, but I think academic writing might be defined as writing about the writing of others or writing as a form of reading. They said they had read Mac, but when I asked questions I got nothing. If you had to argue it, what’s Mac’s central assumption? Central assumption about what it means to be a Prince? Central assumption about the human race?
I broke them into groups of three and gave each group a bit of Mac to read, and when they had read and discussed, they would tell the rest of the group what their part had been about and what was the most important sentence or two in it. I sat there stretched out in my seat with my hands jammed into my pockets. I didn’t want to visit the groups because I was afraid to hear what they might be saying about what they had read.