I had to do some paper work on campus, and was feeling so bad about my teaching that I stopped colleagues and said, I was feeling bad about my teaching lately and wondered how they were doing—and almost universally people seemed to feel they were pushing rocks up a hill. Sure one class—perhaps was going OK—but the other one or two just sucked. People are really having trouble with our Writing 50, a research paper writing course; many of the students in these classes are already juniors and seniors and have written many research papers and so don’t quite get the point of taking a class on how to write them.
So we have this bureaucratic pipeline mess with a backlog of students taking a course they should have taken as sophomores. But they couldn’t get in it went they first tried. And additionally people reported that they were just having trouble getting students to do anything. Exercises that usually work hang-fire. Jokes that universally kill prove duds….and of course students don’t seem to know how to read.
I talked a mile a minute in one class the other day throwing out examples, talking them through the ideas under consideration, and they were supposed to have brought a page or two of writing, but 50% hadn’t. But I broke them into groups to have them discuss possible topics, and went from group to group. And two people in one group said they had no idea what to write about. So I talked and talked and said to one, look you just mentioned an example that might fit with the idea of social self and the true self. And she said, but that’s just one example, and you said we are to try to write about only one example. Why not two examples, she said, can’t I use two examples, and I said, well, you did that in your last paper, and the point of the second example was the same as the point of the first, so what was the point of the second. The point, the point really is to write an organized paper that lasts from four to five pages and you can do that with one example.
And then as I talked the student said, But it’s hard. It’s hard!
What could I say? I didn’t know what to say. It’s the ninth week of the quarter; I have said everything I had to say. I am at a loss for words. Why, of course, it’s hard. I said that the first day of class: what I will ask you to do in this class is hard. You will develop your own topics; you will organize your own thoughts. I will supply the context for doing so. I understand this is not something you are used to doing; that’s one reason, as you will find, that I am not a hard grader. If you are trying this for the first time—as is more than likely the case—you may mess up a little.
But the student said, It’s hard. It’s hard.
Well, it ain’t supposed to be easy. It ain’t a matter of filling in the damn blanks or repeating what the teacher says. If that is education today: then the whole thing is a stinking sham.
Here’s "Fool for You" again. This time with drums by Austin Beebe, whose day job is working with his father on an abalone farm