All in a Day

  • I finished reading a really good book today. Happy happy.But you need to wait for my end-of-April reviews to hear more.
  • I am finally deep into reworking my Korean superheroes story. So far, it’s just small edits and collating the comments from my crit group — the comments I happen to agree with, anyway — but much of tomorrow and Sunday will be taken up with shoulder/digital-grindstone interfacing. After that, we’ll see.
  • I spent an hour this evening with a tiny class of mine, discussing the first page-and-a-half of the graphic novel V for Vendetta with my students, kind of modeling how they should go about reading this thing. Which is, to try to pay attention to what’s going on across different levels, but without freaking out and worrying about missing something. I basically guaranteed them that they will miss something, and some I’ll point out, and some I’ll leave for them to discover on later rereadings. I’ve decided it’s more useful to watch segments of the movie that are different from the book, but not to watch the whole film all the way through. (Though we may well do that towards the end of semester as fatigue begins to kick in, and when students are busier working on their own adaptation projects. But seeing the film — which is inferior to the book anyway — after reading it makes more sense. Seeing bits as we go along, however, makes sense in terms of discussing adaptation.) And I am hoping that in some small way, the examination of Freedom and Control, of action and passivity, of forms of resistance to rejection-worthy authority, has some impact, however minor. Little defiances, little dissidences… these things are part of the roots of hope, aren’t they?
  • I have realized that Class Size is Everything. I’m teaching two courses in which there’s both a night class (of 5 students) and a daytime class of at least double that size. In termsof both classes, the thing that makes a difference is not the ability gap — it’s the class size. In the small classes, we’ve been doing all kinds of things: intelligent and interesting discussion of American copyright law, public domain, and derivative works of all kinds and how they fit (or don’t fit) into the scheme of things. The relationship between freedom and control in Western culture, and how it relates to copyright and to dystopian political imaginings. Recreating superman using Korean tropes and themes, as a Korean superhero. (Not to worry, their Koreanized versions of Superman are nothing at all like mine.)

    Yes, there are issues with ability and level gaps even in the small groups. But these problems don’t either get lost, or ignored for the benefit of the large group, in the small class. I’m less a manager in the small class, and I can marshal all the resources in the classroom — most especially the other students — to help the lowest-level member of the class. In fact, the benefits of students helping one another are so obvious even the students are catching on and getting it. It’s ironic that the classes that should have been canceled this semester, for being too small, are the ones in which I’m having the most rewarding experience teaching, and in which students are acquiring the most knowledge and aquiring the most English and skill in using it.

  • I had a senior ask me what “copy” means after my quarterly, “Plagiarism will land you in hell drinking Satan’s spicy boiling liquid poo by the gallon-jug, folks!” rant in my writing class. He’s been in an English program for four years and he still
    • cannot speak to me in even the most basic English
    • cannot follow lectures
    • cannot figure out what exercises in class are, and
    • doesn’t have the faintest clue what plagiarism is, or why it’s not cool.

    And sadly, I kind of feel bad for him, because he reminds me of this guy I once knew, Mo, who was a student in the music department I was in. He was a relatively nice, if odd, guy; but he had absolutely NO singing ability, and yetwas allowed into the department as a voice major. He went through years of music training — none of which did him any good — and then he failed on his final recital exam. Because he still couldn’t sing at all, poor guy, and nothing anyone could ever do, short of advanced cybernetics, could ever change that.

    I feel like I’m doing to him what was done to Mo, every time I don’t take him aside and say, “Listen, brother, I think you need a new major.” He’s a senior, he’s a nice — if terribly anxious — guy. He has almost no English in him. I don’t know what he’s doing in classes. But he doesn’t know what “copy” means, poor fella… and doesn’t even know that a dictionary would be a good place to start trying to find out.

    Thank heaven he’s an oddity in the department. Most of my students speak excellent English, or at least are quite good at it.

  • Teaching public speaking rocks. I love it. You get to see real improvement, and you get to see people going, “Aw, screw it, I give up on perfect grammatical structure for now because I have to say something interesting,” and then they say something interesting, and with a lot more coherence and structure than when they are focusing on grammar. In public speaking class, you get to see them rediscovering the purpose of language: to actually communicate something, to say something. It’s fascinating. Oh, and one of my students actually had that oft-reported experience of the form in the darkness pressing you down and you being paralyzed, the hypnagogic thing that led to the Medieval belief in incubi and succubi. She didn’t seem too impressed when I mentioned to her that science has something to say about sleep paralysis and hypnagogic hallucinations.

    (I wasn’t cramming it down her throat, mind, just mentioning that there’s a scientific explanation too. In the classroom, I take the unfair power differential seriously, while outside the classroom, I feel free to dismiss superstition. As a teacher, I’ve no right to tell someone her beliefs are silly or strange, even if I happen to think they are, because it’s not my place, and because it’s a misuse of my position. However, I don’t think mentioning that other explanations than the most superstitious one isn’t out of line.)

  • Exams start late next week. Campus is growing tense already. I’ve told several of my classes I would abolish grading if I could, and that they would learn more if it happened because they’d stop obsessing about grades and start obsessing about learning instead. However, I’ve also noted that I’m required to test them. So test them I shall. But they’ve been warned that the real test is basically their manifest ability to do whatever we’ve been doing all semester, and that what they do in the classroom every time we meet is a more crucial test.
  • I’m reading a little Langston Hughes these days. Just a little. Damn, he was good.

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