I gave this talk in the spring of 2013 at TEDxGreenville.
To tell this story, I have to go back to before. Before I gave my TEDx Talk, before I made GET BETTER, before I had done more than skim Oliver Sacks, before I wrote the first word on this blog, before I dropped out of grad. school. I have to go back to the spring of 2011 when I was still a bright, hopeful PhD candidate just beginning to toy with the idea of pursuing the emerging field of Narrative Medicine as my specialty.
That spring I went to a Narrative Medicine conference to test the waters. I went looking for answers. I went looking for like-mindedness and inspiration. I went looking for the same thing that all broken-hearted people look for. Other broken-hearted people. Community.
There were six panelists who ranged from the self-appointed "devil's advocate" and infectious disease specialist who argued that Medical Humanities is nothing but a PR and PC stunt and that "competence is compassion, but compassion without competence is fraud" to a medical humanist and linguist who asked the question: "In what world would the details of a patient's life...a life story...not matter to competent care?"
It was riveting. The debate was heady and alive. Rich with possibility. I sat on the edge of my seat chewing my pen and taking detailed notes in an orange notebook that I still have, though it's now held together with binder clips.
About halfway through the panelists' talks though, I began to notice that everyone, the experts and conference-goers alike, was discussing only two potential roles for narrative in medicine: narrative as a diagnostic tool, and narrative as a therapeutic tool. Something to help doctors diagnose and cure their patients...something to help patients come to terms with their illnesses.
This trend continued in the Q & A session as well. How can we use narrative to help with diagnosis? How can we use narrative as a way to make patients feel in control of their lives again? Both interesting. Both valid.
Because of my background as the daughter of a Chronic Lyme victim and as an English student, however, I really wanted to talk about a third use for narrative in medicine. I wanted to discuss how story works, the role it plays in culture. In other words, I wanted to talk about systemic cultural change and empathy. Desperately.
I hate speaking in front of groups, so I sat there. Edge of my seat, chewing my pen furiously, hoping that someone else would ask my question. Anyone? Anyone? The line at the microphone dwindled and still the same beat drummed on. Diagnosis. Therapy. Diagnosis. Therapy. It was nearly unbearable.
I'll ask my question in private, I thought. The meet and greet is the place for this kind of question anyway. There were just two people left at the microphone, then one, then none.
"Anybody else have a burning question?" a panelist asked.
And before my brain could stop them my feet ran up to the microphone, tripping on themselves on the way. The audience giggled, so I smiled and dropped a small curtsey.
"I guess I do," I said. "We've spent the last few hours discussing narrative as a diagnostic tool and narrative as a therapeutic tool, but I want to talk about narrative as an imaginative, creative, cultural force."
The panelists looked confused. And like they were about to start talking. So I pushed through and sped up.
"What I mean by that is...well, let me back up. My dad had Chronic, Neurological Lyme Disease and I'm an English PhD. student who almost went to med. school so I can't help thinking of story and medicine in similar terms...and I guess I've noticed...I've noticed that there's this medical canon just like there's a literary canon and some diseases count and some diseases don't count and it's been this way throughout history. And, at least right now, Lyme Disease isn't in the canon. So I'm wondering how and if individual stories of suffering can change that. I'm wondering how I can make my dad's suffering and my family's suffering count...because he was really sick and then he died and we never got any help. No one in the medical community helped us."
The room was silent and it felt like forever and then the devil's advocate cleared his throat and spoke. Which was too bad because I really needed an Emily's advocate just then.
"What an excellent question," he said. "Now, to be fair to the doctors, Lyme Disease is a highly-controversial diagnosis. Your dad may not have even had it, actually. But the question is a brilliant one and you're absolutely right. I distinctly remember, when I was in Kindergarten, my teacher didn't come back after the Christmas holiday, and all the grown-ups were whispering about her. It was...not spoken of. Cancer was a shameful thing that no one named. When we asked what happened to our teacher the grown-ups told us that 'something had eaten her up from the inside.' I mean, can you imagine?"
He looked at me for encouragement, so I nodded my head encouragingly.
"Can you even imagine how terrifying that was for us as children? So I completely understand the social stigma that can come with disease...and the need for...for social stories to combat that stigma. But Lyme...I mean. Chronic Lyme doesn't exist. I am sorry about your dad, though. Did that...did that answer your question?"
I was shaking and dumbfounded (don't you fucking cry in front of these professionals, you idiot) and stood there too quiet for a moment.
If I had been brave, I would have said no. He didn't answer my question.
If I had been brave, I would have told him that he dismissed it.
If I had been brave, I would have told the devil's advocate that I asked him about a problem I noticed with Lyme Disease in the present and he told me a story about Cancer in the 1950's.
If I had been brave, I would have told him that it's always easier to talk about how blind we used to be, and then pat ourselves on the back for our progress, than to take a good hard look at how blind we are.
And, if I had been really brave, I would have told him that I wasn't at a Narrative Medicine conference, that I hadn't started this search for meaning, because I was overly concerned about being fair to the doctors.
But I wasn't brave. Or I had used up all that I had at the moment so I nodded again and said: "Yes. Yes...thank you." And went back to my seat.
In the English language, we have a verb tense known as the Conditional, which consists of the helping verb "would" plus a "to be" verb.
Sometimes a conditional is paired with an "If" statement. English Literature is full of it. Especially poetry. And O'Connor.
Grammarians call this kind of construction Conditional III — pairing a an unreal past (the past perfect) in the "If" clause with the perfect conditional in the "Would" clause.
But that's a boring explanation. The poets call it the tense of regret. It is poetic. And painful.
Some languages don't have the conditional tense. No language for regret. And so I sat in my chair at that conference thinking about what that might be like. How would I live if I had no language for regret? Because people who have been in the Lyme Wars build entire lives in the conditional. And I've spent a lot of my own life wondering what would have happened.
If I had been brave.
19 March 2012
Hmmm. A student just referred to a work as a "mellow drama." That's right. It's real chill. But, I think I sort of love this error and don't want to correct it...
19 April 2012
Should I be depressed by the staggering number of students who — when asked to write an Old English style lament about something they've lost — choose to write about their cell phones? Trying. To. Care.
22 April 2012
"Gawain told Arthur that if the king accepts the challenge and it turns out dodgy then the death of the king will mean the end of Camelot. Gawain agrees to accept the challenge because if the king gets juiced it all goes down the chute."
Sometimes, I love my job.
27 April 2012
When a paper starts out:
"Now, I don't have any statistics on this, or any data, but based on the people I know personally, I estimate that 70% of the population uses marijuana regularly."
Well...you just know you're in for a treat.
22 June 2012
Note to students: If you are going to insist upon trying the old cut & paste, despite multiple warnings that I can spot internet essays a mile away, at least give yourselves a fighting chance. Try to remember to take out the ads, hyperlinks, and text boxes. It's more sporting.
5 July 2012
To the student who wrote an entire paper on W.B. Yeast. Thank you. Really...thank you. I got a rise out of that.
18 July 2012
I know this is a nit-picky pet peeve. But why must students write: "What the poem is trying to say..." in their responses to Yeats, and Rilke, and Donne, and etc? The poem isn't trying to say anything. And the poet...well the poet said it just fine.
19 July 2012
Just read a student essay about her dream to open a bakery-therapist office when she gets her psychology license. The therapists and clients would bake and decorate desserts together while they talked. I have to say — I would go. I would so go.
3 August 2012
Student wrote an intriguing paper all about overcoming a major "obstickle" in her life. Honestly, I prefer her spelling. It's much more evocative.
10 September 2012
Test Question: "How do you know that 'My Last Duchess' is a dramatic monologue?"
Student Answer: "The book says that in a dramatic monologue, the main character shows his thoughts without realizing it which is defiantly (sic) happening here. Basically, what I gather is that the Duke is talking in his sleep or maybe he's unconscious or in a coma or something. So he keeps muttering about his first duchess all the while his new duchess is sleeping right next to him and isn't very happy about it. I don't know if the situation is so dramatic yet...but it's going to be as soon as he wakes up."
17 October 2012
Awwww. Just read a student paper about why we shouldn't take the people we love "for garnet." Friends and family. You are all rubies to me.
18 October 2012
Early morning email from a student:
Allow me to fully introduce your humble student. I am the only child in the family and my Dad works in the school district and my mom works in the casino. We live here in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was born, raised and partly educated here.
And sh** got epic from there.
22 October 2012
When a student refers to an author's "oeuvre" and ends the essay with: "Bravo, Dickens. Bravo." I really don't even need to check it against Google. But I do.
22 October 2012
Likewise, when a student begins an essay on Hard Times with: "Mr Gradgrind is a great teacher. He doesn't play when it comes to his students..." I also feel no need to check Google. Though for opposite reasons.
23 October 2012
First essay I graded this morning was from a kid named Ezra. And the second was from a Nehemiah. True story.
30 October 2012
Perhaps my favorite essay opening yet!
I am doing an essay on Walden by Henry David Thoreau. This story is about Thoreau ending his life in the hectic world of business, cars, the internet, and everything else that could distract him, to a small cabin in the woods near Walden Pond.
1 November 2012
After essay upon essay about what a selfless, good-hearted hero Beowulf is, an essay that starts like this is refreshing. Life lesson. All heroes are a little complicated:
The character who came alive the most for me was Beowulf. In some ways I can relate to him. On the level that he did almost everything for fame and glory. It was almost as if he was the new kid at school so he tried to do everything he could to be the most popular person there. He wanted to be that peer that everyone knew and talked about at lunch. After he gained his fame he kind of just burned out so to speak. He had gained all of the renown that he needed so he just assumed his role as a leader and relaxed. The main way that I can relate to this character and why he stuck out to me so much is because I've been in situations where I just wanted to do something for the fame. I wanted to be that popular guy just like Beowulf wanted to be a legend and a king, and I didn't care if it got me in trouble or wasn't the smartest thing to do.
15 November 2012
Assignment: Write an essay exploring a cause-and-effect relationship.
First two sentences of student's response: "I've actually had a lot of cause-and-effect relationships at this point in my life, but one comes immediately to mind. Her name was [redacted] and she caused me to fall in love with her, which had lots of effects on me."
19 November 2012
Just read a paper about "King Author" and his knights of the Round Table.
25 November 2012
Just encountered the worst instance of plagiarism yet. A student actually turned in THE PREFACE to the play as his literary analysis. Like...I haven't read it or something, cause everyone skips those...
29 December 2012
Adventures in grading, Episode #117. Girl saves essay as "Essay123.doc" Know it's plagiarized before I even open it. Boy says the Native American myths are interesting, but "from his perspective" Adam and Eve "was the first people on earth" and they "discovered America." Face. Meet Palm.
17 January 2013
A surprising number of my students write reflective essays about the joys of dirt bike racing and persuasive essays about how pit bulls are a misunderstood breed. Trying to relate. Really, really trying...
18 January 2013
Sometimes, I'm less upset by the fact a student has plagiarized than I am by the quality of the source material. This morning, I graded an essay that was taken directly from an online source titled: "Hard Times! BOO!"
So this student can neither write nor recognize a good essay. Hmmm.
29 January 2013
File under WTH.
Email from a student's sister yesterday:
Hi Ms. White,
I am Josh's sister and I handle all of his schooling issues. He has been trying to submit his persuasive essay to the Portal and it won't go through. Are we allowed to email the paper for you to manually enter the grade?
6 March 2013
Student reflective paper this morning about how she and her husband wrote their own "vowels" and how meaningful their "vowels" were and how she almost cried when she stood in front of the altar feeling like a princess and holding both her husband's hands as he looked deep into her eyes and said his "vowels" to her.
Oh. Oh, oh. That mental image made my whole day.
ME: "Chris. Listen. I have something important to tell you. I love you so much...so really listen to this and believe me when I say: A. E. I. O. U."
Chris: "I totally feel the same way. And sometimes Y."
13 March 2013
And this gem from the chat room (students writing to each other while I wasn't present):
Student A: Don't even try to submit essays from the internet. She'll totally catch you every damn time.
Student B: She didn't catch catch my second assignment.
Well...I have now.
13 March 2013
Just received a paper submission from a student that was only one line:
"I was told I did not have to do this paper."
My response: "By whom? +0/100"
16 March 2013
Huh. Strangest plagiarism case yet. A girl turned in this essay as her reflective, "getting to know you" essay. Why would you plagiarize an easy, reflective essay about yourself? I'm reading it thinking...I know you aren't a feminist writing tutor and undergraduate teacher. Cause you're in high school.
20 March 2013
Note to students. If you feel the need to write: "I don't mean to be rude or pushy" at the end of an email...you probably are being rude or pushy.
27 March 2013
Just read a mess of a persuasive essay about safe sex. But I did up the student's grade by one point for her use of "No Glove, No Love" in her closing paragraph.
27 March 2013
So many of my students write about "balling" their eyes out. I'm not sure how one would do that, but it sounds painful.
28 March 2013
I have a dear, sweet student, Shatavius, who abbreviates his name on his submissions. So I get things like Shat_ReflectiveEssay, Shat_PersuasiveEssay, Shat_Midterm. He must have been pretty busy last night because I woke up to an inbox full of Shat.
11 April 2013
Opening paragraph of a reflective essay on loss that I graded this morning:
It may seem preternatural, but it is possible for a man to swim where he walks. In Indonesia, at a particular time each year, an man who wakes in the morning will have the shoreline at his doorstep. However, if this same man were to wake up a few hours later the shoreline would be a football field away. This phenomenon allows inhabitants to walk out a few hundred feet to gather sea life that is otherwise inaccessible.
Every evening I watch as an Indonesian man walks out through a waterless ocean to collect crabs, sea urchins, and shells.
(Yes...American kid who wrote about that time you lost your cell phone. You just got owned.)
12 April 2013
Note to Students. If you're going to turn in a completely plagiarized essay...you may want to skip the little note at the beginning that says: "Hope you enjoy!"
I did not enjoy reading Cliffs Notes in college, and I certainly don't enjoy it now.
15 April 2013
Student essay titled: Why It's Important To Exorcise Daily. That is all.
18 April 2013
Persuasive essay about the need to put an end to flash mobs. The student doesn't know what this world is coming to.
30 April 2013
Opening to a student analytical essay:
"After reading the stories in our textbook, I have decided that an avid reader such as my self cannot be contained by one piece of literature. Nicholas Sparks is my favorite author..."
Oh yes. By all means...don't let yourself be contained by one piece of literature in a literary analysis. Certainly not a classic like The Crucible or any of the works by London, Poe, Hawthorne, or Melville that we've read. Write about the Sparks canon instead.
7 May 2013
I'm shocked at the number of students who say that their moms are "angles" in their reflective essays. But maybe I'm being obtuse.
8 May 2013
From an essay on Hard Times:
In the beginning of this story, I would have thought that Gradgrind was either an high school or teacher/professor. As I continued reading I realized he was a coach for like a softball team.
The main character was a little girl named Cecilia but she went by the nickname of Sissy. Gradgrind did not agree with that nickname so he called her number 20 (which I assume the number 20 was on her uniform).
16 May 2013
In a coffee shop near USC listening to a German exchange student explain the finer points of American culture to a Korean exchange student:
German Student: Sometimes your coffee will come in a styrofoam cup and sometimes in a paper. This is...errrr...what you call 'classier'
Korean Student (nodding sagely): And...what is brunch?
16 May 2013
A student wrote this morning to ask me if a 25 is a good grade for her first exam. Last name: Diot.
Methinks her name is missing one "I"
23 May 2013
Just had the strangest response to an essay question ever. Which I am reprinting here in its entirety.
I chose the story Prentice Hall because I thought it would be a great little short story to read. The story was talking about someone who really did not mean what they said. Like otherwise they said something and someone took it the wrong way. The major character is the guy writing the story and telling the story right now. He is the major character because he is talking about himself. The setting of the story would be the guy is telling them that he does not mean for it to be like that. It’s a sunny day. The people that are listening to the guy are thinking the guy so mean because the way things are put out to them they think it’s crucial. The guy that is telling the story is just trying to tell us about his life. We know this because the way things are put out in the story. There are no names of the characters or the guy telling the story.
The story just does not make any sense to me none at all.
(Well, no. Not when you put it like that.)
29 May 2013
Just graded a reflective essay detailing the marital struggles of my student and "the wife." He's trying so hard and can't get "the wife" to understand. I'm no marriage counselor, but my first suggestion would be...quit calling her "the wife."
5 June 2013
Wednesday morning. Two student emails:
1.) Good morning. I am one of your students. I just wanted to tell you how much I love your constructive criticism and your comments. They really make me laugh a lot, and they help me to fix my mistakes and make good grades. Thanks for being a GREAT teacher.
2.) Hello! I want to finish the course quickly, so I haven't read the textbook. I actually haven't done anything the lessons have suggested in any course. I just did my best on the quizzes and looked for answers that required reading. Anyway, the point is I don't understand the assignment, so could you clarify? Do I actually have to be familiar with "one of the classics we've read" for the course?
C'est La Vie.
18 June 2013
Awesome reflective essay about the time my student bumped into Maya Angelou at a department store and started gushing-rambling and talking 100 mph asking for her autograph. According to the student, Angelou just held her gaze steady and said "Good Morning" 3-4 times until she caught on. Then, the student realized she was being rude and backed the conversation up to the beginning...
"And from that day forward, I have been very conscious of my approach to people who I come into contact with. No matter how excited, anxious or nervous I get, greeting someone in a more pleasing manner goes a long way. So, anytime someone just jumps into a conversation with me, I say 'Good Morning' or 'Good Afternoon' or 'Hello' until they become aware that nothing more can be said until we address one another in the right manner, until we are conversational equals and have each others full attention."
She got the autograph, too.
21 June 2013
When asked to pick a character from one of the stories we read for the class and explain said character's motivation...my student writes:
"The human mind is complex beyond anyone's ability to comprehend or even speculate. I couldn't possibly attempt to answer this question!"
26 June 2013
Working on a rubric project for my online high school when I run across this pre-worded category in RubiStar:
Action: Several action verbs (active voice) are used to describe...
Ay Yi Yi. Do as I say not as I do much?
27 June 2013
From the opening two sentences, I know this essay is going to be good!
"Mr. Gradgrind never called the kids by their names he would call them by a number witches funny to me. He never liked when your walls be decorated with horses walking."
2 July 2013
Student essay about "Samuel Pepsi" cracking me up this morning. I'm guessing spellcheck.
10 July 2013
Student named "Chestina"
Clearly her parents are unfamiliar with a place I like to call "Junior High"
12 July 2013
Student Essay on caring for kids:
"How can people expect children to offend for theirselves when many people can't even offend for theirselves in adulthood."
I would like to note that I have always been excellent at offending for myself.
12 July 2013
And now an essay all about Alcott's classic.
A Long Fetal Love Chase.
Now that...I would like to see.
17 July 2013
From a student essay comparing Lincoln and Julius Caesar:
"One was assassinated while watching a play; the other was assassinated while in a play."
17 July 2013
From a student Essay on MLK, Jr.
"His dream was not to see violet but to stop the violet."
This is true. I, for one, was inspired by MLK's ROYGBI_ campaign.
23 July 2013
Student note before his interminable story:
"I know I broke the limit. It's just soooo hard to be creative with a limit. I refuse to let my story get cut down just to make your job easier."
Yep. That's me. Squashing creativity so my life can be a cake-walk. (Side Note: Working within limitations is, in fact, the only way to be creative.)
26 July 2013
Student ends his not-so-good essay with:
"Thus is Poe's 'Spirits of the Dead' fully explained and summarized!"
How adorable. I'm going to start adding this flourish to the ends of my mediocre offerings.
To my family as I pull a frozen pizza from the oven: "Thus is your hunger fully assuaged and satisfied!"
To my boss as I hand in paperwork two weeks late: "Thus are the requirements for my continued employment fully met and catalogued!"
I can think of so many applications.
30 July 2013
Student essay about the loss of her husband:
"You don't know how it feels to live in a place of emptiness until it's at your door."
1 August 2013
I find that much of my teaching in high school includes undoing stupid rules that my students learned in grade school and junior high. Such as...never use "I" in an essay. And now, in a reflective (i.e. informal, personal) essay I get things like this:
"There were many stages and obstacles that this writer overcame in order to pull off the perfect dream wedding, ensuring that everyone had an opportunity to witness this joining of this writer and this writer's new husband."
5 August 2013
Gah! A rash of plagiarized essays last night My favorite ended with this line:
"It is refreshing to read a Puritan woman's expression of connubial delight that's both spiritual and sensual."
The phrase 'connubial delight' really tipped me off.
7 August 2013
From a student email:
"I think your grading is too hard and unfair. My friend is in another class and he turned in the same essay I turned in accept [sic] his teacher gave him an 87 and I got an 83. Can you tell me why?"
My response: "Let me talk to the other teacher. I am sure that we can figure out a way to give you both the same grade."
14 September 2013
Just read a passionate analysis of the Hughes poem "A Dream Preferred"
I think that would be a very different poem.
15 September 2013
From a student essay on "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
"The way Bierce set up Peyton with that federal scout is impudent, nervy, in your face, and...like wow!"
I'm not sure this student knows what impudent means, and I'm not entirely sure I get what the student is trying to say. But I probably don't have to tell you that I really dig this attempt.
23 September 2013
From a student submission:
"I'm sorry, but I would rather take a zero than experience the pain and mental anguish that writing this essay would cause me."
I love the honesty.
23 September 2013
And. No joke. One student's answer to the 25-point essay question on the Midterm Exam (Cut and Paste in its entirety):
Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah
24 September 2013
I love it when students tell me they've "taken this class before" as if that makes them an expert. As in:
Me: "Do you need to meet after class to go over the notes you missed?"
Student: "Nah. I've taken this class before...so..."
Oh. It's old hat, is it? You failed the class last year so you've totally got this?
29 September 2013
When I click to open an essay titled: "Bomb Ass Idea!" I just know I'm in for a real treat.
9 October 2013
I have an online student named Inertia.
Her essay was really good once I finally got into it.
10 October 2013
From a student essay:
"Suddenly, I had to learn to cope with his extreme lack of presence."
Chalk that up as the strangest description of losing a loved one that I've ever read.
21 October 2013
From a student essay:
"59% of the population gets married. Almost 80% gets divorced. That's more than the marriage rate! You know it's a bad thing when more people get divorced than get married."
4 November 2013
Student titles essay about the loss of her mom "The Heartbreak of Our Century"
And suddenly I'm crying like a moron.
6 November 2013
Read an essay today that felt...so familiar.
Then I realized it was a sample essay that I wrote and posted in the student forums. Yep. Student turned in my sample. Hoping it was an accident or else we've reached a new low.
16 November 2013
Student turns in a completely plagiarized essay...and includes the link to the original source at the bottom?
I have never been more confused.
19 November 2013
And then there are the students who totally get it.
From an email this morning:
Just thought you'd find this amusing. I am currently researching views on bullying for my paper and I came across this clusterbeep of logical fallacies:
"Winston Churchill understood bullies. Neville Chamberlain did not. Chamberlain tried to appease bully Hitler, and millions of innocent people paid the ultimate price. Those lives might have been saved, and the Holocaust might never have happened, if men like Churchill were in power during Hitler’s rise, instead of bully-blind wishful thinkers like Chamberlain."
So if you don't deal with bullies in your childhood, you'll never understand them and, therefore, can't deal with them in your future? Hypothesis Contrary to Fact. False Analogy. What else? I'm having trouble taking the opposition's viewpoint seriously after reading this.
20 November 2013
Yesterday I had two students in my live classes bring me packs of dry erase markers (Apparently I "throw markers" while I teach. I don't have the heart to tell them I just really am that clumsy.)
Today no fewer than three of my online students sent me kind notes about my lessons.
It must be the end of the semester
20 November 2013
Every once in a while (like tonight) I get a rather eloquent persuasive essay trying to "persuade" me that the assignment is "worthless" or "pointless"
I always respond something like this:
I disagree and think that persuasive speeches can be worthwhile. More to the point. English assignments are meant to exercise your writing and thinking skills...they aren't assigned because the teacher is under some grand delusion that your final "product" is going to be groundbreaking or earth-shattering in any way. In that sense, the assignments are precisely as worthwhile as you make them.
21 November 2013
Is it crazy that I'm feeling a little giddy about my back-to-back from 9 to 5 student conferences today?
This is like the speed dating of teaching. And I have to say. I'm good. I'm really good.
28 November 2013
In honor of the day, I offer this sparkling critique of Hard Times:
The difference in contrast is highly presented as far as the eye can see, generally speaking, by analyzing what you see to volumes of the opposite pivot. In conclusion, reading the book (hard time) by Charles dickens the realist that stayed on the point.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
2 December 2013
Student note on his essay submission:
"Just so you know, this was a huge hassle. I mean, I got it done, but it's definitely not perfect."
Um. Isn't school, by definition, kind of a hassle? Isn't that sort of the point?
3 December 2013
The last two paragraphs of a student's essay on Gay Marriage. Same student who submitted the nonsensical Hard Times essay and another (unposted) nonsensical Cause-and-effect essay.
"Modern politics owes much to the animal kingdom. Placing theory on the scales of justice and weighing it against practice can produce similar results to contrasting gay marriage and political feeling. In the words of one of the great political analysts Xavier Skank 'People in glass houses shouldn't throw parties.' One cannot help but agree when faced with gay marriage, that this highlights an important issue. Perhaps the word which sums up the importance of gay marriage to politics is 'participation'.
While gay marriage may be a giant amongst men, is it a dwarf amongst policy? I hope not. We can conclude that the gay marriage parades along man's streets and man waves back. It collaborates successfully, brought upon a generation and truly tests our countries rights."
Am I wrong to pass this student (barely) just because his work makes me laugh? Probably.
4 December 2013
Sometimes I get a really great essay, and I plug a line or two into Google with my fingers crossed and I hit the magnifying glass with bated breath, muttering to myself: "Please don't be plagiarized. Please don't be plagiarized."
Nine times out of ten I am disappointed. But tonight, no. A lovely paper about a poem by Lang Leay. Google can't find it anywhere.
Of course, it could still have been written by a paid essay writer and I would never know. But I prefer not to be a cynic.
5 December 2013
A student brought me her handwritten pre-writing and $1 "for putting me through the hassle and expense of printing [her] paper for [her]."
So shines a good deed.
(PS - I absolutely refused the dollar and she absolutely insisted that it would make her feel better. Looks like someone's getting peanuts between classes today!)
9 December 2013
Got an essay that reads as if the student used a thesaurus for every other sentence. Take these sentences, for example:
"One night when Havoc was lying on my bed, I noticed that he was gradually slipping off the bed. It was a lamentable visual perception to optically discern this animal resign himself to falling face-forward to the ground. My heart ached for him, and I felt so helpless. I propped him up contiguous to me and as unobtrusively as possible buttressed his position with my lower limbs."
10 December 2013
Student relies heavily on a study conducted by scientist with last name Shocker...unintentionally making his essay sound sarcastic. To wit:
"Studies show that people who read every day are five times less likely to develop Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia compared to people who watch two or more hours of television a day" (Shocker).
"Scientists have discovered a direct link between watching excessive television and all sorts of mental and physical disorders. For example, people who watch televsion excessively are far more likely to be overweight and to suffer from depression" (Shocker).
11 December 2013
Student writes an essay about the supreme importance of uniquity in Hard Times.
I can only assume that's the sin of being too unique.
12 December 2013
And now a student with a source with the last name (I kid you not) Spankjoy.
"Statistics prove that 99% of people with awkward last names seriously consider changing their names at some point" (Spankjoy).
5 March 2014
Just read a strange personal essay from a student. So I Googled it. Turns out it's Chris Brown lyrics written in paragraphs.
I think all the cursing tipped me off.
24 March 2014
One of the simplest, loveliest things I've read in a while.
From an online student, Ni Ni:
When I was ten, my mother bought a material box for me. I had passed elementary, so she bought me the gift. The box included a white color ruler, pencil, pen and other material for math. It was very important for me to look after the box because in my village, parents buy for us one time. I liked my ruler a lot because I never used one like it before.
Then one day, I lost my ruler and I could not afford to replace it. I couldn’t sleep every time I thought about my ruler. I prayed every night to find my ruler. I told all my friends about the lost ruler. They felt so sad too. We tried to find it without any luck. When we needed to use the ruler in class, I used the old bamboo ruler. I was so sad because my mother couldn't buy again for me. I didn't like using the bamboo ruler. Every day I looked for my ruler, but I couldn’t find it.
Four years later, I fled my village to Malaysia. In Malaysia I did not need to use the ruler. I worked all the time with no time to go to school. I kept thinking about the ruler. After five years I moved from Malaysia to America. Fortunately, I can attend high school in America. We use a lot more stuff than I had in my village. All the material are better than I used before, but I can’t forget my ruler. I use better stuff in school, computers, good clothing, etc... But I will never forget my village, my great-grandparents, my friends and, yes, my ruler.
8 April 2014
I kind of want to go back in time and kneecap the literary scholar who came up with the terms Synecdoche and Metonymy. Or at least talk some sense into him, tire iron in hand.
10 April 2014
My students and I may or may not have spent 30 minutes of class time this morning making each other laugh by coming up with absurd tweets and hashtags for characters from Dickens' Hard Times:
10 April 2014
Student Before Test: "You said we can use our books on the essay questions, right?"
Me: "Yes. So you can look up specific examples and quotes."
Student: "I wrote in my book a lot, though."
Me: "Good! I highly recommend writing in books."
Student: "If I use a quote from you in my essay can I get extra credit?"
Me: "Depends on the quote."
Student (reading from her book): "With Ms. Sparsit, Dickens satirizes people who are proud of how sparse their lives are. How little they need out of life. Girls...don't do that. Don't dry up your own lives. Right now, you are young and you are full of life and you like stuff. That's OK. Go ahead and need a lot. Rampant materialism and entitelment is terrible...Dickens shows us that with Bounderby. But he also shows us the flip side with Sparsit. There's not necessarily any virtue in needing less than the next person. There's no virtue in scraping by, having the smallest footprint...living in that 900 square foot house you keep seeing on Facebook. It doesn't make you better, or stronger, or less likely to die. When we first meet Ms. Sparsit, she's refusing lunch because she considers eating lunch a weakness. Lunch isn't a weakness, it's a basic human need...
...speaking of lunch. How much longer is this class? Because I'm pretty excited about it."
19 April 2014
I love when my students write that a character in our reading "pasted away." I always picture a madcap scrapbooking weekend gone horribly awry.
22 April 2014
Woke up this morning to an impassioned plea for a paper extension, written at 4 am. The student called upon all his forces of drama and persuasion to ask for two more days. Just until Thursday? And chart-making. There were graphs in there comparing hours of sleep to projects accomplished to projects yet to accomplish. So if he could just have until Thursday? I would be his favorite professor ever.
Thing is. The paper is due on Thursday.
So I just replied: "Sure."
Am I not generous?
22 April 2014 (Coda)
I thought about responding: "The paper is due when it is due."
Which is a quote from the play we're reading. Only I knew that both the ironic significance and the allusion would be lost on the student.
6 May 2014
'll be the first to admit it. Several of my students who chose the creative option for their final paper blew me away with their 10-page plays. They got some genuine laughs from me...laughs that they were trying to get. If you can compare two works of literature, and make an interesting point, and write dialogue that's original but also true to the character, and make me laugh all in 10 pages...I salute you.
8 May 2014
The department-wide post-test assessment includes this question:
------- is an imaginary personage who acts, appears, or is referred to in a literary work.
Don't mean to be unnecessarily critical...but really? Personage? This is exactly the kind of gratuitous, puffed-up language that I try so hard to get my students to avoid (eschew, if you'd rather.)
It's also the kind of language that makes students hate English when it could be...simple and lovely and elegant.
Here's a thought. If you wouldn't put the word in a poem, don't put it in a test question.
18 May 2014
Just read a persuasive essay arguing that the voting age ought to be lowered to 13. Sometimes these kids are just adorable.
4 June 2014
Student response to Hard Times reading selection:
"I don't really get Gradgrind. It seems like he wants to turn his students into machines or, even worse, Vulcans."
7 June 2014
A student essay begins:
"Have you ever seen a pregnant teen girl and wondered what, exactly, caused her pregnancy?"
13 June 2014
Just read a retelling where the student updated "The Seafarer" to describe her first semester at college. Maybe it's because I've taught high school before or maybe it's because I see first-year students who are barely keeping their heads above water all the time or maybe it's because I have younger sisters who are just past college age. Whatever the reason, the essay was beautifully-written and struck a chord and now I'm crying at my desk.
5 August 2014
Just graded a story summary that started out:
"I want to tell you something about this story I read by some guy named Brothers Grimm."
The student referred to the author as "Brothers" for the rest of the summary...