Monday, November 18, 2013

Nanaimo Nick With a Speedy Rant On Visiting a High School And the Horrors He Discovered About His Own Job.

Fuck me for agreeing to go to a nice high school 2 towns away to talk about college academic writing.

I teach at a decent enough 2 year school. I feel as though I do good work with the best kids, and slug it out with the rest.

I spent 3 hours in 3 different classes at the high school, looking at rough drafts, talking about some typical first semester assignments, and I was heartily ashamed. Every student was better than my own. Every student was doing more complex writing than my students.

I talked about the way I teach the research paper, a tried and true method that has come about from gauging what my own students could handle. Whenever I pitch it, it takes 2 class periods to get students on the same page as me.

Today, in about ten minutes, I had better comments, questions, and suggestions from the high schoolers than I ever get.

I wanted these students to bypass the big provincial uni and come to my little neck of the woods instead, so I could benefit from their ability to understand

Instead of driving back to my college, I wanted to get on the ferry and jump to a watery death.

17 comments:

  1. I've had the same experience, except with a middle school kid in our neighborhood. She brought me a paper of hers and it was far better than anything my freshmen are writing. It was hard to go back to my students after spending 20 minutes going over her paper with her.

    Rather than jumping to a watery grave, how about we lure our students onto the ferry. Lemming style, I bet they'd follow each other if we gave them extra credit to do it.

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    1. Tell them there's a keg down there and they certainly will.

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    2. Dunno, I was chatting with some high school seniors recently who had just returned from an overnight visit to a fairly competitive college they were considering attending. Both expressed disgust that their "host" college students spent the evening drinking themselves into a stupor. Both high-schoolers were strongly considering not applying to the school and began to look more concertedly for serious schools that don't have a culture of drunken stupidity. Talking to them gave me a warm feeling of hope for the future.

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  2. When I was doing volunteer reading with elementary students, they had posters on the wall about writing rules that my college students still don't know. I feel like Kimmie....why does this whole teaching thing not work?

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  3. Yep, I am continually saying to my second-grader, "Wow, that's what I am trying to get my college students to understand," as she brings home assignments about word roots, learns to write good discussion questions for reading class, and proudly and correctly uses a colon. WHAT HAPPENED to the generation I am teaching now?

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  4. Oh yeah and one more thing. I had my students come to a library instruction class, and gave the instructor the research paper assignment for which they needed the library skills. He said, "Wow, this is a pretty sophisticated assignment for a lower-division class" (it was: write an argument driven paper in which you discuss a literary text in terms of author biography, the historical moment the work was written, another literary critic's argument, or a theoretical essay."). I looked at him goggle-eyed and said, "I wrote my first paper with research from outside sources, footnotes, and bibliography in fifth grade." Again: WHAT HAPPENED?

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    1. It was called NCLB. Their entire "education" so far has been canned readings and worksheets, contrived for the lowest common denominator. This was championed by George W. Bush, a misunderestimated fellow if ever one there was. As he observed, "Is our students learning?"

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    2. The actual bill was of course authored by Ted Kennedy, among others. It passed the House 384-45 and the Senate 91-8. This turd was laid by both parties working together on the advice of Top Men. Since it has widely been acknowledged a failure, it has since been abandoned by its thousand fathers and is now an orphan.

      We must not forget that NCLB was not something that came out of nowhere for the purpose of screwing up good schools. It was developed because of the same widespread dissatisfaction with American pubic schooling that exists today.

      In ten years we'll be talking about Race To The Top in the same way.

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  5. Whenever I get the privilege of visiting a good school, I am glad that intelligent people still do exist. It counters my persistent fear that Henry Adams was right when he said:

    "Man has mounted science, and is now run away with. I firmly believe that before many centuries more, science will be the master of men. The engines he will have invented will be beyond his strength to control. Someday science may have the existence of mankind in its power, and the human race commit suicide, by blowing up the world."

    So, the engineers I teach might be frighteningly innumerate, and the general-ed students I teach might be unable to do 8th-grade math, but it does me no small amount of good to know they're not all like that.

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  6. I have wondered, in the past, if their brains had just dumped everything they ever learned in the Summer between high school graduation and the first semester of my CC.

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    1. The students that N. Nick describes probably wouldn't go to a CC, which I think was part of his point.

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  7. My kids are dolts, one and all, but I try not to let it bother me. I figure if they have a glimmer of insight into anything, I'm winning. What I'm winning... well, that I try not to think about.

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  8. I'm telling you, it is a "tablua rasa" thing--I have witnessed it over and over and over again when I have students first as public school freshmen, then later as juniors or (advanced!) seniors: they *only* want to *know* YOUR truth, the one that only YOU know, the one that they can spit back to you to prove you have shepherded them through to that commodity called "knowledge." Call them on their bullshit, and you'll be amazed at what they actually retain of what they have judiciously been taught.

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    1. My students routinely deny ever having been taught anything; it's because my course has heavy math prerequisites. Problem is I work closely with the math department and I know exactly what was taught every semester.

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  9. Same experience here. I have four high school students taking my multivariable calculus course (soph level) and getting good grades. Two of them just asked me to help them start a "math circle" here (weekend "math enrichment" meetings); apparently there aren't any in the state, currently.

    A few years ago I lived in the DC area for a while, and my next-door neighbors were a Russian family. Their daughter attended Russian high school, and once in a while needed help with a geometry problem. Bozhe moi , they were hard!

    High school is the last time most of us have access to the "randomized sample", which includes the baseline proportion of bright students with enlightened parents in the general population. Those who show any talent or academic aptitude are heavily recruited, and go hang out in college with others like themselves (as they should). At the State U or CC, we get the others.

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