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If this seems utterly depressing to you (or obvious) skip to the end, that’s where the happy stuff is.

One of my college friends had a rule, and quite honestly I didn’t understand just how crazily patriarchal it was at the time (not that he’d admit to that even now, he probably claims this junk is feminist). In any case, his rule was that only smart people should breed, and that smart people should have lots of babies to make up for the dumb people in the world, and really? He’s trying to do that. Back then he’d let you know (particularly if you were a chick) where you were currently on breeder status with him or not. I haven’t been for about eight years now, best I can figure.

The truth is, a lot of people make this argument. As if, you know, we have the right to tell people if they can have kids or not. Or better, FORCE certain women to bear tons of children just because they are genetically superior or really religious or something (insert your own criteria here). “If the stupid people would just stop breeding then the world would be great!” these people say, my old friend included. I was disheartened to see his pictures of his son on Facebook, simply littered with comments about how “at least the smart people are breeding!” which means he hasn’t given this up in the ten years since he first said it.

It really bothers me now, as a more enlightened woman, because no matter what he says to the otherwise, this sort of thing is ALL about controlling women. I mean, his friends were stupid, and I MEAN STUPID. Many of them had every opportunity thrown at their feet and they totally threw it all away, dropped out, harassed and hurt the people they dated, the list goes on…. but the women? They could be stupid or smart depending on his whim.

But there’s something even more that gets me here. That’s this: He didn’t have any clue what intelligence was. He judged entirely on outward signs, stuff he saw.

He wasn’t so shallow to go on looks, but it was pretty close.

If someone was poor? Must be stupid.
Teenage pregnancy? Stupid.
Didn’t go to college? Utterly stupid.
Not liberal? Stupid.
Believes in God? Stupid.
Not utterly positive the world was gonna end soon? Really stupid.

And, you know, there are more: redneck, devout Christians, “white trash,”…. and though I don’t really know how he feels about race (because we never ever discussed it) I can’t think of a single “smart” person that wasn’t white.

So really, for him, it’s all about letting the rich white folk breed (he didn’t consider himself part of this, as his family was lower middle class and he often didn’t have enough money, but that’s pretty much how he judged others). Nice.

But ….

My experiences since college have taught me something about his “stupid” people–they are anything but.

I teach now at a school that  has a lot of “non-traditional” students, and you know what? They are amazing.

One of my students who is probably approaching 40 found out this week that he isn’t stupid. He got his first A. He aced two of his three classes and got A’s in all of them. I watched him work so hard all term–you know what? That’s smart. If I had tried that hard in college I have no idea what I could have done, but it sure is more than I actually did do. I find that sort of student to be intensely inspirational.

Then there’s one of my students that is going to school full time and receiving chemotherapy. She’s determined not to quit, not to give up, and sure she has to miss some days but she DID keep up and she did get her A and she wrote a paper that was wonderful and thoughtful and therapeutic to her all at the same time. I don’t know many “smart” people who didn’t go to college at 40 after having kids who could pull off what she did.

And lastly (though the list goes on) yesterday my work study called, saying she would be late to work because of a car accident. I thought she meant she was in one, but no, that wasn’t it. She worked previously as a medic on an ambulance before coming back to school. She has years of experience. And so when a car spun out in front of her, went up an embankment, and then came down, ending up standing more or less on its nose, she stopped her own vehicle, told the lady to throw her purse out the window, and then got her out of the car only moments before the car tipped over and could have killed the lady inside. She got her in the car, called 911, and stayed with her till the cops arrived.

Yeah, my work study is a freaking hero.

I’m sure if I told these stories, they’d be named “exceptions,” except I don’t think they are exceptions at all. Lots of people turn their lives around this way. Lots of people are heroes. Lots of people have strength in them that I can’t even conceive of.

So what’s smarter: having everything given to you and either doing mediocrely or getting thrown out, or working your butt off to change your life, saving lives, and refusing to give up?

Yeah, I’d take the people I teach now over any of those so-called smart people. I want these people to decide to have families (or not) based upon what’s possible for them, the same way they are doing school. I want them to have great lives from this day onward because they are just that awesome.

Sure, part of my job is helping them along the way, but I don’t think they have ANY idea what being there for them does for me and everyone else who works where I do. I really don’t have any good way of expressing just how awesome all these people are, except that I truly believe many of them are a lot “smarter” than I am. Some people want their students to be like them. Me? I want to be like my students.

racity race race

I’m reading someone’s dissertation. Part of my job is faculty mentorship, and it’s not like I haven’t done this for other Writing Centers before, so I had no problem saying that I’d do it.

And it’s not that I regret helping somebody out; it can be really frustrating to go for months without feedback and just keep writing, writing, writing because what else are you going to do?

But I’m a little frustrated with this writer’s use of race. It’s pretty obvious (and not only from her literature review, but just in general) that she hasn’t read a lot of anything about the way race, power, and learning interact. One of her unstated assumptions is that integrated classrooms with multiple ethnicities are really difficult to teach writing to in K-12. And while that may be true on a very basic level, I wouldn’t say that simply having students of multiple races in a classroom always negatively affects test scores. And no, that’s not explicitely said, but it’s sitting right there, taunting me behind these paragraphs.

So I’m working out a gentle way to note that I’m sort of uncomfortable with it all. I’ve asked lots of questions so far, mainly pertaining to class. After all, if all the students in a single school live in the same neighborhood, and their parents have similar jobs and income level, is race as much of a factor in their achievement as you’re saying? Is it fair to assume that? Is there any way to find out if non-white students are really the ones blowing this school district’s MEAP scores? (There, I said it, and it’s implied all over the place.)

At the same time, I wish she’d spend more time elaborating exactly why race matters so much. Without saying why it matters (and she’s white) it seems like an inherent prejudice. On the other hand, if she spent time in her lit review going over some critical race theory, if she considered what power structures in the school district and even at the state level might hold these students back, if she did that–well then her study could be held up as one way teachers could fight those structures and THAT would be a cool argument.

As it stands, it feels like she is in quiet agreement with governmental powers that say these students do poorly on standardized tests, can’t write, and that that is a problem. And it makes me feel skeezy.

There’s a debate going on in fandom right now about warnings. It’s fairly normal for people that write fanfiction to stick a warning onto a fanfic that features rape, sexual assault, etc. so that people who do not want to read something about their favorite characters undergoing those things (canon or not) can avoid them.

Furthermore, warning creates a safer space for people who have actually gone through those things in that it keeps them from being triggered. To be honest, even without being somebody that can be triggered by those things I appreciate knowing that they are coming so I can avoid reading something that is ooky or depressing–heck, I expect the backs of novels to serve much the same purpose.

But where such warnings don’t occur is in class readings–which has always worried me a bit. We end up talking about hard topics in English classes sometimes. We have our students read about abortion and anorexia and abuse. Our students present to one another about topics that others could find triggering.

I warn my students up front that they should not do paper topics that other students may find triggering when they do presentations. This seems to work pretty well, after all, it gets rid of all those papers about “abortion is bad!” when students have to consider that other people in the class may have had one (and I point out that making another student upset or making them cry will probably lose you all your professional behavior points for that week… if not longer!) So that part is relatively fixable.

But what about me? What about the school? What about their readings? Do we have a responsibility to warn students about material in their text that might be harmful?

Our composition text does this, a bit, with a brief summary in front of each reading. Our literature book does not. In fact, that literature book really doesn’t want the students to know jack about the readings ahead of time (thoguh they do offer a brief author bio) in hopes that they will interpret it on their own. The teachers’ guide lets me know that if I tell them what each piece is about (and some do obscure what characters are discussing) then I am keeping them from forming their own opinion, which might be more interesting.

Furthermore, there seems to be a “no spoilers” policy in effect–that knowing the end or what happens in the middle will make students care less. I’ve always loved spoilers and they make me want to read/watch/play more, but maybe I’m just weird that way.

Do we have a responsibility, regardless of all that, to protect our students from potentially damaging material in their readings?

Check this out: http://www.thrillnetwork.com/news/2788/hollywood-rip-ride-rockit-details-emerge.html#more-2788

A new rollercoaster to be built at Universal Studios Florida will, for all intents and purposes, be the first ever new media rollercoaster. People who ride the coaster will be able to choose from several different pieces of music to hear (that only they can hear) and switch them and interchange them during the ride, supposedly allowing for every ride to be different. Additionally, the entire ride will be captured on camera, and what music was playing at what points for each rider will be saved and added to that video, which can be purchased at the end of the ride.

Now, maybe that’s not real user-generated content, in the sense that you can’t bring your own music or insert your own video, but for a rollercoaster it’s pretty darn close. I don’t know that this will lead more people to purchase on-ride video, but whether it does or not the music part is certainly a cool concept. Although…. I wonder if you can just turn the music off and enjoy the ride without?

Both writing programs I have recently worked in (including the one I am currently in charge of, ah!) are highly concerned with grade inflation. In both cases, I sit in meetings about grade inflation with head on one hand, eyebrow politely raised, and either protest a lot (in School B where I have at least some degree of power) or grumble incoherently then complain later in the halls (in School A where I’m “just” a grad student).

Neither program’s answer to grade inflation is sufficient or reasonable in my mind. Maybe it’s the newly minted WPA in me going to my head, but I’m not convinced that this is a terribly difficult problem to solve–or at least it wouldnt’ be if there weren’t people involved.

School A has adopted a new grading scheme, wherein teachers should aim to have a certain percentage of their class fall into each grade range. This past term, according to this grade-scheme, about 5-6 of my students should have had A’s or A-‘s. A lot more than that had honest to God A’s, and their work represented some of the best I’ve ever seen as an instructor. More on this in a moment.

School B has decided that we in English must change what an A means. Rather than change this from the bottom up, we’ll be slapping new percentages down. I voted for 94 and up (previously having used 93 and up this seemed like the least horrifying possibility) but several people in the meeting really wanted an A to be 96 and up, with a C beginning somewhere in the mid-80s.

In general, when it has been discussed, we’ve been told that as faculty we’re just too easy when grading. We’ll slap an A on anything. Again, I’m not convinced. I certainly give my share of B’s, C’s, D’s and I fail students with flair. The papers that I give A’s to ROCK. Given a stack of papers from my class, other instructors agree.

So what’s the problem?

When looking at a lot of student papers here at School B (in preparation for opening a Writing Center) I’m astounded at how easy some of these classes are compared to my own. I witnessed the same thing in the Writing Center at School A, to a certain extent. A three to five page paper as a final document? What the heck were the other three papers that had to lead up to it? Only two sources needed? Paraphrase everything, no quotes allowed? Graded only on grammar and spelling, not content?

For their final essay, my students have to write a 9+ page research paper that includes a multi-paragraph introduction, literature review, synthesis, analysis, and longer than normal conclusion. Students who’ve done well all term and took all the steps I asked have been turning in 20+ page essays and while I’m leery of all the reading I have to do I’m thrilled at how many students are excited at how easy it was for them. I smile every time somebody tells me they didn’t think they were capable of a 10 page essay, and now they’ve done twice that.

In other words, I’m absolutely 100% against making my class easier–ever.

And yet, at every institution I’ve ever worked at, it seems like a lot of teachers think that their students aren’t very capable. They think they aren’t good writers, they think they’ll only succeed at easy assignments, and so they give them relatively easy assignments.

Now, not everybody does this. However, a lot of people do.

Most students can reach up to the level of the easy assignment, so a lot earn A’s. Everybody goes home happy, but the administrators go crazy and the students are upset when they do have to write something longer and more professional because they aren’t capable.

I’ve always felt like I was fighting for undergraduate’s intelligence. I started teaching college at 21, and I truly believed that they couldn’t be talking about me and my classmates when people came in during orientation to tell us how unmotivated and stupid (read: bad writers) we were. Puh-leeze. We weren’t bad writers, we just did what was asked and got A’s for it and called it good enough.

I think it’s not unreasonable to assume that today’s student is pretty much the same. I really like leaning on students and seeing how far they can go. I get all happy when I see students beginning to achieve above what I would consider undergraduate level writing (I’ve at least two students this term who are doing this–it keeps me going through those C’s and D’s).

But most importantly, at least this term, my grade spread looks about right.

Last term… things were weird. It was my last term teaching at School A, and I just sort of shot the moon and taught exactly the way I’d always wanted to, tried lots of new things, and it turns out that the students did really well. Huh. The writing was excellent, the projects were awesome, and I gave a lot of A’s.

But see, I don’t think that that is grade inflation. That does mean I could have asked for even harder work from those students, but I had no way at all of knowing that that would have been possible when I wrote my syllabus before the term began. This term approximately the same level of work is about right.

Come curriculum rollout this summer I’ll be talking non-stop about this–make it harder! make it harder! make it harder! I just hope that some of the instructors will listen given example papers from my class. Other than having a room for the Writing Center and this grant project wrapped up I think that’ll be my big “win” for this year.

I must be a hopeless romantic, for when I checked my Ratemyprofessors page last night I nearly teared up at the very nice things my students from this past term had left about me there. I even earned my chili pepper after a term spent entirely in jeans and t-shirts. Screw dressing up ever again–oh wait, that’s right, I have to every day for my new job. Oh well.

The truth is that this past term was the most wonderful one that I’ve ever had at any school, ever, and that I imagine it’ll be a long time before I have a repeat. In addition to having wonderful students, knowing that it was my last term (possibly ever) at that school meant that I felt a bit freer in doing sort of experimental assignments, teaching in rather strange ways, and in cutting loose and being myself. Apparently, this works.

It shouldn’t be rocket science that just putting everything out there and seeing what happens is as good a pedagogical method as any, but in a world where teaching assessments matter, it might be. It was really freeing to just not have to worry about what anybody thought and just *do it* exactly the way I wanted to, just once…. at least until tenure. And even then, well, maybe it wouldn’t be entirely appropriate to be the class where the term douchbag became a running gag, but there it is–it was last term. And lo, it was good.

This term, in my new school, in my new position, I find myself opening up and letting go more than I would have before. O f course, there’s no douchbags here, no big party on the last day of the term, no fond send off other than presentations and don’t let the door knob hit you where the good lord split you–but there is an edge to the way I’m teaching now, and it’s doing good stuff.

This should, perhaps, come as no surprise to me. After all, this is the week of having tons of stuff to do and not being able to get any of it done.

Today, Livejournal announced the layoff of most of its developmental staff. Rumors have flown whether it was half or two-thirds, but regardless, this looks bad. Livejournal is the site that happens to host two of three examples for my dissertation research.

Now, I’ve saved a page here or there of this stuff, but to be completely honest, I’ve been bad. Most of the conversations I’m studying are so many hundreds of pages long that if just one person deleted their journal or the comments or had their account suspended, it probably wouldn’t change what I’m going to write any. The few times I’ve tried to write bits and pieces of chapters as term papers, I’ve found myself struck by how difficult it is to wade through this stuff to find one perfect quote to fit a rhetorical situation when in all reality these ten together here do the trick! But you know, maybe ten quotes is overkill.

Honestly, if a few people got deleted, it would help me wade through the chuff.

But if all of it got deleted, I’d be fucked.

So, I’ve spent my day saving each page of comments separately. This would be easy, except for the fact that I have to expand all the comments first. I’m also not sure if I should save the stuff about fanlib and Strikethrough, as I suspect they’ll be footnotes at best, but maybe I’ll get to it after choir tonight.

The truth is this week is my week of limbo. LIMBO I TELL YOU. School starts Monday and I have no idea where I’ll be working, because my second interview for a job I’d love has yet to happen. Hell, they haven’t even called me to reschedule. So I’ve written syllabi for classes I’m not sure I’m teaching. Fun. Then I figured out I can’t write the syllabi for two classes I know I’m teaching (hush, they are independent studies and require very little time investment from me, plus I love the students, and oh hell, why am I defending myself to the blogosphere?) because the syllabus guides that I’m supposed to follow do not match the books the dean told me to use, and oh yeah, I don’t have new copies of the new editions of the books yet.

Add to this the fact that my dissertation director e-mailed me to wonder how my prospectus is coming along and when we could meet and I nearly screamed. Really, it’s not his fault, but given that I don’t know what days I’m working in less than seven, and that one way or another later this week I’ll be involved in mad syllabus writing, now is not the time to remind me that I need to finish up my prospectus. Yep, I know. But first, I have to save the research or else my dissertation will be very VERY short. Can you guess what didn’t get finished up today because I spent the day downloading html files?

Dammit.

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