Monthly Archives: August 2007

Breaking down the “American dream”

Go ‘merica!!Since I’m all about honesty, I have had to admit to you, the students, that I am a bit of an American pessimist. It’s not that I don’t want America to be all we think of it as, it’s just that, realistically speaking, the “American dream” is, well, a dream.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone should be so pessimistic, or even realistic. I heartily encourage everyone who has the stomach for it to become a wild optimist, and there’s no better time than high school for wild optimism. I hope that my sad, crotchety, old-person pessimism will serve only as a foil to expose the benefits of a rosier outlook rather than overtake the class as the prevailing attitude.

Plus, I have a secret. I’m going to type it here on my blog where I can be absolutely sure no person will ever read it:

Deep down inside, under all the disappointment and spoiled dreams, I am actually a wild optimist who thinks that the real-est reality is our dreams. You know–“row row row your boat,” and all that. In fact, I’m pretty sure that all of this–you know, the world, people, life–is all in my head. It’s a liberating attitude, really. You should try it sometime…if my imagination let’s you, that is.

Aaaaanyway, we had class. We did some free-associatin’ with the words “American” and “dream.” Here are some basic ideas we came up with:

America: a territory, or country, with borders, a government, shared laws, physical space, unique identity, culture (traditions, rituals, values, understanding, myths, etc.)

dream: fantasy, subconscious, not real or possibly more real than reality (see above), reveals truth, reveals the future, distraction, narrative (story with beginning/middle/end that can be read for some sort of meaning), sleep, goal, desire, hidden

So you can see how many serious and profound topics are locked up inside these two innocent widdle words, and we spent some time talking about each idea. By the way, this is the kind of stuff that is perfect fodder for your response papers since I know there were people in class with ideas they didn’t share, and there’s no way we can give each idea the time it needs to be sorted out properly.

After that, I asked the class to come up with a couple of examples of people living the “American dream.” These examples ranged from Oprah to one of the students herself, which is an interesting contrast since Oprah is a billionaire media impresario (a?), and my student happens to be an average (socioeconomically average, that is–far above average in intelligence and creativity, of course) middle class suburbanite. How can they both be livin’ the dream? We discussed.

Finally, we read some stuff about the “American dream” which you can come get from me if you missed class or need another copy to help you craft your first response paper, due a week from this coming Monday.

That is all. I’ve got to get back to living my own dream now, which does not happen to involve blogging.

MT

No downloads.

Another drop in the blogosphere

Today was a short day, so we had just enough time to head over to one of East Hollywood’s four, super-technologically advanced computer labs to set up our blogs. The most important instructions for how to do this are included on the handout available for download at the bottom of this page. If you weren’t here, get the download, follow the instructions, and be sure not to forget to email your blog address to my TA: englishta@gmail.com. You can also email the TA should you have any questions about how to set up the blog, or how to make it look or work like you want it to.

I’ve also added a page to this blog (the link is at the top of the page) explaining a way you can see what all your blogmates are up to. I decided to use an RSS reader (Netvibes) just to make it easier for me to verify that students are posting their response papers, as per the assignment, but I think it might also be sort of “fun,” and possibly instructive, for you guys to spy on each other.

And I’m all about instructiveness.

“Instructiveness: It’s what I do.”

MT

Download: How to make your class blog

Hello Again, Hello

I welcome you back, one and all.

So, last year was my first year teaching, which means that much of my brain power was devoted to:

  • Not freaking out
  • Deciding what to do the next day/next class period/next second
  • Gathering crap art to put on my walls
  • Evaluating my teaching style and philosophy
  • Re-evaluating my teaching style and philosophy
  • Going back to the first way, after all
  • Not freaking out

That stuff took a lot of brain power. As my wife can attest, I spent much of the year as the human equivalent of a computer that’s about to crash. You know what this looks like, when you ask the computer to do one operation too many, and it starts looping around, adding new processes for no apparent reason, opening new programs half-way, using more and more resources, and never quite running any of the stuff you want it to.

I’m not saying that last year was a total disaster–in fact I rather enjoyed it. It’s just that it required a lot of thinking. And the problem is, I’m not all that into “thinking” these days. These days I’m trying to get more into “intuition.”

And that’s the short (really) answer to the question so many people have been asking me for the past two days: “Why is there a desk in the middle of the room?” Or, alternately, “Why is the desk in the middle of the room the only desk in the room?”

That’s right: Blame “intuition” for this little situation. See, I got here last Wednesday, cracked open the door to my new room, saw it loaded wall to wall with desks, and something inside of me just sort of curled up and died. All that day and night I couldn’t get a certain image out of my head: I saw a student sitting about 4 desks deep in an infinite row of desks, their eyes cast downward, and both their hands under the desk, carefully shielded from the teacher’s inquiring eye, fiddling with something.

I’ve seen this sight many a time in real life, and I hope I never have to see it again. It’s not like students in that pose are doing anything morally reprehensible–probably just texting someone or reading a note, but it annoys me. Rows of desks are a stark reminder of the authority structure and power struggle going on in most classrooms. Students use desks as shields to defend themselves against the arch-enemy, the teacher. The desk is alternately a hiding place and a headrest for the sleepy. I didn’t get into this profession to get 100 automatic enemies every semester, so desks–and all they represent about authority and antagonism–are out. This year, we’re all about chairs. Circles made out of chairs, to be precise. And even though it makes desk-people feel naked to only have a chair to sit on, I’m quite pleased with the results. Already, our discussions have been more lively and fair. There is no front or back of the room, and the circle has no beginning or end. I tell you, this change is profound, and I’m making new discoveries daily.

Anyway, here’s what we’ve been doing for the past few days.

We went over the syllabus and disclosure, which you can download here (syllabus/disclosure) or at the bottom of this post. Please note: the back page must be signed, detached and returned to me. I have a nagging feeling that I have misspelled “syllabus,” but I’m too lazy to check. How do you spell “dedication”?

The most important thing on the disclosure is that students are responsible to write a one-page, single-spaced response paper to be handed in each Monday, beginning a week from this Monday. Students are responsible to gather up interesting ideas and quotes during the week’s discussions as fodder for these response papers, which we’ll discuss more next week.

For the past two days, we’ve been discussing the creative process and watching a very instructive movie on the topic, “Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time.” This is a mesmerizing documentary about a contemporary artist who works only with the materials he finds in the various natural environments he visits. For example:

AG1

and

AG2

and

AG3

It’s a great film which highlights three aspects of the creative process we’ll be talking about again and again, especially with regard to the writing process:

  • Attention
    • Always being alert
    • Constantly questioning
    • Re-evaluating
  • Collection
    • Using physical senses
    • Intuition
    • Reflection
  • Struggle
    • WORK! (The greatest artist is the hardest worker…)
    • Suffering (The greatest artist is the one most tolerant of suffering; see “failure”)
    • Response to failure
    • Response to success

So, we watched the movie with these ideas in mind, and then discussed Andy Goldsworthy’s artistic process as a metaphor for our own struggle with writing. Every student who passes this class will be in a constant struggle with writing this semester, but writing is such an abstract process that it’s hard to get our brains around what the process actually entails. I’m hoping that seeing someone go through such a physical process will give us a way to talk about these abstract concepts as the class progresses.

Anyway, welcome back everybody. I’m just as pleased as punch* to be back and engaged in this great educational adventure.

MT

Downloads: syllabus/disclosure

* Note: There is no specific level of pleasure or displeasure associated with “punch.” I may or may not be pleased or displeased at any given moment. See me for details.