March 30, 2004


I don't think I've blogged about my new job yet: I'm teaching ENGL 101 Introduction to Writing this term. It came as a surprise to me too; another class got cancelled and they offered me the position a week and a half ago. So I started on Monday, and it's going to be fun but time consuming.

Anyway, I've hit a gumption trap. In the past I have used some of my old examples of writing in class for discussion because, well, because I am a masochist. I think that my students deserve to see how I write before they entrust me to teach them to do it. I did this when I taught ESL, and the students appreciated it, but in that setting I didn't really think too much about the topics. But tonight I have spent the last hour vetoing papers.

It seems back in college I mostly wrote about controversial stuff, and I'm not sure I want to open myself up in that way. It's different teaching a heterogeneous group of Americans instead of a group of middle-aged Koreans. That paper about gay marriage? Perhaps not in a military setting. The one on how Malcolm X is a racist? Not with half of the class being African-American. OK, how 'bout the one on hate speech? But what if they disagree and we spend the class debating the First Amendment instead of talking about the thesis statement?

All of a sudden, everything I've talked about before in my ESL classes seems controversial and scary for this class. Why do I feel like I'm walking on eggshells when most professors in our education system have no problem laying out their beliefs in class?

Posted by Sarah at March 30, 2004 10:05 PM

Could it be because you care?

Posted by: Tammi at March 30, 2004 11:15 PM

There's more involved here than just caring. Ideologue instructors also care. They care about their pet issues so much that they don't care if they waste precious class time haranguing students about the one and only "correct" way to view an issue instead of teaching students HOW to view an issue.

Sarah does care, but in a different way. She wants to keep the peace. Pushing her POV isn't part of her program.

I don't know what I'd do if I were in Sarah's shoes, for strong writing by defintion has to take a side. For the purposes of this class, the side is not as important as the technique, but I can easily imagine how students could get SIDEtracked.

I'm surprised she wrote what she did in college. Sarah, did you get any heat for your papers (which must've been good practice for blogging, though that would be years ahead in your future)?

Fortunately I never had to write anything remotely controversial at Berkeley, apart from my Ayn Randian critique of Buddhism (which I don't think I'd like to reread today). Ironically, the next paper I wrote after that was a comparison of Japanese and Korean Buddhist poetry with not a word against Buddhism.

Literary papers are safer unless they deal with authors that drive people mad (e.g., Ayn Rand) but they're not too exciting for an intro English class.

Lastly, I'm sure there would be certain topics that would set "middle-aged Koreans" on fire as well.

Here's a thought: Sarah, do you have any papers dealing with unfamiliar yet potentially engaging issues outside the Amerisphere? Something about, say, the Khmer Rouge is not likely to cause people to foam unless they're really hardcore Leftists.

Posted by: Amritas at March 31, 2004 01:04 AM

You have the tool at your fingertips...blogs.

Have them pick an article from someone like Hewitt or Sullivan and critique the writing. That will be the hard part, as you already suggested--keeping them on-target to not critique the ideas. But it is important for them to understand the difference, and will eventually help them to better analyze someone's opinion piece.

Posted by: Mike at March 31, 2004 02:00 AM


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