Monday, June 13, 2016

Marching Orders

What does reason know?
Reason only knows what it has succeeded in learning.

- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I know. I'm early.

It's going to be a long, busy day for me, both because every day until July 6 will be a long, busy day for me, & because, in addition to the graduate school grind,  there are child-related activities on today's calendar. 

So where did we leave off? Ah, Henry's birthday.

We had a small family gathering & ate hamburgers & cupcakes & then the kids swam. It was lovely & low key, & I need low key in my life right now.

After Monday's birthday festivities, the week is a bit of a blur. For the duration of my course, I have something major due every Tuesday evening by six pm. There are other due dates & times, but this is a fixed one. This works out well since Tuesday is cheap movie day at the theater. Last Tuesday, I submitted that week's assignment on time & then met my mom & a friend to see Me Before You. I figured it would give me some perspective on my summer school plight & maybe somewhat curtail my whining.

The movie is well done. There are some omissions from the book, as expected, but it hits the book's major beats. I didn't cry as much as I expected. I was prepared, after all, though that was not the case for a few moviegoers who obviously hadn't read the book & thus were audibly sobbing & gasping. Hey, we've all been there; we all saw 8 Seconds.

Sam Claflin does a superb job. I've reached my limit of him wrenching my heart out while I choke down popcorn, & if I ever encounter him, there's no chance of me not embracing him & sobbing & exercising some of the demons that inevitably haunt you when you become too attached to fictional characters, & then project that attachment onto an actor.

Because you likely already think I am a masochistic fool, I'll go ahead & tell you that I'll be paying another $5 (& eating another huge tub of popcorn . . . interspersed with those KitKat bites) this Tuesday evening because I've promised to see the film a second time with a friend who couldn't make it last week because of a round of vomiting that had recently plagued her family.

Let me tell you something: I appreciate her decision so much. She was well, & her kids were well, technically, but she didn't feel right about having someone come to her house & keep her kids, & she didn't feel right about possibly exposing others to any lingering germs. As the mother of a diabetic child who has yet to vomit without ending up in the hospital, that means a lot to me & so I am more than willing to sit through the movie again with her. Yes, my decision to go again is certainly influenced by my love of sitting in a dark place with popcorn, & yes, Sam Claflin's face will motivate me to get Tuesday's assignment completed & submitted on time so that I can flee to the theater, but even if I hated popcorn & thought Sam Claflin was ugly, I'd go to the movie again because I support - I enthusiastically applaud! - the decision to stay home & away from the public when you or your loved ones have been vomiting.   

The only thing I vividly recall after Sam Claflin & my popcorn are the nachos I ate Thursday evening. The kids were with my mom for an hour or so, & thus I did the mature thing & ordered to-go nachos from my favorite nacho-making locale. I sat & ate them in my car while reading another of the endless critical articles I'm required to read for my class. Critical articles with titles like "The Myth of Linguistic Homogeneity in U.S. College Composition" are considerably more interesting with blobs of cheese dribbled on them.

Goodness, what a pleasure it is to sit & type this. It is a joy to sit in front of my computer & do what I want to do, to write what I want to write. This course is a struggle for me. The reason for that is three-fold, I believe. First, it's online. This is my first 100% online course, & I am not in love with it. I like being in a classroom & talking to people face to face. Online instruction also opens wide the door to misunderstandings. I spend more time than you might think reading & rereading assignment guidelines to make sure I understand what's being asked of me. Sure, it's exciting to never have to shower & dress & drive to class, but being able to ask questions of your professor face to face is also great. I'm discovering that what an online class means, at least when it's a short, six-week affair, is that you constantly feel the need to be online, to check email for updates & clarifications, to be present & participate in the online discussion forum. It's draining, & likely would be so even for someone without two kids hollering in the background.

I'm also struggling with the class because it's more of an "Education" course than an English course. Give me my literature. Sure, I know there's value in discussing methods of teaching & grading, but if I'm going to be spending this much time reading & discussing theory, I'd much prefer it to be something like "A Freudian Analysis of Every Male Character Hemingway Ever Wrote," or "Faulkner: What's with the Long, Convoluted Sentences?" Those are not actual critical articles, to my knowledge, but if you've spent much time trolling databases, you know I'm not far off. 

Finally, I am a good bit older than I was the last time I was a student. With age comes more responsibly that pulls you away from your schoolwork, but also with age comes a (misguided) sense of having arrived, of knowing it all. It is always humbling to be a student, & especially so when you haven't assumed that role for about a decade. I am feeling pretty humbled right about now.  

I may never understand the whys of all that I'm being asked to do right now. What I learned many years ago, first as a child of Gordon & Susan, then as a student, then as an employee entering the world of work, then as a writer querying her work, is that it is not fruitful to contemplate & whine about the why of things. Why do I have to clean my room? Why can't I wear those shorts? Why do I have to wear my seatbelt? Why do I have to conjugate this? Why do I have read this? Why do I have to reformat the entire document to your specifications? 

What is fruitful is to just do it, &, maybe, perhaps, do it with a cheery & thankful attitude.

I am thankful I have parents who teach me responsibility. 

I am thankful I have a sound mind I can exercise & dedicate to educational pursuits. 

I am thankful to be reformatting a 300+ page document, because it means I wrote a book, a whole book, & thanks to the Internet, I can sit in the comfort of my home & connect with & send it off to people who might, just maybe, be interested in helping me share it with others.   

The obvious & inevitable conclusion, of course, is that even if you never again need to know how to solve an algebraic equation, or compose a Works Cited page, or craft a grammatically correct essay, school prepares you for life. Even if you think Lord of the Flies is stupid, & you see no purpose to your summer reading assignment, it is best to grit your teeth & do it. Wink, wink. 

Life, real life, is a series of whys. They don't end when you leave the classroom. 

Parents, watch your words in front of your children. Strike a balance between teaching them to think for themselves, to question the morality & legality of their actions, & teaching them to constantly question every last thing they're asked to do. If words of dismissive mockery are always on your lips regarding their teachers & the work they're asked to do, do not be at all surprised when they adopt your attitude regarding their school work, & life in general. Initially, consequences of sloppy work, or a refusal to do work, will be reflected in their grades. Eventually, the consequences will be considerably steeper. They will lose (or never get) a job. They will perhaps find themselves in trouble with the law. Knowing when to question & when to obey authority is perhaps the most difficult, but one of the most important, things a child needs to learn.   

I think this summer's six-week stint as a student will continue to benefit me. For starters, it's good for teachers to sit on the other side of the podium. I've been reminded of the importance of clear, explicit instructions. With each assignment I complete, I'm reminded of the importance of at least attempting to explain to students the reasoning behind the work they're asked to do. They may still think it is pointless at the time, they may not see its purpose for years, but as a teacher, always go beyond the explanation we give a five-year-old who doesn't want to clean her room, the words I heard countless times from my own mother: Because I said so.

I won't be dealing with five-year-olds come August (at least not in the classroom). Last week I mentioned I am composing a few lectures with which I want to begin the year (I note that the composition of those lectures & all other planning for the upcoming year has been halted until Wednesday, July 6, at which time I'll either turn in my research paper & rejoice over the completion of my summer coursework, or I will fold & give up). In addition to the "Thoughts on Word Count" lecture I mentioned last week, there'll likely be a "You are not a five-year-old" lecture early in the school year.

Teaching seventeen & eighteen year olds means I owe them more in terms of the why of what they're asked to do than I would owe a roomful of children, & it means they owe me more than I'd expect from a roomful of children in terms of behavior & maturity. I loathe dealing with behavior issues & that's why I like to teach people who're old enough for me to stare them down & tell them they ought to be ashamed that I am even having to look them in the eye & say one word about their behavior. You behave as a mature young person, & you will be treated as a mature young person. You don't, & we're back to Because I said so.

Another lecture I'll give at some point is the "this is adult literature we're reading and discussing, & there will be certain issues about which you may be tempted to giggle, but try & rise above that." 

Also, I am a little nervous about dealing with parents, an aspect of teaching that is rarely, if ever, a part of the teaching experience when you're a college instructor. The summer reading assignments are live on the web now. When I saw them last week, my stomach churned a little, my ears filled with parental whispers of "You want my child to read what?" The thoughts for parents I've shared today are also for my own good, as I'll soon be the parent of children returning home with schoolwork, the completion of which I may not always think is the best use of our collective time. I too will have to bite my tongue & smile at times . . . & then rant to Trey, or on Facebook, as one does.       

You're not always going to know or understand the reasons, the whys, behind all that you're asked to do, & that is okay. The key is to do it anyway, unless it's illegal or immoral, of course, & then you dig deep & perhaps lead a revolution or something. And see, right there is one of the whys of reading Lord of the Flies.  

I leave you with this, some words from Joshua I've been thinking a lot about lately as I circle the city. 
You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets.


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