Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik In HBO’s Girls Hannah Horvath, a precocious Oberlin grad moves to The Big…
- One day several years ago, I left a paid parking voucher on the designated area of my dash and grabbed a bite. When I returned, a meter agent was writing me a ticket, nonetheless. When I pointed out the voucher, she said, “I don’t see that!” and continued writing the ticket. As I protested, she said, “You’ll have to take that up with City Hall,” and walked off. I did. The ticket was immediately thrown out.
Editor’s Note: This post first appeared January 17, 2011.
At the beginning of my teaching career, delighted by class discussion of readings, yet appalled by the quality of my students’ essays and unsure how to explain concepts that I had assumed were intuitive to young writers, I set about grimly, devising a means of teaching them, these embodiments of the “crisis in literacy,” casualties of the Reagan era, MTV addicts, as I often heard them described in faculty meetings, calibration sessions, and the mail room. The most logical method to me was the sentence-level approach. I assumed that a good essay began with sound sentences and a rigid form. I taught accordingly and with the tenacity of a pit bull. My students would take diagnostic tests on grammar at the beginning of the term. They would perform drills and take more tests until they reached a level of proficiency. Classes on writing the essay would begin with instruction on how to write the first sentence of the essay, how to create common ground with a reader, how to state a sound thesis, and later how to create unity, development, and coherence. In fact, I often gave students step-by-step instructions on how to proceed with the whole assignment. Leaving these people to their own devices, I felt, yielded products that I would be incapable of grading. Surprisingly, these methods were successful inasmuch as students learned what I taught–in fact many learned so well that they could master grammar tests and frame their essays just as I had insisted. Still, I was constantly frustrated by their inability to translate the grammar skills they had learned from the handbook into their own writing. They could make 100s on pronoun references tests yet write papers so confounded by “it” and “this” as to easily serve as Rorschach tests. They could define “unity,” “development,” and “coherence,” yet in practice, these terms often seemed synonymous, all meaning “to wear out a superficial idea in written form.” More depressing was the misery that essay-writing obviously caused them. Many otherwise bright and articulate students seemed unable to write anything other than cliches that they mistakenly believed I wanted to hear. Worse, they seemed to be practicing civil disobedience on the issue of global revision. And I had a nagging sense that the proficient writers leaving my classroom were the ones who had arrived that way. The others left stoically, impressively informed about their deficiencies, ready to tell their next instructors in robotic tones: “I don’t know how to develop.”
As if the news were just breaking that psychiatrists are no longer a source of therapy but more like expensive Jersey toll booths on the pharmaceutical highway, the NYT has run this piece about the struggles of Dr. Levin, disillusioned psychiatrist, and his wife, therapist turned high-volume office manager, who both just had to give up on quality patient care to attain the lifestyle to which they had aspired. The market made them do it. And if you have a problem with that, don’t go crying to them about it.
At the beginning of my teaching career, delighted by class discussion of readings, yet appalled by the quality of my students’ essays and unsure how to explain concepts that I had assumed were intuitive to young writers, I set about grimly, devising a means of teaching them, these embodiments of the “crisis in literacy,” casualties of the Reagan era, MTV addicts, as I often heard them described in faculty meetings, calibration sessions, and the mail room.