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Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm somewhat surprised how hard it is proving to summon up the enthusiasm to come in and teach this short week: if my sense of professional responsibility wanes any further, it's possible I may use up my entire stock of "sick" days before the semester is over. (Honestly, I have no idea how many I have, but I know I'm making a hell of a dent in them this term.) I'm praying madly that I don't genuinely get sick: that would knock everything into the proverbial cocked hat. An odd image, come to think of it.

But, with much internal whining and kvetching, I did come in today and made a relatively productive day of it. Got reading journals back to the short story class, was semi-ready to teach 101. Friday's seminar gave me some interesting ideas for potential ways to conduct the lesson: the seminar presentation was on the pedagogical usefulness of structured "conflict"--perhaps more appropriately called simply debate. Today's reading was Anthony Weston's lovely essay "Is It Too Late?" (text of which can be found here: So, I set the students in pairs, and we went through the "conflict" steps set out in the seminar, one side debating that it is too late, the other that it is not.

The codified steps are as follows: 1) time to prepare a case for one side of the debate; 2) time for each side to present that case; 3) open debate, in which each student tries to point out the problems in the other's argument while defending his or her own; 4) role reversal: each student has to present the argument for the other side; 5) abandoning advocacy, both sides work to find a mutually agreed-upon proposition. I rather left out that last step, in the interest of time, but it was interesting--and sad--to note that most of the students disagree with Weston and do, in fact, feel it is too late, that our individual actions cannot do anything useful in terms of environmental problems. I didn't get into it as fiercely with them as I sometimes do--lack of energy on my part--but it was good to see at least most of them trying to think. Something I'm not doing terribly well myself at the moment.

A little grace note: Mr. Macho made a point of taking a moment at the end of class to thank me for the chance to resubmit his paper in the correct format and to wish me a happy Thanksgiving. I do wish I could crawl inside that young man's head, to see what is genuinely going on in there. I sincerely doubt that his "conversion" is as complete as it seems, but as I've said, as long as he's doing a good job of pretending, I'm happy to go along and act as if he is completely sincere.

Curious dynamics: when I arrived, a number of the young women in the class were verbally, if humorously, attacking him. He was joking about it, "You said I'm stupid and ugly and can't pass," but once again I rode to his defense. I had to call a halt to a battle of the sexes several times, in fact. Strange that the rather juvenile male-female gender assumptions are being expressed so powerfully in that class--brought on largely, I think, by Mr. Macho's attitudes and behaviors, which have aroused the displeasure of the young women. He asked, at one point, why they were ganging up on him and they said, almost in unison, that he'd called it upon himself. I'm reminded of a scene in Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven, in which a young stallion who thinks a bit too highly of himself jumps a fence into a field of mares and gets the shit kicked out of him. I wonder what the metaphoric kicking is doing to Mr. Macho's conception of himself, or of women, or of how an adult should behave in the world.

I got zero work done over the weekend--still getting myself recentered in my work-mind, still getting my energy levels back to the necessary full tanks, after Ed's visit. I'm not going to try to do any paper/assignment marking tonight. I'll noodle around a bit putting together readings for next semester's 102s; then I intend to head for the hills the instant my official office hour is over and hope for an early night and a good, productive day tomorrow. I know I'll be taking a ton of work home over the break--and knowing myself, I'm aware I'll probably put most of it off until the Nth hour and then will be bitching and tearing my hair out to get stuff back to the students by the dates I have promised. That simply seems to be my MO, and I am (right now) resigned to that fact. Still, it's fun as well as productive to work on the readings for next semester, so I needn't feel guilty about taking the time for that instead of trying to summon the mental fortitude to grind through grading. Ah, the mental games I play with myself, getting through what needs to be done.

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