Skip to main content

Stuck -- Writer's Poke #402

I’ve taught English to college freshmen for the past fifteen years. What have I learned by being a permanent resident of the English 101 classroom? I’ve learned that while my thinking continues to evolve, I shouldn’t expect the thinking of my new students to have evolved with me. That is, first-year students tend to have first-year thoughts. No surprise there, really. After all, each batch of students is experiencing English 101 for the first time. 

What I find more interesting, however, is the nature of topics that students continue to select. When we’re working on a general research paper topic, unless I specifically provide them with topics, students will naturally pick the standard topics – global warming, marijuana legalization, gun control, abortion, etc. These standard topics haven’t changed much in the past 15 years. The only standard topic that has changed somewhat is gay marriage. Students still write on the gay marriage topic, but the way they write on the topic has changed.

For the other topics, not much seems to have changed in 15 years. Unless I direct them otherwise, students still take the basic sort of positions (“for” or “against”). It makes me think, “Has nothing about the topic of, say, Global Warming really developed in the last 15 years? Are we still at Square One with this issue? Having dealt with the topics for 15 years, I realize that the topics have changed, but they must change at a snail’s pace, because my students don’t seem to notice the changes that have been occurring in their lifetimes. Then again, I guess, why should they notice? Most issues do seem to remain at a standstill until some sort of tipping point is reached. Once an issue, like gay marriage, “tips,” then the way students react to the issue noticeably changes.

Is it unreasonable to expect more students to be out ahead of the tipping? Maybe so. First-year students tend to be fairly conservative, actually. The college experience is supposed to make students more “liberal,” and maybe that’s true, but I would suggest that it’s not “liberal” in the sense of politics; it’s “liberal” in the sense of being able to see beyond where we are or where we’ve been. It’s “liberal” in the sense of being able to see where we are heading, and being willing to do something about it. 

Being liberal means being willing and able to sense movement, and being willing to move before some outside force requires you to move whether you want to or not.

What moves you?

“Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor.” – Arnold J. Toynbee


Popular posts from this blog

Summer Day Trip #1: Caledonia, Minnesota

The Wired Rooster Coffee Shoppe -- Caledonia, Minnesota

I've lived in Minnesota for over ten years, sure, but that doesn't mean I've actually seen much of the state. Like most people, I know what I know, and I go where I go. And that's the extent of it. But once I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to make it to Alaska this summer, it occurred to me that I had plenty of sites to explore in the immediate region.

First stop: Caledonia, Minnesota. Where's that? It's a small town in the southeast corner of the state. Before I opened my Rand McNally Road Atlas, I had never heard of it, and before I punched the town name into Trip Advisor, I didn't know if there was anything there worth visiting.

Distance from home: About 75 miles.

Challenge #1: Leaving by 6:30 a.m.

Challenge #2: Taking my dog, Atticus.

Actually, Atticus is a good dog on a road trip, but the forecast indicated that it was going to get into the 90s. I wanted to leave early in the …

Summer Day Trip #3: Jackson, Minnesota

Some time ago in the spring, I found out that David Ellefson, bass player and co-founder of Megadeth, was rebranding the coffee shop in Jackson, Minnesota. Every so often I would tell Linda that I planned to drive over there to check it out, but the morning that I actually decided to drive over there to check it out, I think I surprised her. I’m not sure she thought I would ever do it.
“What else are you going to do over there?”
“Oh, that’s it. Just drive over there, order a cup of coffee, and drive home.”
I had checked out Jackson on Tripadvisor, and honestly, Jackson seemed like it didn’t have much going on. My mind map of southwestern Minnesota was mainly a blank. I knew that I-90 drove through, but I thought perhaps the interstate was a metaphor: Beware ye who enter here, lest ye be on your way to somewhere else.
When I told Tavi we were driving two hours to visit a coffee shop, the idea didn’t seem far-fetched to her. She only had one question, “Do they serve hot cocoa?” I promised …