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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

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