Saturday, November 29, 2008

Oh, Baby, When You Call A Regular Out, You Know What Happens? Uh, Nothing, Actually. Milo's Big. His Heart Is As Big As Jupiter. Abilene Al Says...

Oh Milo. I had such high hopes for you and your little essay explaining how high school teachers fuck up your students.

I kind of enjoyed the rambling two-paragraph prequel. Sadly, my joy ended when I reached the essay’s core—a thesis statement which essentially asks and answers a question: “Why can’t my students write well? Because their high school teachers were a bunch of bone-headed fuckers who make stupid assumptions about writing.”
And how does Milo support this brilliant thesis? He uses three coordinate-sequence supporting paragraphs which support the thesis without examining it in detail, and then a fourth body paragraph which is so far out of parallel with the other three that it may as well have been taken from another essay. Call me Tony Stark, because I’m seeing some Irony, man.

OK, a little bit about me. Like Milo, I teach college composition and literature to the walking wounded. Like Milo, I often wonder why the writing I see in my classes is so unimaginative and trite. However, I’m not going to simply pass the buck, throw in the towel and cry into my beer. I’m going to what Milo wants his students to do—ask some questions.

Why is the writing of my students formulaic and trite? Like Milo, I could assume that their high school teachers teach them to be unimaginative and trite. Or I could whip out Occam’s Razor and substitute a simpler solution—most of my students are unimaginative and trite human beings.

Shit, Milo. Think back to when you were 18 years old. You were either unimaginative and trite, or a super keener. Need I guess which? We go to class with the students we’ve got, and if you’re looking for a reason why their writing doesn’t reflect really deep thought, there’s no need to go searching for a corrupting factor. They’re always already unimaginative and trite.

Question number two: Why do high school teachers insist that students follow certain restrictive rules? Again, I could assume that all high school English teachers are stupid assholes who don’t know how to teach. But what happens when you take away the rules those teachers insist on? Bear in mind, I’m not talking about some coddled little AP darling. I’m talking about the average high school student, and I’m talking about the rules that will best help that student to succeed.

Why rule out the “first person”? Because high school students can wallow in it page after page, and they can’t be taught to use it in moderation UNTIL THEY HIT COLLEGE.

Why rule out questions? Because if allowed to do so, the average high school student would cling to the comfort of those questions like a prune-fed toddler in a three-day-old warm diaper, never ever getting to the goddamned point. Most students don’t know how to take stances on their own UNTIL THEY HIT COLLEGE.

Why three body paragraphs? Because if you told them to pick their own number, they’d pick ONE. They can’t be expected to understand what it means to plan an essay which has a structure suited to the unique argumentative or descriptive task they have chosen UNTIL THEY HIT COLLEGE.

People come into this world fucked up. They go through elementary and secondary school fucked up. They’re fucked up when they hit college. Looking for who fucked them up is a pointless endeavor, since at the end of the day they’re still fucked up. The proper question isn’t “why?” The question is, “what are you going to do about it?”