Posts Tagged ‘soap boxing’

Robin Williams in "Dead Poets Society"

An iconic scene from Dead Poets Society.

I opened the summer assignment for our course with this paragraph:

The overarching focuses of AP Language and Composition are the art of persuasion, the stuff of effective writing, and the machinery of thought. We primarily, but not exclusively, study American texts. Our course is also a study in contrasts: emotion and logic, the philosophical and the quotidian, sweeping rhetoric and basic grammar, archaic prose and contemporary slang, concise non-fiction and seminal American novels, and so on. The goal of the course is somewhat simply put, if less simply realized: to unsettle students so that they can construct and internalize an effective mechanism for interacting with and interpreting the world around them. And over these summer months, your goal is to ward off atrophy and begin to think more critically and more deeply.

Still a work in progress.  We are also now trying in some important sense to stave off cynicism and irony, because a course like ours can breed a sort of deflective intelligence.  It’s never bad (in the ambiguous and powerful way we sometimes use “bad” to refer to perspective) to be a smart cynic, but the contrasts I listed for you matter.  Even if we deconstruct the machinery that creates it, there remains poetic beauty in the world, and there are great truths that should reveal themselves… yet we all react sometimes to being unsettled by reducing these truths to a more palatable state — labeling them hokey, mawkish, contrived, clichéd.  They have less power then, and we have less impetus to change.

Of course, Dead Poets Society still sucks.



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Dunce cap

Ah, the good ol' days.

The cuckoo, as a symbol, relies on the tendency of some variants of the species to take over the nests of other birds, forcing the oblivious foster parent to raise the cuckoos as its own.  I bring this up for a simple reason: I think my students—you, to eliminate any ambiguity—have been replaced with the lazier, more apathetic students of some other classroom.  

You’d known that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was due on March 8 for over six months.  I fanned that fading ember on February 1, when we returned from midterms.  Yet I went into the weekend of 3/5 all but certain that the majority of you would not be finished reading by Monday¹.  You had given life to an ethical dilemma that plagues me every year: Should I hold them accountable, knowing that (1) it will mean that 60% of them fail, and (2) it will eat into class time we can’t spare; should I allow a minority to carry class discussion for a few days; or should I simply move on to greener pastures, venting my frustration like a frightened squid?


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