Thursday, July 11, 2013

I am... constructivist! I am... affirmative!

I think I want to focus in my own practice on constructivist tools. I'm really into analysis myself, and then sharing my analysis, explaining it (at great length) and assuming anyone who can learn from that will learn, because no one is ever going to explain at such length. :)

But that's fine with my "writing practice". I mean, the people who read and learn from my Edittorrent blog learn from that sort of analysis.

Thinking of my "college student" practice-- what works with them? First, affirmative. Always. I don't care about tough love. That's not who I am. I'm the person who always says, "That's interesting. Tell me more." And I say that even if their initial post is full of typos and a-fluencies. It's always interesting. I always want to know more. Most important, I think that works with students who might be worried or even ashamed of their lack of skill.

Shame-- I keep coming back to that. Shame is the dark secret of universal education. No one who gets into Harvard is ashamed, even that Bush clone who got in as a legacy and probably OUGHT to be ashamed of taking the place of a better student or someone who really worked hard to be there.

No, my students are always a step away from shame. They're afraid they'll get unmasked as impostors. They're afraid at every point that someone will point out that they -- poor, or working class, or enlisted, or learning disabled, or just never any good at this school thing, or a non-native English speaker, or a minority who isn't supposed to aspire, or... -- don't belong here in higher education.

You know who that is-- my mother. The immigrant kid from an industrial wasteland of a town, whose father worked in a factory and whose mother waited tables.
Or my father, as native as could be (ancestors fought in the Revolution), but working class as could be, no one in his family ever going to college, no one in his TOWN ever going to college--

And you know, they felt ashamed every single course until the PhD. (Yeah, both got PhDs. The GI bill was pretty wonderful.) They kept waiting to be outed-- but they were somewhat fortunate to be in the post WWII generation, when the colleges were full of working class kids, and many were damned good.

I see that now-- all that progress lost. Anyone who says the US is "classless" should look at this. I grew up actually pretty classless (parents at the top of education scale, but the bottom of the income scale-- two professors!), but I can see from when I went to an elite private college surrounded by other scholarship students that now-- now, really. Many of our students have to constantly battle society's edict that "you don't really belong here"-- the university's edict too. Yeah, even when I lament that my students are so unprepared, that's kind of what I'm saying-- you don't belong here. Sneer.

I will never shame a student. Never. They are there. I don't know whether they will learn or not. I don't know whether they will drop out and invent Facebook. I don't know if they are wonderful people who will make a difference in their communities. All I know is-- they deserve my support because they are students and I'll assume they are trying to learn.

There's a real disconnect, I think, between those who think most people can't learn and those who think most people can. The first are very into shaming-- if you are not "one of us" and you're here at the university, you are encroaching. You are stepping out of your place. You're cutting in line.

I don't want to be that snobbish, slighting type.

I know this-- the greatest American intellectuals of the 20th Century didn't come from the upper classes. They  went to CCNY. They were immigrants. They were Jewish. They didn't speak English in the home. Hey, maybe that's why they thought so deeply.

My mother-- the child of immigrants -- was the second in her family to go to college, the first being her older brother, who died in grad school. Late in her life, she discovered Google, and because her family name was one of those Ellis Island inventions, we were able to find just about every relative she had in the US (that is, everyone with her maiden name was at most a second cousin, descended from the grandfather who came in Ellis Island and was given that name).

So here you have a Slovak family from a tiny industrial town. In her (depression-era) generation there might have been 20 people. FIVE -- FIVE-- became scientists (at the PhD level). (Would have been six, but her brother died before finishing grad school.)

None of them won Nobel Prizes. However, there were 11 patents registered to people in this family. (Mostly in food, believe it or not-- my mother was a food scientist-- but come on, Slovak life was a lot about food. :) Somehow I doubt that the Rockefellers or Astors or Bushes have that many patents. Maybe it takes a seeker, not a haver, to invent?

I cannot remember that and think about shaming anyone who has the courage-- without money or family support or tradition-- to decide to be the first to attempt college. Who knows. Not me. They are brave and they are seeking, and they could surprise themselves and us all. They probably will surprise us somehow, no matter how far they get in the academy.

(Just a historical note: I grew up in a college town, so the high school was full of professor's kids, but it was in Appalachia so there were also kids from the deep backwoods. Anyway, here it is, decades later, and I realized recently that "America's worst serial killer" and one of the Google founders were in school there about the same time I was! I have 7 siblings, so for a couple decades, one Todd or another was there, and none of us can remember either of these guys. So one unmemorable nerd becomes a serial murderer, and the other a billionaire. There you have it. It was a lovely town, small and quiet, but you know, there's this odd echo of murder-- this was where that massacre took place on-campus a few years ago, and one of my classmates' parents were murdered in their home in a Manson-like killing, and then this serial murderer dude. Really, there was almost no crime there. Except murder.)
(And I suspect the Google guy didn't enjoy his time at good ole BHS, because he doesn't come back for reunions-- neither do I, live in the moment as I do, loathe thinking about the past, never remember anyone's name) and hasn't given any money though he's notoriously generous. Note to high schools: Be nice to nerds. You never know.... David Letterman actually grew up about 3 blocks from where I live now, and he's given huge amounts to the grade school and the state university and the little league... but none to his high school down the street. Methinks high school for him really was over a hellmouth, to quote Buffy.)

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