Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Where's a harpoon when you really need one?

My freshman students are quietly reading and commenting on each others' first paper drafts as I write this, so my primary duty is to simply be available for questions (if they have any questions, which they rarely do during peer review but in case they do, I'm here to help). I could be reading and responding to drafts or preparing for tomorrow's classes, but writing a blog post in the middle of class feels transgressive and frankly, I'm in the mood for a little transgression right now.

I've already looked at most of these essays and I'm mostly pleased with them, although I did a double-take when one student wrote that Appalachia is full of "tailor parks." This year both of my freshman classes have demonstrated great proficiency at following directions, a talent their predecessors have not consistently displayed. The papers in my freshman humor class are downright funny and most of them fulfill the requirements for the assignment, which is a plus, and the papers in the Appalachia class are moving away from stereotypes and toward analysis at a pretty brisk pace. So I'm not complaining about my freshman classes.

Neither will I complain about my literature classes. We had our second Moby Dick Monday in the nature class yesterday, and the discussion was both intellectually stimulating and energizing, making me feel as if I could go right out and hurl a harpoon through the biggest conundrum in existence. And the African-American Lit class tackled Harriet Jacobs, an author who always provokes excellent discussion. Further, over the weekend I read some terrific paper drafts from those classes and I have high hopes for the future. So as far as classes go, I have no complaints.

A few weeks ago I went to a certain administrator and said, "I have a complaint." A look of woe came upon his countenance, but then I continued, "My complaint is that I have nothing to complain about."

"Ah," he said. "You feel you need a complaint to provide meaning and structure to your existence? I'll see what can be done about that."

Last night's faculty meeting took care of that problem in spades....but most of the things I could complain about really ought not to be bandied about out of context. Things are going well except when they're not, and there's not much anyone can do about those situations so let's all just get together and wring our hands. I'll just say this: if the intent of the administration was to make faculty members feel demoralized and devalued, yesterday's faculty meeting certainly did the trick.

So now I'm feeling like rebelling against the status quo, and writing a blog post in the middle of class is a fairly harmless method of transgression. A more extreme but perhaps more satisfying method would be to issue harpoons to faculty before each faculty meeting, but I would be little nervous about my colleagues' ability to aim properly. I wouldn't want to hurl a harpoon toward a problem and end up pinning my own feet to the floor.

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