Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Swan Song XX--foul and pestilent vapors


I am an agonizingly slow learner.  Take this basic law of educational dynamics:  in the semester's last throes, don't expect much out of students.  Hamlet, Dickinson, Lamott?--I don't care what glory is on deck or who's the star, students grow mold. 

I had a guest in class yesterday, a friend of mine, a writer who's good, whose work I thought they'd like, who's a great communicator, and some kids--some of my best--didn't even show up!  I could kill 'em.  Seriously. 

But then, on my way home, still nursing wounds, I ask myself what on earth I expected.  This time of year, the whole dang lot of 'em need a dose of Cialis.  I'm angry, you know?--but I don't learn.

And then this note just now in my early morning in-box.  "Sorry I didn't let you know earlier, but I apologize for not being in class today. I had some family issues come up late last night, as well as some more complications today."  

Oh, sure you do.  I've been at this for 40 years, all right?  Seen it all.  I know a frickin' falsehood when I hear one.

"I am not completely finished with the paper that was due today, (I was planning on finishing it up last night)," he writes, "and I was wondering if there would be any way that I could get a extension until monday morning?"

People generally capitalize the day of the week, okay?

All of which reminds me of an incident years and years ago in Greenway High, Phoenix, Arizona, when a kid came up to me, tears in his eyes--a big kid, a gymnast, broad across the shoulders, heavy beard, no squirt--and told me that he couldn't get his paper done because his parents were fighting ALL THE TIME, and the house was burning up.  "I'm sorry," he said, "can I get it in late?"

I just about cried.  A ton of our students were from broken homes.  We were on the edge of the city, new housing, and if I'd ask those kids were they were from, just about all of them would say some place far out of state--Ohio, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Minnesota.  They were all ex-patriots, and most of them, like this one, purple-hearted vets from bloody family wars.

"Sure," I told the kid.  The quality of mercy is not strained--it droppeth as the gentle dew from heaven and all that.  Besides, good Lord, I know grace.

Two days later, one of the school counselors comes marching down the sidewalk shaking his head.  "I am so tired of you sweet midwestern Christians," he said, laughing.  "You and your soft hearts.  Listen, that kid's been pulling that crap for the three years he's been here.  He can smell a sucker a mile off, and you got took."  He rolled his eyes.

Nobody likes being conned.  Justice means drawing a line in the sand and not letting anyone by.  Paper was due yesterday.  The only way to be fair to all is simply not allow an exception.

Besides, I tell myself this morniing--look at that milquetoast assembly you had gathered in front of you yesterday.  All the life of a country cemetery.  They could give a crap about whatever--about Hamlet!@!!  Why the heck should you give them a break when they don't give you the time of day?  Tell the kid he gets whacked a grade every day that paper isn't in, family problems, financial ruin, or imminent death.  Get the dang paper in, fool.

To scream, or not to scream, that is the question:
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The insolence of listless, lying students,
Or to take Arms against their wretched impudence,
And by opposing, flunk 'em, flunk 'em all.

Yeah.  Amen. Preach it, bard.

But then, alas, there is
an inevitability that shapes our ends,
a wretched divinity that renders us all
[sob] midwestern Christians.

Thus, conscience doth make cowards of us all.  Well, me at least.

I just sent the guy an e-mail.  "Fine," I told him.  "I hope things work out."  He's a nice kid.

In forty years of teaching, regretably I have learned absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing.

Woe is me.   Fie upon it.  Fie, fie!

3 comments:

Dutchoven said...

"To be or not to be"...that still remains the question. Well James...you "are"; don't let anything change even in this time of the Swan; that is what endears you to most-if not all those who passed before you, and are "passing" now. Oh, and one more thing...this too shall pass.

Anonymous said...

So now we know why Jesus died on the Cross for our sins? A big four letter word explains it all.

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