In Praise of the English Nazi

When I was in college in the 90’s, Seinfeld was still dominating our catch phrase vocabulary.  As you may recall, one of the most popular lines from the show concerned an extremely anal retentive soup counter owner who demanded brevity, silence, and meekness from his customers.  Infringing upon these rules resulted in the sudden loss of your soup-purchasing opportunity, as he would yank the cardboard cup away from you and shout, “No soup for you!” 

Jerry called him the Soup Nazi.

One of my literature classes in college was run by a man who demanded respect and precision at all times.  His formality was excruciating.  If a student spoke out of turn, she would be singled out for a condescending lecture about decorum.  One young woman in our class said she walked by his desk and saw a hand-written letter that he’d opened that began with, “Dearest Father…”

We called him the English Nazi.

Maybe his greatest offense against our barely post-adolescent sensibilities was when he told us to draw poetry.  Keep in mind that this was a class mostly populated by future English teachers; it wasn’t some 100-level freshman requirement.  We all loved reading.  But, when he told us to read Keats and Shelley and Browning and draw pictures of the scenes they described, and our earnest scribblings were met by curt, withering dismissals of our perception, we were astounded. 

“No.  That’s not what it looked like,” he would say of most of our work.  Continue reading

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Fall 2010 College Semester Round Up

Tomorrow starts finals week at UNLV.  As I get to catch my breath and wind down from these last three and a half months of night teaching, here are a few thoughts and highlights from Fall 2010:

  • One young woman in my remedial class wrote an essay about how she wasn’t sure if she should be in college, and how her heart wasn’t really in it. I edited it, then wrote that she has potential and can be successful, but needs to make a choice now and stick with it. I never got to give it back to her, though; she never came to class again after that.
  • A young man in one of my classes is on a fall sports team. He emailed me once to say that he couldn’t be in class that day, because his team had to leave early for an away game that weekend. I appreciated the notice, except…our team played at home that week.
  • In one class alone, four people had to drop because of conflicts with their work schedules.
  • I had a student this semester who was a recent immigrant from Nigeria. Continue reading

Grading the UNLV-UNM Game

Boy, am I glad I went to this game last night!  45-10.  What fun.  Here’s my breakdown of how it went:

UNLV Offense: B+.  I’m tempted to call it an A- here, but I don’t want to be overenthusiastic.  We played above average ball, exploiting most opportunities given us and pressing our advantages to the fullest. 

QB Omar Clayton was dependable in moving the ball down the field; he’s consistently strong at it.  Most of the time, when a quarterback can’t find a receiver and tries to bolt for what it’s worth, it doesn’t go well, but Clayton usually makes it work. 

Junior Michael Johnson was on fire tonight, showing up everywhere at once.  He didn’t quite carry the team, but on a bad night, his performance still could’ve.  He’s going to make a name for himself at this rate. 

On another note, one of our wide receivers is in one of my English classes, and that penalty call against him was CRAP. 

UNLV Defense: C+.  Look at tonight’s stats–we dominated in every category, but New Mexico wasn’t too far behind in first downs.  That smells like sloppy defense to me.  We’ve gotten a little better over these first few games, but we still have a ways to go–if we’d played like this against a decent team, we would’ve lost. 

The highlight here was a second half sack of UNM’s QB that practically snapped the guy in half, and the subsequently dropped ball was picked up and run in for a touchdown. 

UNM Defense: C-.  Swiss cheese puts up a better net than this. 

UNM Offense: F.  This is where they were just unforgivably awful.  Their receivers often seemed to be purposely trying to run into the thickest pockets of our defenders that they could find.  They lost the ball so many times that I lost count–one of their many turnovers resulted from a throw that literally bounced off the intended receiver and right into our arms.  It looked like a scene from a slapstick comedy. 

New Mexico decided to experiment by putting in a freshman as their starting quarterback.  Big mistake.  At one point, he threw the ball into the ground so obviously on purpose that the crowd didn’t boo so much as collectively roll its eyes. 

Verdict: it was fun to see us win (for a change), but beating a bad team having an especially bad night doesn’t count for much.  Still, it gave us a chance to hone some promising skills. 

UNR beat BYU at Provo yesterday, which, no matter what your conference or ranking, is hard to do.  This doesn’t bode well for our rivalry game next weekend, and history is already on Reno’s side.  If we play the way we did last night against them the way they played yesterday, who would win?  Hard to say for sure, but I can’t favor UNLV.  But, it would be one heck of a game.  That’s what I hope to see.

Lesson Plan For Teaching Evaluation Writing

I tried this with my English 101 class last week to great success.  After reviewing the criteria for writing a good evaluative essay (including, ironically, establishing criteria), they read a copy of a review of something (one day I had them bring in reviews of things they liked–I saw reviews of movies, music, cameras, and a Snuggie–the next day I gave them positive and negative book reviews of Catcher In the Rye, as Salinger had just passed away). 

After they studied their piece, I asked them to write a paragraph or two on the back, evaluating the review.  How effective was it?  Was it crafted suitably for the intended audience?  Did it give sufficient background information (or too much) on the item being reviewed?  Etc.

Then I had them exchange papers with another student, who then read their review of the original item’s review.  I then had them write a paragraph reviewing the review that had just been written by their peer, using the same criteria. 

Then I had them trade papers with someone else, who then read everything written so far, and who then wrote a review of the most recent review (which itself, remember, was reviewing a review).  By this time, they were adequately cognizant of writing with the requirements for good evaluation in mind.  I thought about extending this exercise to further rounds, but decided that this was silly enough.  But it worked!

Some Sad School Stories

There are forty students enrolled in my third hour class.  Thirty showed up today: one had been suspended, nine others were truant. 

For the previous two classes, their homework—as explained at the beginning and end of each class and posted on the board—was to get a copy of a novel from a list I’d given them, and merely to bring it in to class today.  The list included authors such as Mark Twain and Ray Bradbury (and, for that matter, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer) among two dozen others, the only other requirement being that the book they choose be at least 250 pages long.  I told them that our school librarian had a copy of the list and could help them find a book.  Obviously, they had a few hundred books to choose from.

Out of the thirty students in class today, only ten had a book.  A few others probably had a book but left it at home.  However, the vast majority of the unprepared twenty clearly hadn’t put forth any effort at all, hadn’t bothered to write down or remember the assignment, and had lost or thrown away my handout list.  They didn’t even care enough to try to do it.  Keep in mind that the assignment was merely to have a copy of the book with them.  That was it. 

And only one-fourth of the kids in that class will get credit for it. 

Is this a remedial class?  Far from it.  Continue reading

UNLV Sponsors Youth Sexuality Activism Conference For CCSD Educators

A disturbing email went out to my school’s electronic bulletin board today.  Presumably it went out to every school in the district.  The message included two attachments giving details about an alternative sexuality conference on the UNLV campus on November 14 which will feature a series of workshops.  Are these workshops meant to help educators with their personal lives?  No, nothing like that.  Is it to assist them in avoiding the creation of a classroom environment where teasing and bullying of homosexual students might occur?  Partly. 

But the most unnerving thing about this conference is the inclusion of sessions meant to instruct teachers in training students “to get involved with the LGTBQ community in order to effect positive change. We will look at already established youth LGBTQ community groups, recent movements and types of youth activism.”  Is this serious?  Is UNLV actually promoting, and CCSD tacitly allowing, public teachers preparing to indoctrinate young people in alternative sexual lifestyles, to the point where these children will be encouraged to go out into the community and advocate for them? 

This is beyond political.  Continue reading

An Open Letter To The Rebel Yell

There are really only two reasonable responses to the controversy surrounding your paper’s printing of The Burger Grind’s ad featuring “Juicy Lucy:” you could apologize to the community for a lack of good taste, or you could defend the ad as not overtly offensive.  People might not agree with one or the other, but at least we could all respect such a stand.

But what you’ve chosen to do is not reasonable, respectful, or responsible.  Your official editorial response to the controversy is to say that you have no connection to your advertising content, and to essentially step out of the way so you can egg on the crowd that’s gearing up to storm the Burger Grind, torches and pitchforks in hand. 

I’ve never seen such a shameless example of throwing someone under the bus.  The majority of your critics may be complaining of your lack of consideration towards women, but I’m more bothered by another failure of character.

Shame on you for being cowards.

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Sexism in UNLV’s Newspaper?

On the way to a class last week, I picked up a copy of The Rebel Yell, UNLV’s student newspaper.  As I finished flipping through it, what I saw on the back cover made me cringe a bit, and I wondered if there would be any problems over it.

The back cover consisted entirely of an ad for a hamburger joint called The Burger Grind, and the ad featured a picture in the corner of a nude 1950’s-era Betty Page-esque model, kneeling and shown from behind, her body divided up by dotted lines and labeled with common kinds of cuts of meat–“tenderloin,” “rump,” etc. 

Within days, I was getting mass emails that had been sent out to the entire staff, apparently, by people at the school’s Women’s Center who wanted to protest and boycott what they called an example of misogyny. 

Now, it’s certainly their right to be offended and to make their voice heard, but I have to wonder if this is really an appropriate stand to take. 

First of all, the picture, while tasteless and not nearly as clever as the advertiser seems to think, is hardly obscene or deeply offensive.  The “joke” is that young men (such as those who might read the student paper and frequent a burger joint) might see a woman as “a piece of meat,” not unlike a cow.  Yes, that’s rude and tacky, but in Las Vegas, it’s also pretty much par for the course.  With all of the many kinds of exploitation of women going on here, why would someone choose this one as the one that crosses the line?  When there are so many more serious violations of dignity out there, why make your stand here?  What’s the goal–contrite apologies from any men involved in the ad and promises to sponsor day care facilities for the daughters of working moms? 

Continue reading

My UNLV Tie

When I was an undergrad, my parents were on a vacation on the east coast and found a UNLV tie, which they got as a present for me.  This is now my most cherished tie, and not just for sentimental reasons.  I’m sure nobody could find one like it anymore. 

See the gun that he’s carrying?  In 1997, the school redesigned the mascot (“Hey Reb”), mostly by taking away the gun.  He hasn’t been seen with it for over a decade.  A bow to political correctness, I suppose.

By the way, I’ve always wondered why our mascot is a Southern rebel.  Nevada was created as a Union state, after all.  Is it because we’re to the south of our primary rival, the blue-wearing UNR? 

At any rate, I love my gun-toting Rebel and will always cherish this tie.

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The First Four Weeks

The first four weeks of school are over.  Some thoughts:

  • As students transition into using new vocabulary words in their own writing, they seem to have an instinct for using unfamiliar words as adjectives.  I find myself reviewing parts of speech much more than I’d like to at the high school level.  Most teens need to be reminded that parts of speech are not interchangeable.  The first word of our first unit is “adulterate,” the verb meaning “to corrupt or make impure.”  Without closer guidance, they’ll just use it like this: “He was a really adulterate guy.”  Of course, if they’re talking about Bill Clinton, I guess I could give them half credit.
  • I usually don’t like open house, the annual night where parents come in to meet their kids’ teachers.  I never know what to do up there, not that it ever makes any difference, anyway.  Life goes on as if it never happened, and I forget everyone I met as soon as I go home.  This year, though, one parent thanked me for assigning  a list of options from which students have to choose for their independent reading this quarter.  “If you hadn’t assigned these,” she said, “the kids would never read them.”  It’s nice enough to get a compliment, but it’s even better when a parent understands the reasoning behind what I do!
  • Yesterday, a college student called me to say that he’d missed the last two weeks of class because his grandmother died.  He offered to bring me a note from his parents.  I told him that was unnecessary. 
  • Every year I notice this: before our morning announcements, kids in an honors class will all stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance together.  Kids in non-honors classes rarely will.  It’s a very stark, and very absolute, difference.  This begs a chicken-or-the-egg question: is a student’s citizenship influenced by their academic performance, or is their academic performance influenced by their citizenship?  Or are both, perhaps, shaped by the same factors in the home environment…
  • Continue reading

Ave Atque Vale: Dr. Jeffrey Michael Stitt

I just got an email informing me of the passing of longtime UNLV professor Dr. J. Michael Stitt.  Though I’d seen Mike at several department meetings at the beginning of semesters, my main memories of him will be from the class I had him for as an undergrad.  Here’s the comment I left in this guest book:

Dr. Stitt was an inspiration to me as a student and as a teacher: his lectures flowed from his vast love and knowledge of his subject. I only had him for one class–Mythology–but his skill at telling stories sucked me in. I’ll always remember his summary of the evolution of mythology: the further north you go, the more violent the mythology gets. Thus my interest in Norse mythology, courtesy of good Dr. Stitt. And when I teach now, I try to tell stories the same way he did. Thank you, sir.

My condolences go out to his family.  He was a great guy and a great teacher; we lost him too soon. 

Consider honoring him by reading some stories from Norse and Celtic mythology.

Pun Good Turn…

Thanks again to the good folks over at Arts & Letters Daily for linking to this delightful piece where an African immigrant opines on the surprising animosity America has towards puns.  The essay is not only a worthy appreciation of punning, but a lucid work of style in its own right.  (Local note: author Teju Cole makes heavy use of Nigerian poet and playwright Wole Soyinak, a Nobel laureate and apparently an inveterate punster.  Soyinka has been associated with UNLV for several years.  Strangely, though, there’s not a single reference to James Joyce.) 

I don’t know that Americans hate puns, though.  Drive through your town and look at the independent store names.  For some reason, especially the beauty salons.  In Las Vegas alone, some popular spots that pop into mind are: Curl Up and Dye, Clip Joint, and Scissor’s Palace.  All locally appropriate, those.  There’s also an “exotic” barber shop called…wait for it…A Little Off the Top. 

And while we’re on the subject, let’s bring on a few more groans with my personal list of terrible puns:

  1. Mildly humorous country in Eastern Europe: Chuckleslovakia
  2. Inspires people to appreciate motor vehicles: automotivational
  3. Sensibly applied care for the spine: chiropractical
  4. Very impressive technical innovation: scienterrific
  5. If U2 and Shakespeare collaborated: “Now is the winter of our discotheque.”
  6. Nepalese monster with strong stomach muscles: Abdominal Snowman
  7. Excellent Spanish speaking man: Juanderful
  8. Excellent Spanish desert: flantastic
  9. Bones of professional academics: scholartons
  10. A leisurely-perambulating homeless artist from a swanky part of New York: A slo-mo boho hobo from Soho
  11. A Celtic person lamenting a dearth of fortunate females: “Alas!  A lack o’ lucky lasses!”
  12. When I say something pretentious or tacky: Hustontatious

UNLV Beats BYU 75-74

unlv_rebels_200I got to see Saturday night’s sold out game at the Thomas and Mack, courtesy of my father-in-law.  The Rebels have had only a so-so season, often playing, as R-J columnist Ed Graney said, like “a koala on Quaaludes.”  Saturday night’s game started out in a familiar fashion, with BYUoutplaying on offense and UNLV looking less like a team than five random guys all playing on their own, actually seeming confused when they tried to work together. 

But things clicked soon enough.  By the end of the first half, the momentum was strong and the second half saw a real treat for UNLV fans: Wink Adams had a great night, at the line and all around.  Mo Rutledge got more indomitable the closer he got to the net, growing practically unstoppable inside the key.  Tre’Von Willis also stood out, scoring solidly and sinking his fair share of UNLV’s many three pointers.  Though BYU brought it up to only a one point loss, UNLV was ahead by as much as 12 at one point in the second half. 

This bodes well for the next stage. 

And so as not to write a post without any dreary social commentary, on my way home I saw a police officer texting on his cell phone.  While driving.  Arrrgh!

Recommended Reading: “Brimstone P.I.”

Here I am, whiling away the time as the last several students in this section of English 101 finish their final exam essay.  In another hour, the semester will be over for me, nothing left of it but to wrap up grading the last few items and turn in my paperwork tomorrow. 

As a few of the students come by the desk to shake my hand on the way out, I look up from the book I just started this evening: Reading the OED, by Ammon Shea.  It caught my eye on the new release shelf as I was checking out a DVD of Oedipus Rex for my English II class.  So far, it’s pretty good: clearly modeled on A.J. Jacobs’s The Know-It-All (where Shea’s book chronicles his year-long study of the entire Oxford English Dictionary, Jacobs’s similarly humorous memoir covered his year-long reading of the whole Encyclopaedia Britannica), it’s clever, accessible, and yet still just obscure enough to be nerdy fun. 

Something in the first chapter reminded me of a great experience I had a couple of years ago.  I was sitting in a chair at United Blood Services, giving blood and passing the time with the new issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  I came upon a story called “Brimstone P.I.“, by Beverle Graves Myers.  Within the first paragraph, it was apparent that this was no typical procedural.  The very novelty of it sucked me in.

It’s about a dead detective–in hell–who’s called upon by the devil to find out who’s been decorating the place with greeting cards and air fresheners.  Continue reading

My Student In Thailand

I knew where Natalie was when she didn’t come to our World Literature class at UNLV last week, because she had already talked to me about her trip to visit family back in Thailand.  But when I heard a blip on the news last week about political turmoil shutting down Thailand’s airports, it just didn’t click…

…Until I checked my email Monday morning and found a message from her, apologizing that she was going to have to miss class again this week, because she’s stuck in Thailand.  She didn’t sound worried at all about her safety, though; she was just worried about missing any more class so near the end of the semester.  If anything, she sounded irritated by the whole situation. 

I wrote back that she could email me the work we’d already talked about, and that if she wasn’t back by next week, we could arrange to make up the little remaining work we have also via computer (hey, at least she has access to email; that’s a good sign). 

Continue reading