Saturday, January 26, 2013


The new term of instruction at my current institution is underway, and I have already started getting work in from students.  As ever, I have questions about what I find in student writing, and while some of them are not entirely good to have to ask ("What are you thinking, here?" "Where are you getting this idea?" "Are you sure that this is a response to the prompt?" "Why did you give up the way it seems that you did?"), some of them are decidedly more interesting.

I asked one set of students to write a brief bit on what they expect to get out of my classes.  Among the many responses was a student comment about not wanting to do "sub-par" work.  I know that the phrase refers to work that is below acceptable standards, and I understood what the student was trying to put across.  But I was also taken by thoughts about the more literal meaning of the phrase.

Par, after all, is a benchmark score in golf.  In golf, is it not good to come in well under--i.e, "sub"--par?  So how is it that a reference to what is actually desirable became an indication of inadequacy?

I take it as a teaching moment, one in which I can reinforce how contexts change the meanings of words, how words change meanings over time, and that lack of attention to the details of language use results in confusion.  I also take it as a confirmation that my students teach me things.  Perhaps they do not always impart new information to me, but they do cause me to stop and ask questions that lead to interesting thoughts.  I have no idea if any good will come of them, other than the exercise in examining details and posing questions that they offer.  Maybe they will offer a model of how reading can lead to writing that leads towards an increased understanding of the world and the people in it.

I have written before about my attempts to coordinate sharing with students, here.  This is an example that will present me no problems, I think.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Again, I have been away from my writing, and for too long.
Life has not been kind to literary efforts of late.
It has not been easy to find the time.
It never is,
But recently, it has been worse.
Death and vandals have conspired
To pull me away
Again and again
I hope that I am back
For a while
A long one
And that matters may be at some ease
Not just for me
But for all.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


I realize that it is a little late to begin with a New Year message, so I will not do so aside from this sentence.

I realize also that I have not been as regular in my blogging as I usually am--however much that may or may not be.  There have been things happen that have taken me away, and I have spent most of the last week trying to get myself back to normal from them.  The end of the last term at work was not the best.

But I am back in New York City, and I am trying to get back to whatever it is that counts as "normal" in my own life here.  Christmas decorations have finally come down at the apartment I share with my beloved wife, and I am finally getting back to a place from which I can write.  The latter is particularly good; by my training and profession, I associate quite a bit of my self-valuation with the quantity and quality of the writing I do (and I know that this blog is not the best example of it), so that when I am not doing much writing, I begin to conceive of myself as not doing what I ought to do.

Some of you who read this will mock me for such a comment.  Some of you will look to this article, which I ran across through my dissertation advisor, Prof. Jennifer Vaught of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and think that I, who teach English at a technical college in New York City, am whining overly much.  And perhaps I am.  (Although if I am, it is not by so much as might be thought; this article is not inaccurate in its assertions.  Too, if the ideas that certain people have about legally introducing guns into schools carry through, I will be a lot more likely to get killed than is currently the case.*)  I know that I have a high standard of living; I am able to sit at home and type out a blog entry rather than attend church because religious observance is not compulsory for me, and I do not have to scramble to find food for my wife and me to eat today and maybe tomorrow.

I am thankful to have the life I have.  But that does not mean that I do not want to work to make it better.

There is some hope for it.  I received my copies of the December 2012 CCC and the 2012 Profession on New Year's Eve just past.  I have not started reading them yet (I have been staying close to home this past while), but when I do, I will inevitably have something to say about them.  It will get said here, as usual.  And there are always other projects that will get figured up here.  So there is that.

*I live in New York City as I write this, crime statistics for which can be found here.  Also, I attend classes at the New York Aikikai, if not nearly so often or regularly as I ought.  So there are parts of the groundwork for that comment.

About the gun control thing...this argument has been raised before, that those civilians who are legally permitted to carry firearms ought to be able to carry them into schools so as to be able to successfully defend themselves from assailants.  I view it as a bad idea, for while it is true that the dedicated criminal will not be dissuaded by legislation, the normally law-abiding citizen will.  I teach college and was trained to teach middle and high school.  Many of the students at each of those levels are subject to hormonal influences that destroy higher judgment and increase reactions to anger substantially.  Allowing them to have guns in the classroom--which some of the proposals regarding expansion of concealed carry would enable, since states such as Texas allow concealed carry at age 21 (or 18, under certain circumstances)--means that when I hand back an assignment that has a failing grade marked on it (not a rare occurrence), I would have to worry more that the student will have a firearm handy and that I will be shot in the face.

I am not eager to be shot in the face.