21 January 2007

Behold the English language

...It is a wonderful and glorious thing!

Really. I promise!

First, a slight rewind. I've recently come back into contact with an old classmate, one that seems to love using that word that's just right, as I do. So, my poor atrophied vocabulary is starting to go through verbal therapy and is slowly but surely getting stronger...

Just in time to torture my students.

Case in point.
History 1x1. Survey of Western Civilization I1. First day of lecture. We're discussing the paleolithic era through to the New Kingdom of the Egyptians2. So, we're happily discussing the role of Sumer, Mesopotamia, and the Egyptians... Right before the advent of invasion by the Sea People. I mention, as my lovely powerpoints display, that Egypt and the other nations/confederacies/kingdoms/civilizations have reached a detente at this point in time. Blank looks.

I swear, you could have heard crickets chirping.

Adjunct Slave: Ooookay, so, does anyone know what I mean by detente?
AS: Does anyone want to take a guess as to the language of origin?
Male student: Miss? Isn't this a history class? I mean, do we really need to know what these words mean?
AS: Oh hell no. You did not just say that linguistics has nothing to do with history, did you? Seriously? You are making my baby Buddha weep.
AS: How else are you going to communicate concepts now, much less through time, if you don't have a grasp of the meaning?
Ms: So it's important, huh?
AS: Nope. We'll just ignore all technological advances, forget all the nice things that the Romans stole and adapted, won't count the Hellenistic Age, and go back to living in caves. Class dismissed!
Female student #1: Is it Italian?
AS: Why do you think it's Italian?
Fs1: Because the Romans were everywhere.
AS: We're not at the Romans yet. It's a latin based language, but it's not Italian. I'll give you a hint. *Blank* fries. *Blank* toast. *Blank* bread.
Female student #2: Oh! French!
AS: Indeed! Okay, in French, the prefix "de" is similar to ours, what does it mean?
Fs1: "The"?
AS: Can I hang myself with the USB extension cable? Would it matter?
AS: Nope. It's generally a negation. Think "deconstruct" and "demilitarized" - these words usually mean "not," right?
Class generally nods.
AS: Okay, so de (not) ... anyone know that tente might be?
Class has blank look, is obviously getting bored.
AS: *sigh* Detente is when two or more political entities that were at odds have agreed to something like a truce. Anyone here have siblings? Good. You know how when you're really pissed off at your brother or sister, but you still have to have dinner with them, and you know if one of you looks at the other crosswise, all hell will break loose, peas will go flying...
Class giggles and some nod.
AS: It's like that. You make sure you say, "please pass the butter" - not because you really want to be nice, but because it's better than the alternative.3
Class collectively begins to see the light.

And that was for a grand total of six students. Six! Doesn't anyone read anymore? I'm going to have to bring in a dictionary and watch them pass it around. Granted the newspaper in my town is horrid. I want to know what Mad Libs they filled out and sent in to get their BA in Journalism, because that address needs to experience the wonder of Dresden in World War II.

Back to the point.

It is a community college that is attached to an accredited state university. It is open enrollment. And I have to give the kids credit for coming at all... But for the love of all that is shiny, could they crack a book before they get to college? I have a co-worker who was told that some of his students were getting through the class without knowing how to cite their work. I'd be happy with a student that knows basic sentence and paragraph structure. Comma rules would be asking a bit too much, I know.
In other news, the geeks are back, and I'm quite pleased with them. There is a new student in the class that tries so hard to be smart. I keep telling them not to overthink things, but they do and it makes me cranky.

When asked why one aspect was different from another, he gave me this long exposition on how computers work and everything... It was about five minutes. And I looked at him after his monologue and said "okay, and if we don't overthink it?" Blank look. (I'm starting to get used to these.) "How about the limitations of the BIOS and its interaction with the hardware?"

Is it wrong that after one meet-and-greet and one lecture class, I'm really hoping for that kid to drop? He's sitting in the same seat as Mumbling Boy was last semester. I hope that seat is cursed.
Online courses are going well, aside from the requisite students sending me emails that contain improper language, no matter where you reside. "Thx" is "thanks" on text messages and waitress stubs. "U" is a letter, not a pronoun. "kthxbai" should be used only in mocking someone's netspeak. I'm tempted to write back in 1337speak and watch the emails to my supervisor clog his inbox. "zOMG, mi teechur wuz meen! u kant let her do that! kthxbai!"

Though, I want someone to explain this to me. In the course catalog, it states that my online courses start on Tuesday. The students are loaded in on the Saturday prior. Now, given that my contract doesn't kick in until Tuesday, when classes start (Saturday if I'm teaching a face-to-face Saturday class), why should I be getting nastygrams from students via IT because the course isn't fully updated, yet? Is there some parallel universe where all my students are eager learners and want to crank through the course as quickly as possible and absorb all information about history, great and small? And when did I get here?

Ah, well. The hope of grad school acceptance letters will keep me going. And Spring Break, and the trip to New England. And liberal applications of baileys and coffee. ...Until they give me permission to do as the Sumerian Scribal Schools and cane my students for any infraction, those things will have to keep me going.

1 From really really really really long ago until that Luther guy did that thing on the church in Wittenburg. Nothing major happened then. Move along.
2 Really, don't get me started on the entire "Let's compress ~400,000 years of information into 75 minutes. There ya go! It's an overview!" Hell, even going back to the beginning of translatable writing in Sumer, we're still talking on the order of a few thousand years. But hey, they don't look like "us" so we can condense their role... Head. Meet lectern. Lectern, meet head. *thunk*
3 Yes, I know this isn't a full and accurate definition of detente, but with my students, telling them that it's a relaxation of political tensions would have made them make a comparison that would have really made my baby Buddha weep. "Is that like what Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were doing?" (No, and while we are the New Roman Empire, we're still not there yet!)

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