New Civilization News: First Week    
 First Week2 comments
picture8 Dec 2008 @ 05:33, by John Ashbaugh

First Week
Every class is an experiment.

Sixteen new ones for Composition one. We have ten sessions together in the course of eleven weeks, and I am supposed to help each one of them improve his or her writing in whatever way is personally appropriate through a series of essays and one short research paper. As she is turning in tonight’s essay , Jessica tells me that this is the first essay she has ever written. It’s a page and a half, thirty lines, with five paragraphs. Grammar is an entirely relative concept in this course. Nearly everyone has some problems, and I can read that they have created an alternative grammar, each of them, from the standard code. I have to help them translate their codes into standard code, and I am having a first glance encounter with a clue to the structures they live within. Most of these people do not write very often or very much anyway. A few of them are avid readers, and there are a few who profess to enjoy writing. What is the least common denominator that we can all write an essay about? Parenting Children in the Age of Television. The Television era and the minds of our children. My goodness. Look at what television has done to the minds of our children. They don’t read, and they can’t write. They do whatever the television tells them to do and they think whatever the television tells them to think. There appears to be a lot of variety. There appears to be a discussion. There appears to be an argument and an issue of contention so the viewer may enjoy the illusion of making a decision. Melody couldn’t get past twelve lines in an hour and a half. Writer’s block. She’s said everything she has to say. She has till Saturday to think of some more things to say. Everyone else turns in between one-and-a-half and two pages, double spaced, twelve point font, complete with a title, properly paragraphed, and now I will get to read what they think. I will get to encounter their linguistic realities. It’s not so much about getting them to translate their code into standard code, as it is about getting them to understand that writing can be fun; it can be an enjoyable experience through which one may develop self-understanding, a sense for having created something well made, and a sense for the satisfaction and pleasure of conveying information and emotional content to someone else. One can develop a sense for communicating with both some inner part of yourself, and all of those others who are out there. Whether it’s a personal letter or a research paper, the idea behind what you are doing will give your essay its meaning. It is your responsibility to make sure that your idea comes through clearly. That is why we have standard code, and that is why we have poetry, and that is why we have rock lyrics, and rap lyrics, and country lyrics, and all of the other different kinds of lyrics you can count. Each of us has got our own little set of linguistic communities, and we put ‘em all together and come up with a style. This is the way you say things, because this is the way the words that you’ve learned have wrapped themselves around the world out there. Here is an essay about how I see the world. Jessica is not asking me to read her essay. She is asking me to look at it, and tell her if it looks Ok.
Third day of the new quarter. Morning with ten Comp Twos, and evening with eighteen Comp Ones. Lots of new faces in the Comp Twos, and totally new faces in the Comp Ones. Some of my CAD crew are here this morning: Andrew, Steven, and Dakota. Ryan is back for another try at this course. So is Rick. Corina rear left and Susan rear right. Jayson right in front on the right, and Isela front left. Joseph next to Susan. Four Comp courses all together in a row. Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday morning and Thursday night.
Lots of women in this evening’s Comp One, just over a majority. Lots of interested people, interested and curious. They walk into this room to meet some strange person who is going to be reading their essays, and telling them how to improve the quality of their creations.
Each time I teach a course over again, it evolves a little bit more into a sequence of activities and discussions which can stimulate the learning curve of the participants a little more efficiently. With a little bit of flexibility, and a little bit of Luck, and some critical discernment, and creative spontaneity, a well-tried framework can be adapted to a clearly defined population, all of us in this room.
The cold has brought me to the fire in the adobe, wood, and brick room in the grove of cottonwoods near the river winding through the desert between the mountains on its way to the sea. Half of a pearl lights the horizon through the overhanging branches. Group Dynamics in the morning. Eshie and Hajro, and Corry and Charles, and Bobby and Josh, and Valerie and Ruben, and Andrew and Ivonne, and Yvette and Patrick. Took me the longest time to remember Corina and Ruben. The quietest people in the group but entirely up for speaking their minds when they get a mind to. Eshie, - quiet, soft-spoken Eshie, - has been a corrections officer and is currently a security guard at a place where she needs to be telling people what to do whether they want to do it or not. None of this hang around and do nothing kind of security guard for Eshie; no sir, and it is quite clear that soft-spoken, almost never heard from Eshie has got it in her to let everyone know exactly what they need to know. That threesome could work well with Josh. Now, who clusters around Valerie, and who clusters around Bobby, since those two should not be on the same team simply because they know each other so well already? A similar close friendship is there between Andrew and Ivonne. Now I’ve got Patrick and Hajro and Yvette, and Charles. Yvette has gotta go with Bobby and Andrew. Charles goes well with Hajro, Valerie, and Ivonne. Recall: Eshie and Corry and Ruben and Josh. I’ve just figured out the project groups.
They all fall into place once you determine the organizing principles, for there may be more than one. I’ve got five women and seven men; I’ve got the more experienced and the less experienced; I’ve got the quiet ones and the vocal ones. I’ve got as many of their emotional parameters as I can discern. Ivonne was very meticulous and artistic when she was writing words out on the whiteboard, embellishing black letters with green ink, and erasing one set of letters to replace them with a more artistic script. Valerie was very artistic with her drawing. Charles was like a director watching the whole thing fall into place and confirming his seal of approval with a job-well-done hands-down gesture. Those three are good together and Hajro is their wild card. Patrick ran away with the presentation for group number three, and Corina and Josh and Andrew didn’t get their chance to show. The organizational framework is kind of lost. So I think Patrick needs to be reined in a bit, and Yvette, Bobby and Andrew are just the ones to do that within the framework of the large project. Yvette is the wild card in that group. She can do good for herself and for their group, if she can decide to give some priority and enthusiasm to the concept. Bobby is already not favorably predisposed to Yvette because she has attendance problems. A question will be whether she can connect and ally with either Patrick or Andrew or even both. It’s gonna be up to her to be there, and I understand Bobby’s concern. The fact of the matter is, she needs discipline, and maybe these three guys can instill some into her. She is feisty and respectful and matter-of-fact. She can be really great at whatever she might put herself into, and I don’t know anything about her outside life, except I think she lives on the Laguna reservation some forty miles west of here. She may have some responsibilities in that area. She may be doing all she can with what she is doing and maybe our appreciation for her needs to be reconsidered. As a wild card, how she plays out will depend a lot on who she is teamed up with.
Eleven out of sixteen show up for Contemporary World Cultures on Saturday afternoon. First half of the session is about Globalization. The second half is about Culture, with the summary thought about how Globalization is impacting the cultures of every nation on the globe to the point where national identity is becoming an anachronism. Cephus and Jeremiah and Melanie and Jose, and Adam and Marcos, and Patrick and Wes, and Marianna and Karmella, and Carlos is there for half the period. We are all sitting in rectangular formation. We’re all talkin’ to each other here. These are current events, and the outcome of their development will impact the life you are trying to put together for your family. This course is about the undercurrents behind the news. Pull back the curtain just a bit for a set of people who have chosen to embark on a path of discovery by signing up for this educational program. Good sense of participation with this group whether they are responding and speaking very much or not. Melanie and Jose and Marianna and Karmella are the most reticent. They would make an interesting team. Cephus and Jeremiah and Patrick and Wes are actively interested. Adam and Marcos are new, and Carlos is partly out of focus.
We are embarking on a project and that is to develop our insight into the workings of the controlling interests behind the façade of the charade on the stage. I am asking each of these people to identify themselves culturally from the micro levels of family and ethnic group and social groups to the more macro levels of professional groups and regional groups and national and international and global identifications. We are in conversational format here. Tell everybody else in this room who you are. What, about yourself, is different from everyone else in this room? For Patrick, it is his tattoos. For Jose, his love of cars. For Marcos, his heritage of using his voice to express himself. He is from Puerto Rico. For Karmella, her love of music. For Jeremiah, his total immersion into the memory and meaning of his five years in the Air Force. For Cephus: half Crow, ex-Marine. For Marianna, it is also her love for music. From the place where identity begins, extending outward from the family into all of your outer paradigms of social relations, how many symbolic structures do you find yourself passing through? For next week, please read the following article, and come back with one question.

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