This afternoon a student came into the Writing Center with a paper for Intro to Sociology. I've read these papers before: pick something from pop culture (this student chose to write about three family sitcoms, each from a different decade) and analyze it in sociological terms. The last one I read was a scene-by-scene summary
of The Family Guy
written by a guy who had to be at least 30, and seemed a little confused when I explained to him that a scene-by-scene summary is not a critical analysis. Yeah, he was a little off.
A lot of my experiences at work are like that. Most of them are reasonably bright freshman comp students there for the extra credit, and their papers just need a little mechanical tweaking, maybe a clearer thesis statement or some other basic structural issue. Or they need their resumes proofread. But the students who come in who really need help - I'm not always prepared for them, and I'm often not able to reach them. I'm always worried that I said too much, or too little, when the appointment is over - worried about whether I was as useful as I could have been. But, honestly, what most of them need is a good proofread - nothing higher level than that.
This particular student had chosen "The Brady Bunch," "Married...With Children" and (oddly enough) "Boy Meets World" as his point of departure for sociological analysis. I should say also that these types of assignments - for Intro to Soc.! - often seem kind of trite and unnecessary when you see what the students who do them actually come up with. This kid had a really fine start - just touching on the gender dynamics and economic realities of the first two shows, though he didn't have much to say about the third. (Who does?)
After we ran through the requisite grammar and punctuation stuff I found myself going off on long tangents about each of the points he raised. Those of you here who know me know I can't resist the temptation to go off on a lengthy pop culture tangent, if I happen to know the material. And again, normally, I wouldn't even take the opportunity to go this deep into matters beyond mechanics and structure, but this kid was asking me what a thesis statement was - and his writing made it pretty clear that he was just tapping into his capacity for critical thought, but that he'd never been encouraged to exploit it before. I have to say that my thinking was also colored by the fact that I was sitting at the table with a Latino kid with a fairly heavy accent; I went to a rural high school with a 20 percent Spanish-speaking population, and the vast majority of those kids were fed the crumbs of the public-education cake. It made me furious in high school (when, as editor of the school paper, I was told not to accept contributions from the ESL room), and it makes me furious enough now that I may have softened more than usual for this appointment. In fact, I was elated to get to do for this kid what I doubted anyone had done for him before.
"OK," I said, "you're talking about the Bradys being middle class here - but how many middle class people do you know who have maids? And gender roles, your analysis is dead on - bring in examples though. The 'Oh! My Nose!' episode for instance. OK, and 'Married...with Children.' It's kind of everything a sitcom family isn't supposed to be, isn't it? But there's weird stuff there too. This family is supposed to be so poor that they're fighting over unidentifiable leftovers; a shoe salesman probably makes minimum wage - but what minimum-wage employee lives in that nice a house?" I wondered if I should stop myself, because I was going pretty fast, and when you go overboard like that, students might just eat it up, and they might tune out altogether, even while they're nodding and smiling - thinking you're either a condescending fuck or insane in a uniquely English major way.
As it happened, at the end of the appointment the kid was smiling.
"Do you work tomorrow?" he said. (No, sorry.) "Is there anyone else here as good as you?"
Students are given forms to fill out - mostly so we can keep track of the number of people who come in, for funding purposes - and given the option of evaluating their experience. But they rarely do it to your face. I'd say that's a good day. It's a good enough day that I'm wondering how long I'll continue wanting to follow the journalism path before I say to hell with it and go to grad school so I can teach. There's still a part of me that resists the idea of becoming a teacher - maybe because I'm sick of being asked about that when I tell people my major is English. But once I began to suspect I'd be good at it, and would like it, a door flew open that has never completely shut since. In fact, I'm now wishing I hadn't been too exhausted and disgusted with school to apply to grad school last fall and winter, since I've always suspected I'd end up there anyway. As it is, I've got a summer internship ahead of me, and following that, a job search. And there's nothing wrong with accruing some professional experience, and getting some more writing (both news clips and fictional pieces) stacked up before I decide to really hit the MFA sauce. And I may end up talking myself out of it before I'm in a position to apply again. But I may not.
In other news,
it was nice outside today, so almost everyone was showing a lot of skin. (I don't trust the weather, so I wore a short-sleeved collar shirt and my frequent black, black, black ensemble, now featuring the ribbed tights I bought last weekend.) I was walking to a late-afternoon oceanography lab when I noticed a skin-showing couple that - pardon the cattiness
- shouldn't have been. The guy, in particular, had this enormous white belly and chest hanging out over his manpris
and a baseball cap - and that was it. Bad decision, I thought. Yeah, I'm an asshole. The chica at his side was not much better off, at least in terms of human form. Once I got close enough to make eye contact, I realized I had been staring with such disdain at an ex of mine, a guy I dated semi-seriously two years ago. And that I was looking pretty good that day. I walked to class grinning smugly.