Friday, September 23, 2011

The "A" grade

As I read my World Lit students' first papers I was happily surprised to find myself giving out A, after A, after A. I love giving A's! These papers were very well written, and they had insights into Gilgamesh that truly impressed me, causing me to consider things I hadn't thought about. I could take no credit for their exemplary writing, as I didn't teach them how to write an essay, but I did take a small amount of credit for their thorough understanding of the text.

I opened class with telling them how impressed I was with their essays and how happy I was to grant so many A's. One student replied by saying "I thought professors hated giving A's." Now I'm not sure what led him to that conclusion, but what a pity a student would think his professor would only grudgingly award an A to a deserving essay. I don't allot many A's, only because they are not earned. But when I can give an A, when the student clearly deserves an A, I am only too happy to write on their paper a nice, fat . . . . .

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Small victories

Warning: I'm going off topic for this blog. Yesterday I had a small victory, and I wanted to share it with any who read this blog, and to encourage you in your own small victories.

We live in Jersey City, which is notorious for two things -- litter and jaywalking. Of course there are many positive aspects to living in Jersey City -- the diversity, proximity to Manhattan, waterfront, church. But the litter really bugs me. I mean really, really bugs me.

So the cemetery next to our church is usually full of litter. Guys hang out in front of the cemetery and drop bottles, cans, wrappers, boxes, newspapers, and other assorted trash. They apparently have no concerns about how it looks. When I walk by it every day I cringe inside. Occasionally I clean it up myself, when I absolutely can't stand it any more.

Several months ago I called the head of Commercial District Services - the folks who sweep up and clean Bergen Avenue, right down on the corner. I asked if they could take a half-block detour and clean in front of the cemetery. By the way, the cemetery is owned by the city, so they are the responsible party. He told me they would discuss it at their meeting, and never got back to me. I tried a few more times and couldn't reach him.

Yesterday, in a fit of frustration, I called again. He acted immediately. When I walked by the cemetery on my way to school this morning there was not a piece of paper, a bottle, or even a cigarette butt in sight. Not only did he send someone to clean it early this morning, he sent me emails showing 'before and after.' What a lovely sight - just grass and gravestones. He promises me they will now keep it clean.

This is a small victory, but for me, and important one. How our neighborhood looks is important to me, and it sets the tone for our block.

Is there something that really bugs you, that maybe you can do something about. Take some action. You might be surprised at how God can use you to make a difference.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Help

If you have not yet read The Help -- read it. If you have not yet seen the movie -- see it. Usually I like to read books first, then see movies, but in this case I saw the movie, then read the book. This is the first time I have seen a movie based on a book and they were incredibly closely aligned. I think back to Hunt for Red October, or Shogun. The books were much better than the movies.

In The Help, the casting was perfect. The movie brought to life the characters in the book, who were already pretty lively! The plot in the book was carried over almost perfectly to the movie. There were some subtle, and one or two not-so-subtle, changes, but all in all, they were magnificent reflections of each other.

The books evokes the time period well. Historical events, like the murder of Emmet Till, the bombings of churches, sit-ins at Woolworths' counter, John Kennedy's assassination, were present but background to the characters and the story. The characters run the story and they are beautifully realized. I especially like Minny and Celia.

This is what good writing looks like. A good story well told. That's what I'm aiming for in my book, but when I read a good book like this, I'm almost tempted to give up, stop writing, and just keep reading.

Read the book - you won't regret it.

Lessons from Students

School has begun. Just as I look forward to the ending of a semester, I also happily anticipate the beginning of a new semester. Classes started on Wednesday and I've met with Comp and World Lit students. In World Lit I asked my students to write a page or two on this question: why should we study world literature? Some of their answers were very insightful. I'll share a few of them with you here. I'm paraphrasing!

When we read about other cultures and other time periods, we learn about not just about those people, but we learn about ourselves.

Reading about long-ago time periods can help students escape the pressures of modern-day technological society. Reading about a time without cell phones and computers, or even electricity, can provide a much needed respite from the stresses of everyday life.

Learning about other religious traditions can make us more tolerant and understanding, which is important in the society we live in where many religions are practiced.

The journey we take by reading a book or story could change how we see the world.