Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Little Earthquake

little, indeed. i didn't even notice it. there i was, enthusiastically explaining the McCarthy hearings and their importance in television history, and my normally attentive students started looking alarmed. well, okay, when i get going i have a fairly dramatic style, and maybe they were just responding to my narrative. but somehow those pained and anxious looks seemed a bit too immediate to be empathy for the nutty senator's victims. then one of the students sprang up and said, 'i think we should get out of here!'

'it's all right,' i said soothingly. 'if it's that upsetting, i won't show the film clips...'

'professor,' the young man said in a tone at once desperate and polite. 'haven't you noticed that the room is shaking?'

I hadn't. i have a large capacity for ignoring the obvious. when he pointed the the top of the wall, where the frame for the movie screen was cheerily bouncing around, i said, 'i think we should get out of here,' which was fairly useless at this point since they were already out the door.

ever the firm leader, i followed them. then i began looking for someone in authority, who could tell us what was going on. 'the building was shaking,' one administrator-type informed me when i asked.

a few students equipped with ipods or whatever those things are that give you the news and time and naked pictures of politicians called out, 'it's an earthquake.' a spattering of idiot voices, my own included, called back, 'in boston?'

'well, this is the university of massachusetts, in boston,' one grownup-type snapped. 'and it's happening here. so yes, it appears to be happening in boston.'

so we  all just hung around waiting for the earthquake emergency to subside so we could go back to work. i was nervous; this was the last class before finals, and i really wanted to finish the material. my students were huddling together, and one of them approached me. 'we were thinking that since we're here anyway, maybe we could go on with the class for awhile--i mean, if you would 't mind.' mind? i wanted to hug him. students usually love excuses to leave early, and an earthquake is a pretty good excuse. so we sat on the grass together and i went on with my lecture, sans video, which was unfortunate, and sans my notes, which was ghastly. classnotes for me are like Linus's blanket; if i'm not clutching them, i can't teach.

well, actually, it turns out, i can. we finished McCarthy and half of the watergate hearings, and then the officials told us they were closing the school and classes were canceled. my students asked if we could continue with the outdoor class. only one had a problem about that. 'could we move further away? she asked apologetically, ' so if the building falls it doesn't fall on us?'

it was hard to argue with her logic, so off we went, to a part of the campus where fewer buildings hovered.  one of the students was excited. 'i always heard about teachers having outdoor classes, but i've never been in one! it's like the '60s!" he grinned. as a veteran of many such classes, i felt renewed self confidence, and went on. by now we had moved on to the media and the civil rights movement, and i suddenly found myself possessed by the ghost of fannie-lou hamer, standing defiantly at the Democratic convention in the Mississippi Freedom Party's purloined seats and proudly singing the politicized version of the old spiritual 'go tell it on the mountain.' i couldn't believe i was singing in class--and sober! my voice lacks loveliness. it also lacks the capacity to carry a tune. but there i was, standing up, raising my eyes to the heavens, singing "...let my people go.' my students were smiling. they stayed till i had finished all i had to say, and seemed responsive to my suggestions that they make up some of the missing visuals by checking u tube.we left earlier than usual, but all of us feeling impressed with ourselves--and quite rightly. they've been good, attentive students all term, but i didn't expect this. they certainly knew i wasn't going to test them on stuff we hadn't covered, and yet they had been the ones to suggest we stay and do the class, and only one of them left when the announcement about the school closing came.

if i could automatically give them all A's, i would. since i can't, i'll do the next best thing---extra credit for above and beyond work.

really, it was quite a pleasant little earthquake....


Ken Goldstein said...

Well, first of all, after all the hyper-bs I've been hearing all afternoon about the reaction to this little earthquake, I was pleased to read that some people took it in the proper sense of proportion. Out here, we don't even put down our glass of Pinot Noir for anything under 6.5.

But, mostly, great story, and great testament to your teaching that they stuck with you, when they could have just as easily slipped away.

Jim said...

Great story!

Baysage said...

Enjoyed this little story . . . but don't 50-60 percent of students get A's in college? Everybody knows that's how the Bell Curve works.

If BC has no rampant grade inflation, it's the only institution of higher learning in the country that doesn't.

karen lindsey said...

thanks for the comments, all! baysage, lots of my students get A'S, but i don't know about how the bell curve works. i grade as i think the work deserves. usually i suppose i end up being more 'generous' than a lot of other teachers, but if a student does all that's required and accurately, for me that's an A. but i have given and do give way lower grades, even a few [very few] f's in my time, and a few more D's. once i got questioned by the Powers that Be b/c of a lot of A's, but i offered to bring in their finals, w/all my comments, for evaliuation of my grades. never was taken up on it and never been challenged since...

Baysage said...

I was being facetious about the working of the bell curve at BC. Life is a bell curve, Karen. Which means about 65-70 percent of ANYTHING is average. Fish you catch, major league ballplayers, poets, items on a menu, kids in a classroom.Take 10 students, one test. Bell curve says there will b 1 A, 1 F, 1 or 2 B, 1 or 2 D, and the rest C. There will be occasional variations, but over time this is how it will work out.

This is not the way it works out in colleges and universities anywhere in the US. Grades have been juiced for years now. Why? Because the purpose of colleges is not to educate people anymore, but to produce suitable corporate drones and docile consumers. And of course keep them in school, which enriches both the banks lending them or their parents vast sums of money and the college itself.

You don't sound any more generous in grading than the norm.