Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Week that Is

As I was going to class, my first after I learned about the tragedy at Virginia Tech, prepped to teach Hughes' "Theme for English B" and Thomas's "Do not go Gentle into That Good Night," I got that tight feeling, the inception of doubts and worries. I wished I'd had time to talk to some of my colleagues who'd had classes since the tragedy.

I wondered if I should address the issue, give students a chance to talk? Does opening up the issue give students a way to reduce anxieties, or does it contribute to their stress?

I'm in no way a trained counselor. Do they train high school teachers to deal with this sort of thing? I don't know about other college instructors, but I've never had any sort of training about dealing with any sort of disaster, except through experience.

While I was in a training program for teaching college writing, there was a disaster in the area. The master instructor for the class had the students write about it, using their own experiences and what they were seeing in papers. At first, students were eager to talk, but by the time papers were due, they wanted to move on as much as they could.

Like Dr. Virago, I opened each of my classes with an offer to talk about the Virginia Tech tragedy if folks wanted to, and I shared a little about my experience after that tragedy. Each of my classes seemed to want to talk a little, but not much.

The most common concern was about what kinds of plans our campus has for dealing with an act of violence like the one in Virginia. I'm sure my campus has all sorts of plans, but I have no idea what they are. We wouldn't be able to get out windows, for sure, though.

We talked about academic freedom; I mentioned that I teach Shakespeare's plays, some of which are disturbingly violent, and yet I've never worried about Shakespeare as a person who would have committed acts of violence, per se.

And I told them that they should take care of themselves; if they're feeling stressed, they should talk to friends, RAs, the campus counselors, and so forth. And they should be caring for their friends who might also be stressed. Dr. Virago's post about the issue is well worth reading on this.

I'm conflicted about Thomas's "Do not go Gentle into That Good Night" in general, but yesterday, specifically, it was particularly difficult. I tend to want people to go gently if possible. We focused on the stanza

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

for a while, talking about the imagery, the tone of "frail deeds," "danced," "crying," and the "last wave by" until we'd gotten a good sense of the difficulty of doing well enough, even for good men. And we talked about masculinities in the poem. All in all, it was a better discussion than I'd feared heading in.


I'm upset about the Supreme Court decision to uphold the ban on a specific late term abortion procedure. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is my hero of the moment. You can read her dissenting opinion starting at about page 49 in the decision document above. Justices Stevens, Souter, and Breyer joined Ginsberg in dissent, and each has my profound thanks and respect.

Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, on the other hand, have earned yet again my deepest scorn and contempt.

The Blog that Ate Manhattan (TBTAM) and The Well-Timed Period have blogged about the issue from the medical perspective.

I think Planned Parenthood needs my money right now more than the bike company or bike shop.


I seem to have acquired ants in my kitchen. I feel sort of bad for them, but I have to admit, I value the relative peace of an ant free kitchen more than I value ant lives. I am, indeed, a humano-centric being, one who is willing to kill other creatures rather than be even inconvenienced (much less actually hungry).

I got some liquid bait and put it out last night, and I find myself macabrely fascinated by watching them find the bait and such. For a while, I thought one had gotten stuck in the bait, but it wandered off. I'm guessing they don't go directly from nest to food quickly or easily until they've really got a path going? And I'm not sure quite where they've been coming in or nesting.

If there's a god and she's an ant, I am going to be tortured in the worst ways. (Hey, just because I'm humano-centric doesn't mean I think a god would actually have to be humanlike in any way, right?)


  1. in re teaching after a tragedy: my technique is to ignore it. I'm not a trained counselor either, and I really have nothing of value to contribute. I don't know the students or the campus or even the real facts of the events. In fact, I imagine that some of my more media-saturated students are much better informed than I am.

    As far as asking if they want to talk about it: I'm sure they do. And I think they're welcome to talk about it somewhere else. In my classroom, they signed up to discuss Shakespeare. Yesterday, we talked Othello without so much as a mention of a Glock or Virginia. After Katrina, I never talked about the weather in my classroom, ever. I also don't discuss sports, American Idol, or Papal elections, unless it has some actual resonance with what I'm teaching.

    Could the slaughter in Virginia be related to Othello? I'm sure I *could*, but I don't think it's a good idea. In my teaching of the play, I don't mention Columbine, despite it's violence, why VT? Just because it's topical doesn't mean it's a good idea. Besides, I don't want my discussion on the motivation of Iago to turn into a discussion on what drives young men to go on shooting rampages. VT is not Cyprus; Cho is no Iago.

    Am I a heartless scumbag? Doubtless. But my students seem to appreciate my down-to-business, avoid-the-touchy-feely nature. I'm intense, I'm funny, I'm very engaged in the subject. I tell myself that my students are grateful, and they've never done anything to demonstrate the contrary.

    My teaching style is obviously not your teaching style. I'm sure that yours works for you and your students. Mine works for me.

  2. Hell of a week, huh?

  3. It's nice that you offered them the chance to talk about it. From the before-class chatter, I sensed that they'd been talking about it in all their other courses, so I didn't offer to discuss it this time, as I had after 9/11 (when they declined the offer).

  4. I came here via Dr. Crazy's, and just wanted to add one little thing: Kip Kinke; (the kid who shot his parents and then went to Thurston High and killed several classmates, and wounded others) showed signs of his violence through his reactions to a Shakepeare play, oddly enough. They were studying Romeo and Juliet, and it resonated with him (particularly, not surprisingly, the Clare Danes Leo DeCaprio version). I can't remember what he wrote, but it was violent and concerning.

    I just thought that might interest you.

    And I talked about all of this with my students yesterday - I asked if they wanted to (not knowing if they'd done so ad nauseum) and boy howdy did they - we talked for 50 minutes. They had tons of questions, and we made linkages to course content (not hard since I teach psych). I thought it was good.

  5. Escalus, It sounds like your class went well and worked for you and your students. Thanks for commenting.

    TBTAM, Indeed, lousy week. Your post on the Supreme Court decision was really good. Thank you.

    Undine, I don't know that it's nice, or worried of me. But it felt right for me and my students.

    Shrinkykitten, Thanks for commenting. I bet making connections to the content in psych classes is really helpful and important. We actually did make some connections to class material in a couple of my classes.