Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bardiac's Bad Attitude

I've got an attitude problem.

My colleagues and I did a common text project thing in our first year writing class last year using Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed. Last spring we decided on a new text, one written by an author from the Greater Northwoods. It wasn't the text I hoped to be teaching, and I thought long and hard before ordering it for my class this semester. On the positive side, I think there's something to be said for being a cooperative colleague and trying to work well with others. And several of my colleagues have taught the book before and think it works well, so perhaps they're right.

On the other hand, they've taught the book because they decided not to cooperate and teach the Ehrenreich book. It was an effective strategy, apparently. But it seems, well, mildly irritating to me.

One of the biggest things I try to teach my first year college writing students is that their college writing should make a point. When I finish reading it, I should know why I've been reading it. I think that's hugely important.

I also think that most college writing assignments don't ask students to tell a story in an obvious way. Lab report assignments ask students to tell a highly stylized story, and then to do some analysis. Some assignments ask students to tell bits of stories, anecdotes, or such, but most focus on asking students to analyze, synthesize, and make arguments. Students start practicing story-telling from the moment they start putting together sentences. They know the basics. They don't know nearly as much about analyzing, synthesizing, or arguing. So I focus on those things, and don't ask my students to write stories, per se.

As I'm rereading this text, I've been getting frustrated. I don't hate the text in that way that makes it deliciously nastily wonderful to teach. But, I'm just not feeling an "in" to teaching it.

I don't quite see that it's making a point. It tells stories, and wanders around, but I'm not really getting a point. So I'm not sure that this is a good model for student writing. (Though it often uses language in interesting ways.)

The book starts with a simile comparing summer to an overweight "chick." That's the first sentence. And it's not talking about fowl. What the heck am I supposed to do with that? Am I supposed to be impressed because there's yet another comparison of nature and female humans? Yep, it does use a Yiddish word to describe the "chick," a word which sounds strangely out of place in the book and in this part of the midwest.

Females, as I reread, are rarely named, and grouped as "girl," "chick," "wife," or "old lady." Men get names. Men have personalities. Men have stories worth retelling.

Okay, so I've got a bad attitude about this book. I'm less than thrilled. And I don't know what I'm going to do with it in class. But I've ordered it.

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I feel pretty responsible in life for making myself happy if I reasonably can. I don't depend much on other people to make me happy, though I hugely appreciate when they do (and some folks do so regularly).

So I decided that I need to do something to find my "in" to teaching this book. Today, step one. FIELD TRIP!

Yes, Adventure Bardiac went over to the Small Town featured in the text. I put gas in the tank, put the bike on the back rack, and off I went. My idea was to drive around a bit, get a sense of the town, have lunch, and if the roads seemed reasonable, park somewhere and bike around.

I went. I found some of the places mentioned in the text. I'm not sure what I expected to get out of that; I'm really not much of a pilgrimage type person, but what the heck. I drove around for a while, found some wilderness areas to look at. Fortunately, I've got the sort of middle-class white woman look that tends, in my experience, to inspire people to wonder if I'm lost rather than to worry that I'm a threat, if they notice me at all. I drove by a diner twice, but it looked particularly uninviting. And the roads didn't have much shoulder, and didn't inspire me to want to get on the bike and ride.

But at least I got out and tried, right?

I was interested to see that this small town's welcoming signage advertises some seven churches. I have to emphasize that this is a small town. Seven churches? And yet the book doesn't seem to be talking about religion or such. I wonder what's happening here? (Nope, I don't expect even a non-fiction book to represent reality in any way, but it's interesting that a small town can support seven churches but religious influence or importance doesn't seem to make it into the book.) That might be interesting to explore with my students: their sense of the importance of religious organizations in their communities?

I drove to another town, found a diner, and had my usual grilled cheese. It was okay, but not really good. I think my good cheese has spoiled me. And then I got on a local bike trail, where I rode sluggishly for 25 miles. Even 25 sluggish miles feel good, though, better than sitting around the house getting cranky about the book.

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Adventure Bardiac comes complete with attitude, binoculars, bird book, and a full tank of gas. Bike sold separately.

4 comments:

  1. sounds like what annoys you about the book might work as a beginning in: the lack of naming, esp if you want to mention the gender issues.

    I just realized that I too have given up Nickel and Dimed for the common book this year. totally forgot. then I checked the bookstore order as I was writing syllabi. oops. it would be really easy to slip one by me.

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  2. xensen7:40 PM

    I don't know what the book is, and I guess you won't tell me. Great.

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  3. Timna, We're certainly going to talk about the ways the book constructs masculinities. Why did you give up N&D?

    Xensen, I don't want the title coming up on google searches linking to this blog, but I'll tell you if you drop me an email.

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  4. too many other books.

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