Sarah Avery (dr_pretentious) wrote,
Sarah Avery

Other People's Students

On MLK Day, I went, as usual, to the local B&N to do my longhand writing shift. The place was packed with teenagers who had the day off from school. At one of the larger tables sat a group of five kids, probably sixteen years old. (I'm pretty good, these days, at guessing the ages of adolescents. Wasn't always.) These kids were doing some sort of collaborative project on Locke, and were arguing about the proper relationship of the state to the individual conscience, as if the whole world depended on it. Which is a good thing, since the whole world does. Three boys, two girls, various apparent ethnicities, various obviously different temperaments, and an absolute intensity of shared focus. About John Locke.

"But that's not part of the theory!"

"Yes, it is!"

"Show me the sentence where he says that."

"Well, if it is part of his theory, then..."

So maybe it's not all over for my country.

On Saturday, I went to a sleep lab. (Those of you who notice when in the day my entries tend to get posted will all be saying, It's about time you went to a sleep lab!) The lab tech guy who wired me up to all the electrodes was a young alumnus of Fair-to-Middling State University.

"Oh, really?" I said. "I used to teach freshman expository writing there."

The lab tech guy shuffled his electrodes nervously. "I got a C in Expos."

This was the moment when I realized the person who was about to glue(!) numerous electrodes to my skin now knew I had taught the most universally hated course, and the most widely required course, the university offers. Revenge fantasies are not uncommon among people who do not do as well in Expos as they expect to.

So I said, "In Expos, a C is something to be proud of. It's not an easy course to pass." Which is true. Especially for people whose high schools shortchanged them, Expos is brutally demanding and fast-paced.

I confess, I was anxious not to antagonize the guy with the glue, so I commiserated with him about the horrors of Expos. The relentless writing pace for him had also been a relentless grading pace for me, etc. But it occurred to me that this strategy assumed he was a basically empathic person, and I couldn't be sure about that.

So I asked what his favorite classes had been.

"I loved Markowitz's classes, in History. He was a big socialist, and he would always get into arguments with students from former communist countries who thought communism sucked, and then he'd say capitalism sucked worse, and they'd fight the whole period. Like it mattered to them." He sounded so wistful, like the great misfortune of his life was that it hadn't mattered to him.

Then he said, "I was a history major, which is how I ended up here, gluing electrodes to your head at two in the morning."

"Yeah, I got my degree in English, which is how I ended up as an SAT tutor."

"But you said you write, too? You're a writer."

I said something about the industry, the market, the odds, the idiosyncrasies. Crammed the main reasons for my refusal to brag into one sentence. I wish I could remember now was that sentence was. It would be handy at family Thanksgiving dinners.

Then, because two in the morning is a little too early for sleeping, he got to watch the traces of my brain activity in the monitor for the hour it took me to write myself to sleep. I wonder what he saw.
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