Three Audiences Who do not need a Good Story

download once upon a timeOf all the places, situations and audiences I can think of to tell a good story in,at, or to, there are three that should be avoided at all costs, for they are the worst. They are listed in order of disaster:

1. At the doctor’s office: Don’t tell a good story to a doctor.  A close friend complains of a doctor who is enthralled by veiling women (my friend and I are both  wives or ex wives of Saudis). Her doctor asks questions, gets off track and forgets to order tests.  

2. Don’t tell a good story to a person whose identity is in question.  This can happen over the phone if you are not careful.  I once got a phone call, I thought, from a woman who had the same name as another one who had just done my hair. (I had tried that day not to burst into tears at the salon.) To this “other” lady, I vented my frustration and realized, at the conclusion, that I was telling an angry story to the woman who had  seemingly dropped cans of paint on my head. Such vengeance was not desired.

3. Don’t tell a good (sad, pathetic, etc.) story to a teacher in a classroom, especially if it is to explain absences or missing homework. Excuses are one thing; long stories to explain why homework is missing are quite another. I do not want to hear that a student had to be present for his friend’s wife’s birth of a baby. Now will I ever believe that the urine-soaked papers held in a plastic bag are the work of a cat.'Fine, I'll go to my room, but one day when I'm a famous artist you'll be telling this story as an amusing anecdote!'

Can you spell “cheating” ?

Christmas_ScrabbleMy husband has a friend named Sammy, a reader/writer who wallows in books and finds the library the most arousing of repositories. (We have no quarrel with his assessment.) Add to this picture that Sammy is quite the social animal and likes to game.

Nothing so far-fetched as Las Vegas, mind you. Sammy plays board games. He has a high IQ and relishes the challenge of finer fare. However, being convivial and kind, Sammy ends up facing all kinds of people from his side of a board–anyone who wants to play.

For years, Sammy has played Scrabble with a fellow named Frank. They are an odd couple. Sammy has always won 80 to 90% of the games. No one who knows Frank is surprised, for Frank is not a book reader.  Why Frank loves to play Scrabble with Sammy has been a bit baffling.

There were times when Sammy was sick but Frank, without sympathy, would insist on the weekly Scrabble game. Decorum demanded that the winner give the loser an opportunity to win. Perhaps Frank thought Sammy would do poorly when under the weather. Sammy would take his Tylenol for Flu, put on his slippers, get out the board, play, and win.

'Geoffrey got a triple word score! . . .no, we weren't playing scrabble, I give him points if he strings three words together.'These days something has changed. Frank is no longer losing. Sammy confides that while winning at Scrabble had become so predictable he wanted nothing better than to quit, he kept on out of kindness. However, since he is at present losing, quitting will make him out as a cad. The odd thing is that Frank still does not read books.  Sammy has trouble understanding the victories of his barely literate friend.

I think Frank is memorizing words with high-point letters like X and Z in them. Either that or he is consulting his phone when Sammy leaves the room to grab a couple of drinks or snacks. Is it cheating? I don’t know.

I have had students who are unskilled English writers but who can memorize grammar rules and spelling.  They cannot conjugate properly when writing, nor, for that matter, can they string together words coherently in speech. This will come later, if they become readers. However, some of these students show the ability to memorize for the sake of multiple choice quizzes. Conscientious writing teachers are wary of making classes manageable for students like these—unless the latter actually fall into the tempo and flow of a language through reading, they are cutting corners. There are problems for students who pass writing courses without actually learning to write (because they are not good readers). These problems impact others, demonstrating the injustice of lax college English teachers.

A case in point is that of a Middle School science teacher who wrote with English grammar and spelling mistakes all over the board, making the students snicker. Her students did poorly because they could understand neither her written nor spoken words. Nonetheless she was passed through her college English classes and got a full-time job making more, per hour, than the adjunct college writing teachers who “mercifully” allowed her to pass due to her memorization techniques.

Let’s be Frank about Scrabble. Is memorization a fair demonstration of skill?SavageChickens.com_-297x300

Or is it a kind of cheating?


Disappointed Writing Students

ImageBeing part of a writing course is a huge disappointment for some college students. From the get go, nothing is as it should be.

Incentive is elusive. The distributer has gone out of business. The commerce thrived when books (and the act of reading) were banned to certain groups in the USA, but the government’s insistence on paying for books for disadvantaged students has helped shoot that mule between the eyes. When the government is late in distributing the funds, intended recipients sit through the ninth week of class, nursing their wounds, stubbornly bookless. While no one would think about scrounging for a donut or coffee, a book is another matter.

Learning should be provided, paid for, spoon fed.

Excuse and reproach are useful tools in a politically careful democracy. The disappointed segment of a writing class knows about these tools. The strongest excuse is always money. Nothing can be done without it, neither learning nor homework. Lack of funds is the teachers’ and government’s fault. (Interestingly, some of those who complain wave their expensive smart phones in the air, to make a point.)

 I created a Facebook page just for my students. It bears the picture of a famous Latino artist. Only half the students befriend me. Some say they refuse to be on Facebook. I find that hard to believe.

Links and reminders exist on the FB page. A letter is sent, every week, to every student, with the assignment. Knowing deadlines exist, students ask about them. The deadlines have passed. Why will I take the papers? Because I want to cut them some slack. They look disappointed. Won’t I take off points? How about if I take off 20 points for a late paper, no questions asked, like other teachers. Then the 69% mercy score they get will drop to a 49%.  I say I want them to pass and am willing to work with them. Further disappointment.

Each of the student’s papers is edited by me because the level I am currently teaching is two below college entry. My disappointed students (less than half of the class, admittedly) are new to the concept of a writing class. They don’t revise according to my edits (as explained on the front of the paper) because they don’t read what I have written.

I repeat that information when we are talking about grades. How about redoing that paper, young fella? Young lady?

The energy needed for the belabored explanation is a wipe-out. My disappointed students tell me they need handouts, every class, with detailed instructions that they won’t read and must have explained to them.

What is the woman raving about?