It’s the last day of final conferences with students, and I’m getting a little punchy. Like, I’m having a hard time resisting the impulse to make chicken noises.
Student: Hi, Mike. Here’s my portfol–
I have no idea why I have this impulse.
I’ve still got grading in front of me — and, yes (argh) Christmas shopping too — but the semester is, for the most part, done, and so I’m tallying student weblog entries while seated in the stereo’s sweet spot, listening to Solti conduct Beethoven’s 9th with the volume too loud, and feeling a bit holidayish. For the very first year, there’s a Christmas tree in my living room, adorned with the ornaments I inherited from my mom, and when I go to bed, I turn off all the lights except for the ones on the tree, and stand and look at the multicolored pine needle shadows across the living room ceiling, and feel like a kid again. The girls were at first terrified by the huge green thing in the corner, but as soon as I hung the first non-fragile ornament from the lower branches, it was on, baby.
As always, I’m gonna miss my students; as always, there are a couple who — in their various combinations of generosity, intelligence, caprice, perseverance, talent, and sheer stubbornness — I really hope might stay in touch.
In a recent entry, I asserted that composition has taken Paulo Freire and turned him on his head, substituting the neoclassical economist’s embedded-in-capitalism perspective for the Marxist’s economic analysis of capitalism, and asked: how did this happen? How did composition, in adopting critical pedagogies as its default models for instruction, come to decide that the economic aspects of such pedagogies were to be avoided? Part of this, I think, comes out of the work of one of the most prominent proponents of Freirean critical pedagogy. Composition, and the field of education in general, owes an immense debt to the theoretical work of Henry Giroux in translating Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy into educational applications for an American context: Giroux is a rigorous and prolific scholar (his curriculum vitae [PDF] goes to 75 pages), and one of the most prominent critical pedagogues working today. Interestingly, however, Giroux’s later work has done much to turn Freirean critical pedagogy away from economic concerns and towards cultural concerns: in a 1998 interview, Giroux notes that his recent ‘work gives less emphasis to class as a universal category of domination’ (142), and this seems to be because Giroux sees formulating cultural concerns in economic terms as problematic: "Reformulating social issues as strictly individual or economic issues, corporate culture functions largely to cancel out the democratic impulses and practices of civil society by either devaluing them or absorbing such impulses within a market logic. No longer a space for political struggle, culture in the corporate model becomes an all-encompassing horizon for producing market identities, values, and practices" (1.2)[i]. We can take from this contention that Giroux would prefer the opposite circumstance, by which one replaces political struggle in the economic sphere with political struggle in the cultural sphere.
I decided to take down the start on the short story that I put up yesterday. It’s something that I’d been scribbling down notes and ideas for back in 2000 and 2001, but reading it over today, with all the guys dying in Iraq, it seemed wrong to post a comedic story so closely linked to that context and using the idea of a ‘dead’ (i.e., war game pretend kills) platoon. When I was in the Army, there was a lot of funny stuff that happened, but a lot of unfunny stuff, too, and this just doesn’t feel like the time to be cracking jokes.
In a comment to a semi-recent post of mine, Joanna mentioned the day-to-day of the end of the semester. To which I can only say: yes, yes, yes. As much as I love teaching, it’s the end-march now, and we all know it, final papers and exams and the last endurance-rush to grades. When I was a smoker, it was yellow fingers and caffeine and bleary eyes from too much typing, scant sleep and parties too and trying to cram everything into not enough days. My freshman year, Carnegie Mellon was generous: they keyed the on-campus soda machines to a quarter a can, and stocked up on Jolt Cola. No such luck here, but the computer lab monitor is a little more easygoing as long as the students make at least an attempt to hide the cups of coffee they bring in, and most of us are smart enough to keep the cups down out of sight on the floor. The brittle weariness starts to feel like a J. G. Ballard story, and like you they’re all tired, but then you get those last-minute glimmers, the students who suddenly decide to compete with one another on how many weblog entries they can do, the ones who know they’ve worked hard to help their classmates and their classmates recognize it. That’s it, for me; that’s what always makes Fall semester better than Spring semester, because it gets so dark and so cold here in New England, and there’s that terminal sense to the quotidian activity of the semester’s end, the windy nights when I’m on campus until 8:30 and my car ices over, the dim early mornings — but, yeah, it’s about us, all of us, and the writing, and that’s a good thing.