Archive for Education

People always ask me…

As part of my participation in last month’s Splash! event, I attended an informal presentation by Bill Ayers where he responded to student-teacher questions about teaching techniques and philosophy. Among the many useful perspectives he shared, I was really intrigued by a suggestion he gave in response to a teacher’s request for an open-ended writing prompt. The teacher’s initial idea was to ask students to imagine themselves in an absurd situation (they wake up one morning and find that their parents have been replaced with aliens! they have a superpower for 24 hours! they’ve been elected mayor for a day! &c.) and write about it for a given amount of time. I definitely remember being asked to write things in that vein in grade school/high school and I’m pretty sure I was never confident enough in my creative abilities to write anything worthwhile in response. Bill gave an alternative that I think would appeal to students regardless of their creative writing experience– at least I thought it was pretty cool. His prompt: tell students to finish the sentence “People always ask me…

I was able to use that prompt as part of my Splash! presentation on blogging, and the question seemed to go over pretty well. It’s far enough out there that everyone’s response was different, but not so far out there that responses are trite.

With that in mind, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea to re-inaugurate the blog with a response.

People always ask me, “How are you?” and it always throws me off. Every time! I have to stop and think about the level of detail the questioner hoped to hear, how much time we have to get into the whole mess, how likely I am to return the question, and hey, how am I, anyway? It seems pretty unlikely that most days, my physical/mental/social state can be summed up with one or two qualifiers. Maybe on occasion one characteristic will jump out above the others: “I’m really fucking hungry! So hungry that my mind has been totally taken off of the really illegible translation I have to read tonight, I’m not even concerned with the argument my roommate and I had about laundry detergent, and this blister on my left foot is totally not even worth my time considering how much I want a damn sandwich.” But even then, I overthink the question and feel the need to put my one relevant qualifier in context. It’s not so much that I’m really desperate to share all the minutia of my day with the-girl-who-lived-down-the-hall-from-me-last-year-whose-last-name-I-think-starts-with-an-M, it’s just that asking “how are you” seems like a really significant, personal investment in someone, so I always get a little disoriented when I condense my involuntary internal monologue about the ups and downs of my recent past and projected near future into a “fine, and you?”

In my first year of Japanese, we learned that the usual conversation starter goes along the lines of, “今日は暑いですね” — it’s warm today, isn’t it? I think I’d have a much better time with that. You know where you are with weather– it’s warm or it’s cool, it’s raining or it’s not. None of this schizophrenically awkward self-appraisal business.  Honestly.

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