Storied Résumé

Poem-Craft: musings on yarn-spinning, fabric selections, and the like –

Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best
out of our own students. What better books can there be
than the book of humanity?
– Cesar Chavez

Grammar School — Fourth row, second seat, Professor Chianese’s Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, my first graduate school class — I sat writing away, totally focused on the first task we’d been assigned. As the professor ambled up and down each row, he looked over each person’s shoulder, stopping now and then to peruse his/her first in-class writing sample. My heart began pounding as he paused next to my desk and glimpsed over my shoulder at my paper. My palms began sweating, the lump in my throat leapt into the empty chair in front of me. Reading my paragraphs, he squinted. With what seemed to me like an inordinate measure of perverse glee, he announced, “You went to Catholic school, didn’t you?”

Grad Schoolhow on earth could you have possibly known that? I must have wondered aloud, because he leaned in and whispered into my ear: “Your grammar — impeccable! Those nuns must’ve pounded it into you.” One knowing twinkle, and there I was, exposed for what I was, shamelessly laid bare in front of the whole class, the consummate weight of the professor’s gravitas gazing on me and my essay. And though I am loathe to admit it, it’s true — I am, in fact, an emblazoned hussy of the worst kind: a bald-faced philologist.

Secondary School – The only thing I ever got in trouble for in Catholic grammar school was (wait for it…) talking. A lot. Too much, in fact. It’s a habit I’ve been unable to shake. I have a propensity for prolix. For me, with its prized word economy, poetry functions somewhat like a 12-step program for verbosity. I say “somewhat” because even as I disclose this about myself, I am keenly aware of the inherent narrative disposition and lengthy character of a lot of my poems. On analyzing this, I’ve identified the compositional issue as giving the reader “too much exposition” and I’ve begun taking corrective steps by issuing the necessary background information in a kind of controlled release throughout a single piece.

Professional Developmentfrom an in-service teacher-training workshop on total quality management, I gleaned this little gem: “prior planning prevents poor performance.” It became my mantra. I posted it in my classroom. Taking it to heart myself in executing a piece of writing meant that I too, had to “practice what I preached” and explore a technique I’d heard of, but never actually used before: making an outline. Although it seemed completely counter-intuitive to write an outline for a creative piece, that’s precisely what I did — I wrote an outline for this poem, and then created lists of supporting data to “fill in” the rest:


"Facebook" Anne Yale. 2009. Brushed air.

Better Books – it wasn’t until graduate school that I discovered that college is literally a place where we go to “read together,” from the Latin: “co” (meaning together) + “legere” (meaning to read). And then I realized why everything we study in school is called a “discipline” and that perhaps even more important than the reading part of the word is the social interaction aspect inferred by the word together — we read together — that is to say, we come to class and discuss what we’ve learned from our reading. And what I’ve learned from talking with students younger than myself is how to negotiate all the technologically advanced tools which now serve higher education. For example, I’ve recently been introduced to Facebook, Moodle, and Skype, as well as the vast online resources available through most universities’ libraries being linked together via the Internet. These same colleagues, however, also issued a caveat with regard to tool consumption: beware of the time-assassinating aspects of getting sucked in, especially with regard to social media.

Book of Humanity – while online learning applications provide a great resource of efficient content (i.e. reading material) delivery, there is not and never will be an online or computer-generated substitute for face-to-face classroom interaction, which, as I discovered, (much to my chagrin) can actually be thwarted if students let the tools consume them, leaving them no time to prepare in advance of classroom discussion. On reflection, perhaps we might benefit from pulling back, re-evaluating “best practices,” and focusing more on the product/process of education (i.e. content: reading, writing, thinking about and discussing ideas) and less on the tools (delivery method).

With that in mind, perhaps the “institution narrative” of the purpose of a good education should similarly be re-evaluated. Is/should the ends or goal really be the “good job” or “degree” or whatever “pot of gold” we’ve ordained as waiting at the end of the educational rainbow? Or is the actual product of education inherent in the process of reading/ writing/ thinking about/ discussing ideas together in and of itself? As Cesar Chavez clearly articulates in the epigraph to this piece, what better books can there be?


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jim Hodge on April 3, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Another great post! An old Naval adage that served me well for 30 years, is a slight variation of yours. Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Jim


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