Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Grading Papers to the Sound of Construction: a poem

Having lived above a bar for seven years,
I suppose my brain has trained itself
to filter out extraneous noises.

I'm grading papers, and across the street,
jackhammers are ripping up concrete,
big yellow machines are moving earth,
outside the Fox Theater.

The college freshman essay
is unlike any other genre of writing.
It is the genre of process, of becoming,
of frustration, of discovery.

And amid the sounds of construction,
I hear the voices of my students:

Ryan, the young veteran,
not a World War II veteran,
a veteran of Iraq/Afghanistan,
a growing demographic of students.

Jose, who volunteers at the
Garnet Community Center,
and whose eyes light up
when we talk about Cesar Chavez.

Kiana, whose paper on local congressman Ken Calvert,
he of the real estate scandals,
reminded my why local politics
really do matter.

Cody, the outspoken one,
who disagrees with most of
what I say, and I love it.

Derenice, still reaching for the
confidence that, yes, she has a voice
and things to say.

The cars whir by, impatiently honking,
and I sit in stillness,

I'm thinking about a conversation
I had with Josue about "entertainment"
news like Fox News and MSNBC,
people speaking loudly.

"We are about something else,"
I said, "We are the quiet ones
who read in libraries.  We read to
find the truth amidst the loud noises."

The jackhammering, the cars,
the noises of my city.
And I sit in stillness,
in the practiced quiet of my mind,
letting in one voice at a time:
Brandon, Paola, Ricardo, Lorena,
Jarvous, Greg.  The quiet voices
of my students, and then the
reasoned, measured responses:

Clarify your thesis.

Support this claim with evidence.

Wikipedia doesn't count.

Needs focus.

Try to be objective.

Too vague. Be specific.

Lately, after an election
which flooded my mailbox
with political ads, blasted the internet
with 30 second spots,

advertisements, the anti-intellectual
nemesis of American thought.

Lately, I have been struck with
the importance of what we do here
in these classrooms, these college
rooms and libraries.

We are the quiet voyagers,
seekers of truth beyond ads.

We are the speakers of truth to power.
Our voices may not be loud,
but they are sincere,
and truer than any advertisement.

We are the ones who laugh at ads,
because they are funny.
We laugh at them,
toss them in the trash,
and get back to the
rigorous work of research.

The jackhammers are now a distant ping.
I'm deep into a paper by Connor
about oil drilling in Whittier,
and this feels as important as anything.

I finish my coffee,
say "hi" to homeless Ernie,
and walk to the next class.

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