The quarter has begun and I'm back in the classroom. I'm teaching a comp class and a fiction workshop. Should be a good quarter, I hope. So far, my comp students seem really bright and into the work. They were supposed to read Wallace's "Tense Present" from Harper's a few years back, a long tome that is a review of a an American English usage dictionary, but through that discusses the politicization of language. I think they kind of got it. It's pretty thick stuff, and not easy reading for anyone, to say nothing of college freshmen. But I've had success with this essay in the past with the same age group, and I think they're certainly smart enough to "get" it. The bigger question is whether they actually made it all the way through the reading and if they retained any of the information. But we had a lively discussion yesterday about prescriptivism and descriptivism, politics and language, etcetera. I teach this essay mostly because I'm required to assign a public speaking component to the class, so they read this essay, which should give them ideas to work with in coming up with their own language usage presentation. They can talk about any aspect of the English language they'd like. Another reason to teach the essay is that it's an amazing essay (it's crazy how Wallace can make something that's usually so dull--language--so interesting, and funny). It's a great model of what the essay can and should do.
In my fiction workshop we're reading a collection of short stories, Something in My Eye, by Michael Jeffrey Lee, and Living by Fiction by Annie Dillard. What's interesting about this class is that it's mixed graduate and undergraduate. So far, the students seem to have really great ideas about Lee's stories. I'm really pleased with that, because they're expressing these ideas while at the same time expressing how perplexed they are about the stories and by Dillard's text. In one of my student's reading responses (they write one of these at the end of each week), she wrote that while the Dillard text is confusing and frustrating, it's showing her how much she has to learn and she's excited that she's being exposed to this work. That is the kind of attitude every college student ought to have when they come across work that doesn't immediately meet their preformed aesthetic sensibilities. So far they've also been writing a story exercise for each class session. Of those I've read so far, each has some pretty amazing ideas/sentences. I think these students are going to write some kick-ass stories and I can't wait to get into workshop.