One of my students wrote me a list of story ideas. Here they are:
- A girl turns into an animal. She becomes vegan when she’s human again.
- Time freezes then a General of the War moves people so that his side wins.
- High School Basketball game but they all have telekinesis.
- In the Civil War era, the battle from the spectators’ perspective. (There’s an additional note in parentheses that “people used to watch the battle.”)
- Lawyer and Doctors switch bodies for the day.
- Mom and Dad switch bodies.
- On Halloween, everyone who dresses up becomes their costume.
- One day, walls start talking and tell all about what’s going on in jail.
- Utopian society and there’s a Government meeting about what color the university should be.
On the back of the page is one last idea:
- All the founding fathers resurrect and go to war.
I open the year with a joke. “My name is Mr. White, like the color of my [the students look expectantly toward my skin] walls.” Cue enough laughter to sustain the joke next period. But now it’s noticeable, the harsh white of the room, a combination of paint and the clinical spray of ceiling bulbs. We are as illuminated and shadowless as models in a photoshoot, sans forgiveness.
There is one window: a square portal on the door. When I sit at my desk, I can see “Starry Night” through it, one of the Van Gogh prints distributed through the school. There’s an apocryphal story of how he painted that landscape in a sanatorium. Unable to see the city from his window, he imagined it in his hand. It gets me wishing they’d let us paint our madness on the canvas of our walls. Why let filth color us? Scuffs, gum, “fuck school” in blue pen, a poster of an iguana saying “character is who you are when no one is watching.” Let swirling blacks, blues, and yellows, stars and cities and black towers roil down the hall, drowning disquiet and sterility of asepsis.
That’s the challenge I posed to my Humanities course. I made it clear that I was using the gender-neutral variety of “man” (meaning I wouldn’t accept a “cheating pig”), that I wanted to avoid unrewarding labels like “Homo sapien” and “human being,” and that I preferred an adjective paired to a noun, or a genus and specific difference.
Think, I said over confused glances. What makes man different from every other living and non-living thing?
Their answers were wonderful.
Continue reading “Define Man in Two Words”
Every year, I have my students introduce themselves by writing and sharing six-word memoirs. The guidelines are simple. An evocative, original story in six words. These memoirs don’t have to be a narrative, but they must be biographical and significant. With my students’ permission, I publish them anonymously in SMITH Magazine’s Six Words on a profile that’s slowly becoming a catalog of high school woes. Here are a few of my favorites:
Always super hungry. Always super eating.
Die laughing at your own dying.
Caring but still no one cares.
Dreams go up. Rain comes down.
Always stressed and never well dressed.
So many achievements, so little recognition.
Daydreaming to find my future endeavors.
First day of school, have homework.
My mind – brighter than my future.
Napping and I’m not even sleepy.
School today takes my life away.
I have wasted perfectly good wrists.
As I’ve said before, when I’m trying to convince my students that Wikipedia is an unreliable source, I show our school’s Wikipedia page and its inaccurate data (currently, as I write this, the school is purported to be 34% Asian and 2% rat). Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the page to find this at the bottom of the Student Body report:
I’ve edited the demographics back to their hopefully correct statistics, but we’ll see how long it takes before our rat population picks up again.