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Several nights ago, I completed a series of classes designed for high school students preparing to take the ACT. Over the course of the past two months, the students had periodically come in for two-hour sessions covering what they will face, subject by subject, on the exam. I also walk them through standards on how to take the exam in terms of time management, problem-solving strategies, and answer choice selection under conditions of uncertainty about which answer is correct. From previous offerings of this series, we know that the students subjected to this prep score higher. We offer seats in the program at a very low price just to level the playing field, since kids from well-to-do families are frequently attending similar seminars run by professional test preparation services.
The high school students who enroll in our ACT test preparation program are generally in their junior year, mostly 16- and 17-year-olds. They can be rambunctious, especially when there are a lot of them in one of the sessions; but in general, they get pretty serious as soon as I start speaking. For many, I'm their first experience with being taught by a college professor.
That's unfortunate. As readers here who have watched my YouTube video lectures well know, I am most decidedly not the shy, quiet, reserved type when I'm at the lectern. I bellow, I growl, and I thunder; sparingly, I use the words "ass" and "damned"; and I conjure the occasional, very odd example to make a point. My students in regular college classes, be they held in a rough urban school or at a nice suburban college, get used to my ways pretty quickly, and although I do have the rare student who makes a meager complaint about me to someone in administration, most students enjoy and appreciate my style. It seems to me that I can make that statement with some degree of certainty considering I was just named Faculty Member of the Year.
I ought to be concerned about how my style plays with the high school students in those ACT prep classes, but I'm not, this despite the program coordinator's rather timid mentions of a "few parents" who have called her to condemn me.
Whatever. The program coordinator cannot find many people who will blow whole evenings prepping kids for tests, and she knows very well that the overwhelming majority of the kids write post-program reviews in which they rate me highly; thus have I always been pretty sure that my over-the-top, hard-driving, arrogant style would not cause the directors of the program to tear up my $210 contract.
Until, that is, this time.
I swear, I didn't see it during the first prep session for the science component of the exam. Only in retrospect do I vaguely recall what was going on, so I was a bit blindsided when the program coordinator mentioned (again, quite timidly) that a "group" of parents had called her to complain about me. She cited a cluster of problems, all of which had been stated by each parent. While I just smiled and laughed while she was telling me about this matter, in my head I was trying to recall if there was anything during the session under discussion that I had done differently.
Readers must understand that, although my stage behavior appears to be wholly extemporaneous, it is, in fact, a highly structured, polished act. I change the jokes, the silly references, and the allusions to pop culture, but the framework is identical from one session to the next, from one year to the next. It's how I teach college classes, too. So what could have gone wrong in such a big way that a "group" of parents, rather than the usual one or two, had called?
The second session of the science review provided the answer, confirmed by seeing it again in the last session of the entire program, the session where I actually administer to the students a miniature version of the entire ACT and then give them some last-minute advice.
At that second session of prep for the science component of the exam, the room was not nearly as crowded: 20 students, clustered into three groups. The students wanting to show their sincere dedication were sitting at the front. Most of them were girls. Another group was scattered about the middle seating in the lecture hall. This group comprised an eclectic mix of kids, some of whom sat near the middle, othersthe more reclusivehuddled against the walls. It occurred to me that some of those types of kids would be more likely to choose seats at the rear of the classroom, as far away and as symbolically detached as possible. That they were not sitting at the back of the class didn't make sense, since only five students, all sitting in a row, were occupying rear seats.
Those five back-benchers were wearing shirts that all looked exactly the same, with the color combination of one of the local high schools. "Ah," I thought to myself, "jocks." It made sense that the more reclusive kids, and most certainly the others who wanted to display for me their high motivation by sitting right at the front, would want to be as far away as possible from the prized, pampered athletes.
It was only when I had been in my lecture for about 15 minutes that I noticed something wasn't quite right about my assessment of those boys at the back of the room. I had made it to the part of my speech where I had to explain to the students that, when taking the science part of the ACT, students should not use prior knowledge or beliefs about science. While it's important to have a solid, albeit basic, understanding of certain terms (their prep book has a glossary of terms with which they should be familiar), they must use only the information provided in a given passage for answering questions about that passage.
"For example," I always say, "you might very well have a problem with discussing the evolution of a certain species or about the lineages that have led to the modern forms of certain animals. Now, you might believe on religious grounds that evolution is wrong, but your beliefs are irrelevant when taking the test. You are being assessed on your ability to read, understand, and then use information given to you. That's what we at the college level need to know about you to assess whether or not you'll be able to successfully complete dozens of college courses, where you'll have massive waves of information poured into you from every direction."
As I was nearing the end of that little rant, I noticed that those five young gentlemen sitting at the back were no longer leaning forward, taking notes; they were, instead, all sitting straight up in their chairs, arms folded, scowling at me.
I walked back and stood in front of what appeared to be their ringleader, and I said, "Unfold your arms, son. I want to see what your shirt says." Some of them were visibly uncomfortable with the turn their display had taken, but they all unfolded their arms. The fellow to whom I had addressed my order proudly withdrew his arms, puffed out his chest, and pulled at the bottom of his shirt to make the graphic as legible as possible for me.
There they were: five shirts, all identical, complete with the colors of their high school, emblazoned across the front with a giant, three-dimensional, faux
relief, white cross.
I just couldn't help myself: "JESUS
!" I exclaimed, and then I walked back up to the front of the classroom and finished the seminar, complete as it was with a blistering example of a problem involving the evolutionary history of a group of vertebrates falling (loosely) under the taxonomic classification Creodonta
I have just sent my letter of resignation to the program coordinator. I figure that will save her the aggravation of having to figure out how not to offend me when she tells me about a group of parents who have called her demanding my head.
Besides, whether I'm teaching at a rough urban school or in a nice suburban college, I won't teach gang members who wear their colors in my class.
I'm quite a bigot that way.
I've had run-ins with that gang before; watch your back.
Perhaps they could be redirected to Bob Jones University. They would be most welcome there.
Congrats on the FM of the Y.
You are a passionate teacher from the video Ive seen.
By the by, my url has changed. We've a new home.
All the best, DW
Definitely Bob Jones. They would be falling all over themselves to have these scholars.
Congrats on the honor and for standing up for knowledge.
Good evening, Candy.
Here in this area, we have a decnt selection of private, religious colleges those young people can attend. I wrote about one such place in my article, "Exits at the Bus Station," a story about a school at which I taught that seems even to me to be out of some century other than this one.
You are, of course, correct: such religious colleges are delighted to have those kinds of students. Interestingly, though, some of those kids see their "mission" as being at the public colleges, where they can join in fellowship with like-minded zealots to spread their version of the Gospel among those who are their lessers because of lack of spiritual enlightenment.
Fortunately, most kids in college are adequately and properly way too focused on passing their courses, learning how to be drunk, and discovering the complicated pleasures of sexual gratification without having to make sure their parents aren't nearby.
Religion might very well take the front seat, but that's only because the back seat is occupied by debauched young scholars becoming even more so.
The Dark Wraith does appreciate the academic life.
Good evening, meEE.
It's funny that you should mention your new Website URL, considering that, at the same time you were posting a comment over here, I was over at your new blog posting a comment.
The Dark Wraith does like the layout of that template you selected.
Good evening, Bruce.
Someday, I'll write a post about the time, shortly after I went back to college after my stint in the U.S. Army, when I was walking across campus late one night with a couple of coeds.
We were confronted by a small pack of young Christian men from a provisional wing of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship who demanded that we profess our belief in Jesus Christ as the One True Lord and Savior.
(One of the occasional posters on this blog, by the way, was a witness to the incident.)
Back then, I had a decidedly shorter fuse than I do nowdays.
Yes, decidedly shorter.
The Dark Wraith looks back fondly on late-night counseling sessions.
When I was that age I believed as they did, but I wasn't such a prick as to demand the head of a teacher who disagreed with me!
(Of course, having a real interest in insects probably had something to do with that..... It's a little difficult to maintain a legitimate interest in entomology and avoid people who take evolution to be a settled matter, and have tons of reasons for assuming so that inevitably appear in every entomology class you take.....)
Good evening, OddJob.
Actually, it is the parents who want my head. The kids just want to use their religious convictions as an excuse to be disruptive trouble-makers. It's an old story with a new twist.
In the old days, a youthful malcontent might squeal the tires on his Ford Mustang as he drove down the main thoroughfare in town, or he might belch loudly during class.
These kids strut their colors in front of a teacher whose authority makes them feel less powerful than they want to feel, and then they turn to their parents with a combination of facts and exaggerations to magnify the reach of their squealing tires and burps.
My habit of confronting class trouble-makers head-on comes from my days of running a two-year college in the bad part of a Midwestern city. Pretending disruptive kids aren't there and cowering in the face of their confrontational behavior just allows the problems they're creating to get worse.
The sad part is that the kids in the inner city were only as powerful as their gangs, their knives, and their guns.
These Christian malcontents are far more dangerous: they have the power of their parents.
And their religion, of course.
The Dark Wraith knows when it's time to leave a battlefield.
I am a first time visitor and internet neophyte, who came here after noting the many references and links to your site. After spending some time looking around, I have come to the conclusion that I must add you to my 'rounds'.
There are a lot of good sites in the blogosphere, and some excellent ones. Yours is one of the best I have come across to date. Humorous and intelligent; two of my favorite things. I will now continue my perusal of your archives, and if I may be so bold as to briefly emulate your style...
Phydeaux Speaks knows a good thing when he sees it.
Good morning, Phydeaux Speaks.
I just went over to your site to have a look around. A somewhat loose, general rule among bloggers is to wait for an invitation to reciprocal blogrolling, but I have dispensed with that protocol when it comes to new and otherwise less-heard voices, this personal protocol being consistent with my general commitment to give the unnoticed a chance to become more noticed.
(Besides, the way I see it, the more progressive bloggers I bring to the attention of the world, the more likely it is that the Right-wing crazies will go after them instead of me.)
I'll tell you, Phydeaux Speaks, I had never before seen that John Adams quote at the top of your blog. If I were not to have seen its author, I would have thought it was from Mark Twain. It is delicious.
Anyway, welcome to The Dark Wraith Forums. You are now blogrolled both here and at Big Brass Blog, and you are certainly invited to return and comment often.
Next time, bring your cats along, though.
The Dark Wraith always welcomes cats to the Forums.
This religious zealot crap is really starting to chap my hide. It seems like they're trying to pick out all the yolk from scrambled eggs with their fingers, then serving it to everybody. Hey, G-damnit, I like the yolks, and I don't want food that your fingers were in. (They didn't wash them first.)
Ok, I suck at analogies. People telling on the Faculty's Member of the Year ( ;) ) for alluding to their smug little ID shoehorn into the classroom. Now, other students will miss out on strong teaching skills from you just to pacify these...these...troglidytes. Ugh.
Not to worry, trog69.
I still have plenty of opportunities to corrupt the youth of the country in my college classes. I am also endeavoring to expand my influence through my publicly available YouTube lectures, which will become more polished and professional looking as time goes on.
I recall a story told to me by a veteran about a rather ugly, somewhat largish skirmish in which he and his campanions were getting routed by an unexpectedly big and pretty ill-tempered contingent of opposing forces. As this guy and his buddies found and then exploited a narrow path of retreat, they heard what sounded like cheering from an enemy position.
Because he and his mates had put quite a bit of distance between themselves and their nemesis, he couldn't state as fact what he suspected, but it was his sincere belief that those enemy soldiers stopped cheering when the Thudpucker came in and bombed them back to their ancestors.
It's always best to leave a dessert line if you know the chef is bringing the pies in through the freight elevator.
The Dark Wraith offers the rather obtuse ending metaphor.
Good Afternoon Dark Wraith,
Puff, Callie and I are beside ourselves with joy on this chilly April afternoon, for we have been accorded our first blogrolling! I have, however, pointed out to the kitties that this means they will now have to step up to the plate and begin contributing to the discourse - which sent them to the nearest pool of sunlight, where even now they lay stretched out, cogitating fiercely (or maybe sleeping).
In either case, they (and I) know that now we really have to keep the place tidy and welcoming, for throngs of visitors shall surely be stopping by.
Phydeaux Speaks thanks you again, even though his hermit status is now in jeopardy.
...oh, and just to clarify, the John Adams "quote" is from the movie 1776. I suppose I need to make that more clear at my site.
aside to phydeaux:
my own humble blogroll has been updated with your url. i am stubbornly d-list and it probably won't stir up much traffic but rest assured, i will be clicking through myself from time to time. welcome to our little curmugeonly community.
i haven't had time to tear through my books of collected letters (adams/abigail and adams/jefferson) but i believe that that quote from adams in 1776 might have come from the letters. he was quite vivid in his descriptions of day to day machinations in his letters to abigail, and also to jefferson when jefferson was away on diplomatic or other congressional business. i am a huge fan of adams. one of the beautifully human things about his faults and shortcomings was that he was absolutely aware of them and totally open and upfront in his acknowledgement of them. . . also from 1776 was his description of himself as "obnoxious and disliked" which came from a letter he wrote to jefferson explaining why it should be jefferson and not himself who took on the authorship of the declaration and why richard henry lee should be the one to propose the motion. i will let you know if i find it anywhere.
it might have been franklin too, he was a wicked old bastard.
Good afternoon, Dark Wraith.
At least you managed to figure out where the complaints were coming from.
I must say, because of those religious nut parents and kids, the others are losing out. It's too bad the nuts have to cause such trouble. The nutgang students could go on to religious college and learn to walk the narrow path, and later, as they preach to others, will do opposite than what they preach, because they feel they missed out... or not.
Of course, as you say, the biggest share or them will go on to university. I figure that once they've been away from their parents' stifling pressure, they will spread their wings and find other things, more exciting, and will, perhaps, become... not so religious nutwing, but then again, some will continue their zealous path.
Congratulations on that Faculty Member of the Year honor. Tis way cool!
hey, look on the bright side! some of them might study law at pat robertson's place and all get jobs in the white house and the justice department. they can then, from that lofty marble perch, judge the morality of the rest of us!
i must leave now to check the perimeter of my cactus fence and check on the dogs. then i'll clean me some guns. just in case.
What, no patience for another Scopes "monkey trial," Dark Wraith? After all, it's been (uh, like) 9 decades since we last enjoyed such a spectacle in this country. Pity that the flat-earthers & creationists must be reminded again that science doesn't critique faith, & faith should be decent enough to return the favor.
But not, I guess.
Good evening Mr. Wraith,
Like the bumper sticker says, those that don't believe in evolution need it the most.
Not sure I actually agree with that though, as I'd just as soon have them de-evolve and become part of the fossil record.
Wow that's some story. You know I keep reading about these crazy religious people but luckily I haven't come across them yet in real life. Lucky for them.
Interestingly, I taught SAT prep courses for a few years- English and Math. They were mostly rich kids looking to get into the best colleges. They wanted tips and techniques more than anything. At the time, the SAT's could be tackled with strategy more than actual knowledge although if you memorized the vocabulary words, you were pretty sure to get high scores on the verbal. I was astounded that calculators were allowed. I can ace the math portion without one and that's pretty amazing considering I sucked at math all my life.
I suppose that if I had to teach science and there was evolution in the curriculum, I wouldn't be able to keep my opinion to myself. I attended religious schools all my life and seriously, this evolution stuff was never an issue. Perhaps Catholics have figured out a way to have faith that isn't solely based on the bible.
Back after I first got my MA in theology, I was a religion teacher in a huge Catholic parish. I was constantly being handed my head but not for science vs bible reasons. This was a very liberal, almost anti-papal parish. We had altar girls even though it was expressly forbidden by the diocese to allow females on the altar.
There were just bad kids in the classes who didn't want to be there. they were disruptive and if I asked them to please be quiet, they would lie to their parents and say that I singled them out and humiliated them. So I invited parents of the students to come on in and audit the classes or just come and sit and read a magazine in the back of the class (so that I would have witnesses as to the behavior of some of the students.) I ended up quitting teaching CCD and split with the church altogether. I was accused of conspiracy. The nerve.
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