Passion – You Can’t Know You’ve Found it Until You Fail

What is your passion?

by Pamela Haag

It’s true that “passion” and “mission” get tossed around a lot these days. They sound like things that any college freshman can pick up at the salad bar.

How will you even recognize your passion when you encounter it? Perhaps unwisely, I’m going to propose a practical rather than a gauzy, ponderous answer to that question:  A passion is something that you love so much that you want to keep doing it even when you’re failing at it, you need to work hard to do it, and the doing of it occasionally is no fun at all.

That comes as close to a mission in life as I can imagine. I love writing in almost any genre or permutation, even when it’s a nightmare.

Too often, what we’re good at gets Continue reading “Passion – You Can’t Know You’ve Found it Until You Fail”

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Get a Clue, College-Bound!

What would you tell your teenage self?

by Steve Halasz

Dear Steve,

It’s 1966 and you’re excited and nervous about starting your first year at Hiram, a small liberal arts college on a pleasant hill in Ohio that has a well-deserved reputation for intellectualism.  As your 64 year old self, I know what’s coming and so I’m writing to clue you in.

You are going to Hiram because (1) it’s a charming campus with lovely old buildings on a sweet hillside with a great view of the countryside, (2) it’s not far from home, (3) you got a scholarship, (4) Harvard didn’t accept you.  But mostly, you’re going there because you are an intellectual, and there are few places in the U.S. where intellectuals are Continue reading “Get a Clue, College-Bound!”

Creative Plagiarism

Is imitation a form of flattery – or stealing?

By Paula Marantz Cohen (Drexel)

In recent years, I have come across something that I call creative plagiarism. Almost every time I teach fiction-writing, one or two students seem compelled to write a story that closely resembles a published work we’ve read. These students are not trying to perpetrate a deception, since the material they incorporate has been previously discussed by the class, usually only a week or two earlier.

I was able to shed light on what might be going on through an exercise I did with my creative-writing class. I asked them to read two short stories for discussion at our next meeting. I provided the stories in photocopy, with the authors and the dates removed.

The stories were “Mrs. Adis,” by the British writer Sheila Kaye-Smith, published inThe Century Magazine in 1922, and “Sanctuary,” by the African-American writer Nella Larsen, published in the magazine Forum in 1930. Larsen’s story, as those familiar with her biography will know, was quickly viewed as a Continue reading “Creative Plagiarism”

Why It’s OK to Rat On Other Students

How do you teach people to do the right thing?

by Warren Goldstein

Like many people in the academy, I have found myself uneasily stewing over the murders at Virginia Tech. My students and I have spent far too much time glancing over at our classroom door, wondering whether we would have been able to hold it shut if a gunman had wanted in; would I have had the courage of Liviu Librescu, who students said died protecting them?

I was lucky; I didn’t have to deal with Seung-Hui Cho, unlike my poor colleagues in the Virginia Tech English department, who had formed a departmental task force to discuss him. At least they tried. They resisted the Continue reading “Why It’s OK to Rat On Other Students”

Those Who Can’t: 27 Ways of Looking at a Classroom

What have you learned about teaching?

by David L. Kirp (Berkeley)

1. I was a second-year graduate student when I got hired – more years ago than I care to remember – for my first teaching job as an instructor of something called “expository writing.” Make up a course, I was told, there’s nothing to it. But even as I was ordering books and inventing paper topics for the unsuspecting freshmen, I just knew that everybody involved, especially the students, understood that the enterprise was farcical. What did I, barely lettered and entirely untrained, have to say to ferociously smart 18-year-olds? How long would it take before someone dropped the curtain to end the play?

As I approached the classroom that first day, I peered in at the 20 slouching bodies, then stared at Continue reading “Those Who Can’t: 27 Ways of Looking at a Classroom”

Exam Doozies and Doubts

What do academics do wrong?

by Warren Goldstein (U Hartford)

The term’s over, thank God, and I’ve finished plowing through my U.S.-sports-history exams, but I can’t forget reading: “Femininity on the other hand was something that girls created after masculinity.” What? Incredulous when I came across that, at Hour 3, with a dozen booklets to go, I needed to vent. I e-mailed an old friend who teaches a similar course. He wrote back immediately, “What the … . Why do we bother?”

His question, however flippant, brought me up short. It’s a good one, even beyond the obvious answers: We have tenure; we’re getting a little long in the tooth to start another career; we can’t live on Continue reading “Exam Doozies and Doubts”