I’m teaching through June. There are other things I could be doing, like watching back-to-back episodes of “Hoarders” or giving myself thousands of tiny paper cuts, but the vet bills, my friends. The vet bills. I’ve got a 16-year-old tabby cat who’s been with me since I was 21– the mute and trusting witness to a dozen relocations and as many jobs; 5,000 miles of air/auto travel; oxytocin-splattered months of new love and ensuing heartbreak; and 5 Presidential administrations. Now he has some thyroid thing that’s taken him from 20 pounds to 9.5 and causes mournful, accusatory early-morning yowling. I told the vet (on whom I have a mild, nonsexual crush because of his New York accent, mmmmm) “Listen, I’m familiar with the customary feline life span and I’m not asking for miracles, but I love this goddamn cat. See what you can do.” What he can do involves prescription kibble and a comprehensive blood/urine panel, ergo, summer school.
I take less shit in summer school than I do during the regular year. I’m a lot less fun, because many of these students rejected the life rafts they were thrown during the academic year. It’s pretty hard to fail my class, because I’ll work with any and all learning styles. You lean towards the experiential/kinesthetic side of things? I’ll let you demonstrate your knowledge via interpretive dance. To fail my class, you have to commit to failure. You have to never show up, or stab me in the chest with a #2 pencil. Even then, I might let you slide with a D if you wow me with an extra-credit project and a well-written Apology and Promise to Do Better. Help me help you!
So my roomful of 35 kids has shown a tenacious commitment to failure (except for the girl who’s trying to graduate early) and some don’t care if they fail again. In order to motivate them to read and write, I’ve assigned a high-interest YA novel I love. I believe in this book. It saves lives. It’s about acquantance rape, but it isn’t heavy-handed. It just tells a story: Here is a girl like you, or like your sister or good friend. Here is what a boy she trusts does to her. Here are the profoundly damaging emotional and physical results.
I could lecture kids all day about healthy relationships — no means no; consent means enthusiastic consent — but nothing works better than a well-told story. Plus, the movie version stars Kristen Stewart of “Twilight” fame (irony) so everybody’s been rapt. But I can’t vouch for the boys’ level of understanding. During one scene of the film, when Stewart’s character Melinda leans out the window of a car and whoops with the joy of being young and on her way to a party, I heard one kid giggle and mutter, “Show us your titties.” After the party and the rape, when Melinda stumbles home carrying her shoes, I heard another giggle. I hope to God it’s because the scene is discomfiting and sometimes kids deal with discomfort by giggling — not because the idea of a violated, hurt girl stumbling home strikes any of my students as funny. I really hope to God. When I heard those giggles, I wanted to stop the film and take the kid to task, but thought embarrassing him might be counter-productive. Maybe just be patient; let the whole film sink in first. Or not. I don’t know.
I gave the kids an Anticipation Guide pre-reading quiz which has 10 statements to “agree” or “disagree” with, e.g., “A girl dressed provocatively at a party deserves any negative attention she gets,” “A girl who gets drunk or high is still able to consent to sexual activity,” etc. I had to stop reading those quizzes after three minutes. It was as bad as you think, boys and girls alike. And I’m afraid that one book and one month with me isn’t enough to override our sick, woman-hating, porn-infected culture even a tiny little bit. I’m afraid that the damage is done — teenage boys see women as existing to please them; to be “hot,” sweet, and accommodating. You know how offended men get when a woman isn’t sufficiently “hot,” sweet, and accommodating? As though her failure to be those things is somehow a personal, punishable affront? That shit starts early. I can’t keep from being personally triggered when I see it, so I called in a guest speaker from the rape crisis center. I’ll teach the book; she’ll do the rest. I’ll let you know how that goes.
*“Nathaniel Hawthorne often uses symbolism in his work. What do you think of Hawthorne’s use of symbolism? Do you think symbolism is necessary for an author to get his/her point across? If you were to chose 2-3 symbols to express the themes of your own life, what would they be? Discuss in your groups, then draw a picture of your symbols.”