Tuesday, August 19, 2008
(note: random google photo.)
last year i had freshmen "guided study" . . . two periods of kids (mostly, but not exclusively, boys) whose home lives are seriously dysfunctional. in ed-speak, they're collectively referred to as "at-risk" teenagers. that is, at risk for failing out of school or dropping out. i'm talking serious abuse, neglect, gangs, drugs, teenage pregnancies, and so on.
i feared the worst, but surprisingly we had a great year together. partly because i don't mince words (read: disciplinarian), partly because i don't have a lot of rules (just two: 1. respect yourself, your environment, others, and me . . . and 2. work hard), partly because i'm crazy about literature, and partly because i just fucking love working with teens.
everything was great until, two weeks before the year ended, i caught one of my guided study boys writing in one of my literature books.
walking over to him, i say quietly, "what's that?"
(playing stupid) "what's what?"
"that," i repeat.
and then i point to the block letter words that read: ms. banana is a big bitch.
(calmly, still whispering) "did you write that?"
(loudly and incredulously) "nooooooooo!"
"ah. i see. ok. finish your assignment."
(different student) "what's the matter, ms. b?"
"someone wrote in my literature book."
(still totally cool) "yeah, i don't appreciate that, as you can imagine."
(another student) "what'd they write?"
"'ms. banana is a big bitch.'"
(all: oooooooooh . . .)
"who wrote it?" a student asks.
"i don't know. they wrote it in block print."
and then i walk up to the board and write: "ms. banana is a big bitch."
i'm not about to let a kid show me up in my own classroom . . . no, sir.
(nonchalantly) "guys, what's the problem with the sentence on the board?"
(kids raise their hands)
"yes? tell me."
"that is has the word 'bitch' in it?" a student volunteers.
"yeah, ok. but besides the profanity, there's another problem there that's even more grievous. who can spot it?"
i point to the word "big" . . .
"what's the problem with THAT, guys?"
"it's boring!" i say.
(perplexed looks all around)
"guys, we've read over a million words this year. thousands and thousands of them new, shiny, vibrant, vivid, exciting words . . . and yet there is someone here who continues cleaving to lame, boring words like 'big'? it's nothing short of a travesty.
now, i bet you i can come up with at least 20 words right off the top of my head better than the word "big", which would improve this sad, little sentence by leaps and bounds.
shall i show you?
(all, except the boy who tagged my book: laughing, clapping, hooting, hollering)
"let's see: prodigious, humongous, herculean, stupendous, colossal, behemoth, mammoth, monumental, mountainous, gigantic, gargantuan, titanic, tremendous . . .
what does that bring us to?"
"right. but it just occurred to me . . . maybe the person meant big as in 'fat' . . . which would require a whole other set of words. let's try those . . .
gelantinous, stout, rotund, corpulent, adipose, fubsy, and porcine."
"i believe that's 20. now, don't all of those words sound so much better than 'big'?"
(all, minus you-know-who) "yeah!"
"let's try a couple.
'ms. b is a colossal bitch.'
'ms. b is a prodigious bitch.'
'ms. b is a behemoth bitch.'
ooh, i like that one A LOT. who can tell me why?"
(students raise their hands)
"yes," i say choosing a student, "why?"
"it has good alliteration?"
"are you sure? say it like you know, like you mean it, like you're certain!"
"it has good alliteration!"
"bingo. perfect. yes, it contains alliteration."
bell rings . . .
score: ms. b 1, misguided youth 0.
just two more weeks before school starts! i'm REALLY looking forward to it.