Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Lights Are On, But Nobody's Home

Although I've been teaching for 26 years, I still often forget that many teenagers are just not that tuned in to anything that doesn't directly concern them. I mean them directly, such as their cell phones, their Ipods, their driver's licenses, their curfews, or their social lives. So, I still get an enormous shock every now and again when they express their unmitigated ignorance of the world around them, especially politics.

(Naturally, I realize that I am a political junkie. Politics is, for me, like crack. I am addicted; I need it to live. Politics informs everything I do. It's sad, really. I'm trying to quit.)

But I digress.

A few days ago, I was giving my students their daily quiz on their reading assignment for The Scarlet Letter. I assign three chapters a night; they come in the next day and I ask them a half-dozen questions aloud, which they write the answers to. It's a quickie way to assess whether or not they read the chapters and also a nice way to force them to read. (Honors kids do anything for points.) Anyway, one of the questions was: What does Hester Prynne say was the result of her one meeting with the Black Man? (In the context of the book, which is set in 17th century Puritan New England, said "Black Man" is, of course, in their parlance, the devil.)

Jokingly, I said, "And don't go writing down a Vote for Obama button!" Several students in the class chuckled and, heads bent over their papers, wrote their answers.

One girl looked at me, bewildered. "Huh?" she said. "Who's that?"

I stared at her. "Really? You have no idea who Barack Obama is?" I asked.

"No," she said. "Why?"

"Do you watch the news or get a newspaper at home?" I asked her.

"We get the paper," she said.

A couple other students in the class said, "I don't know who he is, either."

"How can you not know who he is?" I said. "His picture is everywhere. He's been in the news, on tv, on magazines, everyplace! I am absolutely shocked! Don't any of you ever watch the news at all? Please tell me that you know something besides entertainment garbage!" They all just looked at me. I turned back to the original student who was still sitting there, absolutely devoid of any sort of interest in anything at all except a piece of her hair. I said, "Okay. Never mind. You at least know what country we live in. What country do we live in?"

She stared at me, mouth open. A full three seconds went by. The class waited patiently. Several students had the decency to look shocked. Finally, her mouth formed the answer.

"North America. Right? RIGHT!?"

Remember, I teach Honors.


  1. I feel just a little bit sick right now.

    Okay, a lot.

  2. Wow....I need to think about how I'm feeling about this...I'll be back later.

  3. Anonymous10:52 PM

    Sweet Jebus, I need to lie down with a cold cloth on my head.

    A. Beaverhausen
    (former English teacher)

  4. I am so appalled...I suppose these dummies technically belong to my generation? *shakes head in shame*

  5. I'm rather frightened for our future right now. I can't even... Wow. This is very, very, bad.

  6. Wow. Scary. Even *I* know who Obama is, and I'm one of the least political people I know. ;)

  7. My, my, my...I hope she's not in Honors Geography!!!!!!!

    This is terribly shocking news...and these are the future voters of America?


  8. Please, please, please don't tell my Belgian pal Peter about this. I don't wnat to fuel anymore blog posts about how stupid Americans are.

    The worst part? Europeans can tell you who the American PRIMARY candidates are AND give you party affiliations and a synopsis of the party platforms.

  9. Oh la! Sorry to say I'm not shocked. Not in the least tiny bit. You've got to give her a little bit for getting the right continent at least. That's something! Check out my site later tonight about my little darlings!

  10. j.--no, I don't. mainly because i didn't ASK the continent. and she knew that.

    v-grrrl--in defense of my students, she is in the minority about the "country" question. but in the category of current events, they are ALL definitely sadly and purposefully UNINFORMED. it is woeful and inexcusable. i hate it.

    tera--there is no longer a class called "geography". and, in their defense, *I* never EVER had a class in geography, ever. but i was embarrassed by my ignorance and corrected it on my own. they simply do not care. because there are LEGIONS of them.

    ck--sigh. after what the Angel of Death has done to our country, NO ONE can afford to be apolitical anymore. certainly we all need to be involved and informed, i think. we owe it to our children and each other.

    anali--i hear you. it's scary. hopefully, she and others of her ilk will either get smart or stay OUT OF THE VOTING BOOTH.

    jenomena--you can claim them. glad i don't have to and glad i teach english, not government. (she did superbly on her scarlet letter test!!)

    ab--add a martini.

    nina--i'm still waiting.

    i.h.--welcome to my world!! lol.

  11. my mother always told me that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

  12. It's so sad that this happened in Ohio, where the elections are actually decided.

  13. I hear ya. I can't teach things such as "the subjunctive used in adverbial clauses" because... first I have to teach what a godforsaken CLAUSE is. In HIGH SCHOOL. In a COLLEGE PREP school. (also to Honor Students, and ours are screened to take these courses.)

    We are in big trouble. And what else can we expect when we are being led by a president who declared that "Mexico was part of Latin America." Sheesh.

  14. My first graders know what country we live in, and they can point to it on a map.

    I weep for *America.

    *The country we live in.

  15. scarlet--bless their hearts. keep up the good work and let's hope they remember it.

    ortizzle--mediocre is the new honors in america. as always, i blame the republicans.

    i.h.--i have offered innumerable times to decide all elections. i will offer again. and not just elections. do NOT get me started.

    nina--holy crap. someone who listens to her mother. even *I* don't listen to mine.

  16. Wow. Just, Wow. I'm in the far North of Canada and I know who Obama is. But to not know which Country you're in?

    Wasn't teaching easier when we were allowed to cuff them on the back of the head?

  17. Hi, arthur dent, and thanks for hitting up the Dept! hope you stop by and chat again.

    oh, my, teaching was easier so many years ago and for so many reasons. and let me just say this: this student scored in the top 10% on the horrifically difficult test I gave over the entire novel right before christmas break. so...she's not an idiot. she's just sadly isolated from the world not immediately informing her tiny, narrow existence. in other words, a typical teenager. sigh.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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