In a post on January 26, 2017, Barmerding asked if the participants in this quarter’s blogs on teaching and learning would consider writing a post as a “literacy narrative about their community college (or university) days?” Barmerding also gave an initial prompt:
“What is one of your most prominent memories of reading and writing when you were in college? Why do you think this memory stands out to you?”
I’m a math teacher, but I’ve always been a reader of novels (old and new). I read all the assigned texts in high school, thoroughly, and many others as follow-on—not extra credit, just interest. When I enrolled as a freshman at a Chicago community college on the south-side of the city, I did not have a life-goal in mind. My friends all went to four-year colleges or universities, so I was adrift in a new sea. I was advised to take fundamental courses that would transfer. That’s what I did. I don’t carry many memories of the classes; they were in English literature, writing, analytic geometry, calculus, chemistry, philosophy (logic) and art history. I remember only dream-like images of the instructors—the bus rides to and from class are more vivid in my mind. On one particular ride I saw a public service ad with a quote by Mark Twain. The quote was something akin to, “If you want to be a writer, write.” I don’t remember wanting to be a writer, but at that point in my life writing became another dish on my buffet of possibilities. I was eager to taste many experiences and experience many tastes (I couldn’t resist; we are covering commutative laws in my current math classes). With that preamble, I’ll answer the question.
My most prominent memories are of the writing course. I don’t remember the title of the course but we wrote short, fictional stories. I found that I liked to write and I liked what I wrote. I remember writing and rewriting on a small desk wedged into a large closet in the bedroom I shared with my older brother. I typed the hand-in version; no home computers then. I’m sure I never planned the structure of the stories; they just flowed from current topics. It was the time of the Vietnam War and I remember one of my stories set in a car traveling down a highway with a driver and one passenger, a hitch-hiker. I no longer have the story so I only remember its tone and its ending. If I had analyzed it then I would have said that the hitch-hiker was suffering from ‘combat fatigue,’ what today they call PTSD. I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood, when that classification could be taken literally, and many of my neighborhood friends went off to the war—and returned damaged in many different ways. The story ended badly (both content and form I’m afraid). I never became a writer. Math took its place. But the exploration of trying to express emotion in words has stayed with me. My fears and uncertainties of life unfolding—it’s good to remember how empty and lost young students can feel.