This is a writing class, and we've been talking about various strategies for argumentation, illustrated by a range of sample articles in our textbook. I've been assigning from the book for weeks now.
"Alright," I say at the start of class, "Let's look at the article you read for today. It's on page 217."
I wait for students to act accordingly. I don't need their eyes to light up with unbridled enthusiasm or anything: Get out our textbook? Finally! I thought you'd never ask!! I've been itching to pull this bad boy out all day! Let's do it! Let's discuss the reading! Rigorously! Let's take this baby out on the road and really open 'er up !!
That would be awesome, but I don't need it to feel good about our productivity. I just want them to pull the book out and flip to the right page. I'm happy to call that a Win.
And yet, as I wait, no one seems to be doing anything.
"Okey, Dokey," I say again, "Let's get right to it. Page 217."
More aimless staring. At the chalkboard. The door. Their desks. Their shoes. It's weird to have 30 people avoid eye contact with you all at the same time.
"And... we're off. Here we go. Page 217-arooni."
I am nothing if not persistent. And yet there is still only distant staring. Stillness.
"All aboard the train to higher learning. First stop: page 217."
"Time to conquer page 217 with an UNHOLY FURY!!! YEAA!!! WHO'S WITH ME!? COWER BEFORE US, PAGE 217!!!"
It becomes clear that out of thirty students, only two of them brought their textbooks to class today. Despite the fact that they'd all been assigned a reading from it. Despite the fact that I'd said in class that we'd be looking at material that's actually written on pages actually found inside the book, so it would be important to actually bring it.
Despite the fact that the course syllabus, in the Required Class Materials section, says: Please bring our textbook to class everyday. Just like that, in bold.
I wrote it in bold, you guys. Granted, I tend to put a lot of stuff in bold on my handouts. But that's just because a lot of stuff is important. I like to emphasize. And let me also add this: the book I made them buy? Dirt cheap by academic publishing standards. I scoured the industry over the summer and found a book that would cost students less than twenty bucks. Why? Because I
"Guys," I say, feeling my forehead vein start to pulse. "Where. Are. Your. Books?"
No one has anything to say. A couple students make the feeble, fake attempt at rummaging around in their backpacks before coming up empty, shrugging, as if they themselves have no idea what's happened to their books. It's like a mystery. The Case of the Goddamn What the Hell Is The Problem With College Kids Today And Their Total Lack Of Freaking Responsibility. Call the Scooby gang.
So I lose it. Just a little. I don't yell, because I never yell. I do however launch into a little sermon/performance art piece I like to call "What part of 'bring the book everyday' do you not understand?"
I go off. I don't call them names, and I don't swear at them (much), but I do go off. "What makes you think it's ok to just blow off a basic requirement like that?" I say at one point. "Would you act this way at your job? If you boss asked you to bring something to a meeting, would you forget and then just shrug it off?" (Yes, the comparison of classroom behavior to professional behavior is a flawed analogy. Speaking of, did you know that Flawed Analogy is one of 42 defined logical fallacies often found in contemporary arguments? It's one that's actually discussed at length... in a chapter of the goddamn book you people were supposed to read and bring to class today.)
I'm worked up. My face feels warm, despite the fact that I'm not new to this teacher-student Thunderdome-like arena. I hate being a cop in class. This is college. I'm standing in front of them, hands on my hips like I suddenly morphed into my own father. The Vein is throbbing. They can probably see it, like a mini-me on my forehead, just as angry as me. In fact, The Vein probably has a tiny vein on its own forehead, which is also throbbing.
And then one dude slouching in the back, bookless, remorseless, says: "Dude, why do you even care if we bring it?"
I stand in front of them, listening to a whole new sort of expectant silence in the room.
I have no answer.