1998, 11th grade English class, Kenmore, New York. When I was a junior in high school we had to do a big paper for our English class. There was much discussion of MLA format. There was a big list of topics. One was about music. I chose that one and said I wanted to write about my favorite book, John Lydon’s autobiographical account of his time in the Sex Pistols, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs and punk rock. She said no – punk rock wasn’t scholarly enough.
The next year I got kicked out of high school with like a 32 out of 100 overall grade point average. My principal said I had no respect for authority and I was going to end up in prison. I subsequently spent most of my time in my room reading literature and working as a dishwasher.
2012: Doctoral course, Post-WWII American Fiction, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. After reading Bret Easton Ellis’s debut novel Less than Zero in seminar, I spent a lot of time thinking about a spat between David Foster Wallace and Ellis. It bothered me. I went to talk to my professor about it. “Bret’s just a punk rocker,” she said. We then discussed a bit about how Less than Zero was named after an Elvis Costello song, and what the connections between punk and the novel might be more generally. “Why don’t you write about that?” she said, referring to our major final paper. “Less than Zero and punk rock.”
I got to thinking about this recently while ordering John Lydon’s new yet-to-be-released in the US autobiography from Amazon.UK. Alas, I suspect you don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to figure out why I do what I do, but it is interesting to me to think about the way we support our students’ learning in the classroom. As Existential psychologist Rollo May put it in a slightly different context, are our students empty vessels we want to fill with knowledge or “being[s] to be understood?” I suspect our students’ perceptions of how we’ve answered that question determines how they’ll remember us.