Ode to the Instructional Television Program –
The Weekend College
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden).
Stanford J. Searl, Jr.
At times, I learned that I couldn’t get there from here, what with the 101 closed off from the 405 north and then the 101 closed off at the 110 north and then the football traffic near USC and how the 110 clogged up anyway and then Imperial Highway got shut down for re-paving until Vermont and how afterwards I got off on Burbank then wandered through the middle of a reservoir at least finally headed in the right direction and that after office hours, Caltrans shut down the exit to the 405 south and when – finally – I got to the 10 west, nothing moved and how the Mexican place opposite Los Angeles Southwest College shut down and the other fast-food places just wouldn’t do at all.
There were these smart classrooms at the four colleges, what with a lovely Franklin Hall classroom and as I sat at my computer, bringing up the power point slides, I learned that the lights turned off automatically because I hadn’t moved so I sat there in the dark in front of a glowing computer screen and how in another classroom, this at a new classroom at LA Southwest College, I couldn’t turn off the powerful lights that illuminated the overhead projector so it was really impossible to see the Ghost scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and at both Los Angeles Pierce College and at Valley College, I needed to use a small American flag stick in order to turn on the overhead projectors and how more than once, we couldn’t use the men’s bathroom outside of the Pierce Village classroom because of the used toilet paper and urine infused water on the bathroom floor and how early in my teaching as I entered a classroom at Los Angeles City College, I surprised a homeless man who lived there, noticing that he stored canned goods and chips on the bookshelves and by turning on the lights, I had nudged him awake but this was previous to the smart classrooms.
Presenting one of the English 102 videos, we listened to the late Lucille Clifton, the wonderful African-American poet read her poems like “homage to my hips” and “this morning,” how she happened to be from Buffalo and then had lived in Baltimore and I asked my students to describe what they knew about these two cities and I learned that they hadn’t quite heard of Baltimore and knew that Buffalo was probably somewhere out there to the east and then I told them about the Great Lakes and the snow and how Buffalo had about 6 feet of lake-effect snow the previous fall season and after we read Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese,” I asked my students if they had ever heard migrating wild geese, honking into the dwindling November days and then we talked about Emily Dickinson and read a few poems and I observed that she had lived her entire life in Amherst, Massachusetts and I asked them who could tell me where Massachusetts happened to be and what were the other five New England states and one person said, “Oh, Boston,” and then I presented a poem by Louise Gluck entitled “Snowdrops” and I showed a photo of a snowdrop flower and talked about flower bulbs and some of the women knew what a bulb happened to be and we talked about tulips and daffodils and the poem illustrated how the snowdrop flowers could push up in the earliest of spring days, even when they got covered with a light dusting of overnight snow and represented the theme of rebirth and we talked about Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall” and how Frost lived in Vermont and I wondered if they knew where Vermont happened to be and someone said isn’t that out there where Emily Dickinson lived and I let all of that go, then we read a poem by Wilfred Owen, “Dulce et Decorum Est” and I didn’t want to … but I asked about the First World War and wondered what year the war had ended and heard that it happened way back there and I said yes and asked the students to turn to a different poem, hopefully one that didn’t have anything to do with either geography or history at all.
The course focused upon student learning outcomes, with students producing essays that demonstrated an ability to use literary analysis, did the papers have a thesis statement, analyze a main theme, be organized, not have too many fragments, comma splices, problems with possessives and subject-verb agreements and therefore one person said that “Every time you read a poem, I went home and read it to my children and I explained to them the meaning of the poem” and another student learning outcome said to write a well-focused response to academic readings, without too many of the same fragments and comma splices and therefore one student responded that “I would like to add that I don’t think I could have analyzed these short stories and poems before this class. There is a place, a small window in my mind that can see better, differently and my perception has been altered for the better” and students planned competently organized essay exams and said that “Now I find myself walking into a bookstore and not by it.” Besides, in spite of the same problems with diction, possessives, subject-verb agreement and the nearly ubiquitous sentence fragments for some, the student learning outcomes also said that “Just like we peel the skin off an orange in order to truly enjoy it, we enjoy the real meaning of literature through critical analysis. In that way, we enjoy stories in conjunction with our own lives, rather than enjoying the literature as just other people’s stories” and then we finished with the final lines from a poem by Thomas Lux, “The Voice You Hear When You Read Silently” that goes “The voice you hear when you read it to yourself/is the clearest voice: you speak it/speaking to you.”