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Max (not his real name) was worried. “I just don’t know if I’m a good enough writer. I don’t have any confidence that what I have to say makes sense.” It was a private conversation between a student and a professor. I pointed at the projection screen. “Whose paper did I just show to the class?” A few moments earlier, with his permission, I had shown his written work as an example to everyone. My voice conveyed serious generosity. I did not give him the opportunity to respond. I clapped him on the shoulder and announced, “You got chops, man! Hear me when I say, ‘You’re a good writer!’” A sheepish smile spread across his face. Max just needed encouragement. No matter what a student writes about, my job is to come alongside to inspire.
One undergraduate wrote about race cars, another about near-death experiences. Someone else regaled the benefits of “man’s best friend,” still a different student reported being a victim of a DUI. A critique of Barbie dolls was the premise that questioned artificial beauty standards imposed on young women. Defending and uplifting the art world was accomplished by a masterful dialogue paper where promotions and objections were all considered. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” was well presented. Getting children outside to play, removing the constant use of “screens” by primary ages, warned against electronic stimulation on a child’s brain. BDSM used as a therapeutic tool was the resource promoted by a person who seemed to speak out of personal experience. Social stigmas related to masculinity, specifically, how men could dress in dresses, was a paper that spoke to the subject carefully while giving examples from his own personal life. Should “one nation under God” be in the Pledge of Allegiance? Should church leaders be celebrated? Interests span a wide range in a public university freshman class.
The subjects are as varied as my students. One young man, a Chinese American, recounted the diligence of his parents to work 14-hour days so that he might have a better life growing up in America. One young woman, a Mexican American, berated her parents, loathing her life, for the expectations placed on her by a couple who worked long hours so that she could go to college. Another woman struggled with the negative, repressive teaching she received from her church about sex and her slide into sexual freedom that caused her great pain. One more teenager spoke out about the imposition employers laid on young workers, requiring additional hours of labor for substandard pay. A young man gave acclaim to his father who had taught him the wonder of caring for wildlife. Another man questioned the overriding, negative impact that virtual reality could have on perceptions of the real world. And a young woman, obviously hurt by flippant words, reprimanded her own generation’s use of “texting” as a communication tool.