On idealism, realism, and my students’ futures.
There are a lot of great things about teaching the English Studies Senior Capstone, chief among them the opportunity to read senior portfolios and be reinforced in my sense of the diversity and impressiveness of our English Majors. But as I wrote in that linked post, the Capstone (at least as I teach it) is just as much about the future as about the past, about where the students might go next and how the course and community and I can help them move forward toward those possible futures. We do various practical work in that regard, drafting resumes and cover letters and grad application personal statements and the like, and that feels meaningful and productive. But I have to admit that I end this semester no surer than I was in that post that I’ve addressed their broader worries or concerns about the future.
If anything, I would say that many of our discussions, prompted by the particular readings I had chosen, led precisely to at best realistic (and at worst pessimistic) engagements with the difficulties of making a career as a professional writer (Zinsser’s On Writing Well), a creative writer (King’s On Writing), or a teacher (Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System). It’d be crazy of me to try to discourage such realism, or to pretend that any of those careers, or any of the related ones that my students are considering—or, frankly, any others right now—don’t entail substantial uncertainties and challenges and pitfalls and obstacles. I can and did suggest all the different ways I think they can maximize their materials and chances, can take positive steps, can take what control is possible of their own futures. But again, those positives were often not the focus of our discussions—and it’s impossible for me to blame them for their worries.
So how to reconcile my idealism about my students and their voices and work with this realism about the world into which they’re moving? Truth be told, I don’t know. I have a lot of faith in them, but not a lot of faith in that world right now, particularly not when it comes to the idea of good things happening to good people. Teaching Capstone has, ironically, amplified both feelings—I’ve never felt better about this community of young Americans, specific to Fitchburg State but also in general, than I do; but I’ve also never been less certain about what they have in front of them (and, I’ll admit, what my sons have in front of them in another decade or so). I wish it felt as if my generation was doing more to make that world better for these subsequent generations—but I guess one place I feel I am doing my part is in the classroom, helping prepare these communities for their opportunity to do their part.
Final semester conclusion tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?
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