It doesn’t seem fair, to me, to make my students write something I myself disdain to write. So this semester, when I am unexpectedly teaching two classes for a colleague with serious health issues, I assign myself work along with my students. Writing a definition essay was easy–the idea of ‘success,’ and what it really means to be successful, had been spinning and knocking around that bony, empty room in my mind. I enjoyed spending some time exploring that.
And now, my composition students are doing compare/contrast essays–choosing two somethings that they are interested in, parking them side-by-side, and taking a good long look. The topics have to be pairs with something in common and something that’s different… (Well, if that was NOT true, after all, why compare?)
So Elwood is writing about 2016 Batman as compared to 1960’s Batman. Sami, a Gators football fan, is comparing the 2014 team to the 2015 team; she says the coaches make all the difference, and she’s out to prove that in her paper. Jason is comparing the rock and roll of the Beatles to the rock and roll of today, and Alek is looking at U.S. country music THEN vs. U.S. country music now. Dylon is comparing the experience of attending a tiny college to what the life of a student at a huge and bustling university center is like. Stephanie is looking at nursing now and at what nursing was like in World War II.
They’ve got a format for the paper–they need to decide if they’re going to compare things in their entirety or use a point-by-point contrast. So Elwood thinks he’s going to describe that goofy Early Batman, his comic demeanor, his outfit and his gadgets, and–of course–his batmobile. Then he’ll do the same for Batman Now. Alek, on the other hand, has three specific things he wants to explore about country music. He wants to look at themes, then and now; the women of country music, then and now; and the country music fan, then and now. Alek will do a point by point comparison, which is a good idea with a vast subject,–a way to make a huge topic manageable.
The students are challenged with crafting an engaging opening. I expect to see, in my mind’s movie theater, pictures of nurses dashing through the carnage of war, fighting to save valiant soldiers. I expect to be startled by surprising statistics or a little-known fact, maybe, about Paul McCartney. I plan to be drawn into the topics thoroughly by the students’ passion for their work, and by the care with which they open their essays.
And the students are, finally, charged with using the conclusion to tell me what they learned in their comparing. Is one Batman more appealing–or does the way Batman is presented tell us something about today’s society versus society in 1965? Why has country music grown so far from its roots? What kind of student is best-suited for the vast campus of a major university?
The papers are due, in this technological age, to land in my collegiate computer drop-box by midnight on Monday night, and I’m looking forward to the reading.
For my own compare-contrast essay, I pondered a topic, and I found one that’s a little more personal than my students’. I was reading a memoir by an author I like, and she was talking about her grade school days. The author’s experience was quite different than mine–she went to a one-room school house in the 1940’s, probably one of the last generations of those now-lost-to-mainstream-society phenomena. But something she wrote, some way that she expressed something, made me think of the year my family moved twice. I started fifth grade at one school; I ended it at another. The two teachers created completely opposite experiences. I can say, with Mr. Dickens, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
I wrote about that for my blog (https://pamkirstblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/fifth-grade-fire-fifth-grade-ice/ ), and I thought you might like to think about this kind of writing, too. There’s a wonderful symmetry to the compare/contrast, and a wonderful kind of sorting that takes place.
And there are so many things worth comparing.
There are schools.
There are birthdays–the best and the worst, perhaps.
There are two gifts, perhaps both wonderful, perhaps given for two
different events, but equally memorable though very different.
There are adventures.
There are jobs–the great and the woeful.
There are shoes or suits or hats or dresses.
There are aunties and uncles, grandparents, and siblings. There’s kin.
There are secrets kept and secrets shared.
There are beloved pets.
There are surprises.
Oh, just think of the doubles of things you’ve experienced, the fraternal twin-type events–the ‘This…oh, but THAT!’ dichotomies.
Could you explore one?
What would you learn?
Happy blogging, my friends!