Saturday, February 23, 2008

Eloquence From An English Professor At Northern Illinois University

I'll be going back to room 209 in Reavis Hall, right next door to Cole, where I teach creative nonfiction in the English department. I took a walk Thursday through the building. It was eerily quiet. I peeked in the window at my empty classroom. It looked the same, but somehow it looked very different.

In some ways, it will seem odd returning to the subject matter of English 303, dwelling on things like syntax and grammar, narrative voice and imagery. It will seem a bit strange to talk, as I usually do, about the absolute imperative of getting the facts straight at a time when the truth seems all wrong.

Like everyone else here, I worry about my students. Are they all going to come back? Will they be able to go back to what college life is supposed to mean, whatever that is for them?...

...It hits home. My daughter worked on the high-school paper last year with a student who was shot and wounded. Surveys at Virginia Tech after the massacre there last year found that 50 percent of students knew a victim.

Teachers will make sure students know about places to find counseling services. But they are not trained as counselors, and the experts tell us not to try to fill the role. "The classroom is not the place for group therapy," Dr. Flynn [Director of Counseling at Virginia Tech] said. "I had an organic chemistry teacher ask me, 'I don't know what to talk about?" And I told him, 'Talk about organic chemistry'."

Dr. Flynn reminded us that, contrary to the popular notion, targeted shootings on American campuses have been declining in the last 10 years. That's little comfort, of course, if you were sitting in the lecture at Cole Hall a week ago Thursday, or if your son or daughter, your sibling or your friend, was sitting there.

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