I gave an assignment last week. Students had two options: they could make a map of the process for writing under time, or they could make a comic strip showing the steps for writing under time.
A girl came up to me. Nice girl. Smart girl. Works hard. She showed me the rough draft for her comic strip. It had lovely panels and drawings, but no words. I gave her a couple of suggestions for how she could include the necessary text and then I said something like, “You know, like they do it in comic strips.”
And she smiled a little and looked chagrined. “Actually, Ms. S, I have never seen a comic strip before.”
Never? Really? Here? On this planet?
I used to LOVE the comics. My parents never had a newspaper subscription when I was growing up but my grandpa used to save them up for weeks and then mail them all to me in a manila envelope, with a stick of gum and a dollar. I used to pour over those pages for days: Charlie Brown, Doonesbury, Cathy, even the saccharine and eerily preachy Family Circus.
How could a girl grow up without the comics?
Then I thought about how long it had been since I had purchased a newspaper. And I was a journalism major. Print journalism, actually. I am fully trained for a profession that, apparently, scarcely exists anymore.
I mean, if seemingly perfectly normal and stable young women have never even looked at the comics before, the future of the print media is surely in peril.
What does that mean, really? Is the sky just now suddenly falling? Students being uninterested in current events is hardly a new thing.
When I was in middle school, I came home one day to a tearfully elated mother.
“The Berlin Wall came down today!” she exclaimed. “The Berlin Wall!”
I must have looked less enthused than she might have hoped because I have never gotten over the disappointment in her voice when she said, “You don’t even care!”
However, one might think, that with the world wide webs ever more readily available, literally in their pockets, students now might have more interest in what is happening in the wide world. But one would be mistaken.
Over the years I have tried to get my students more involved. The first year Obama ran for president, I put a question about the news on the board every day and the students who arrived on time could answer it for extra credit, if they knew. That ended when I was outsmarted by technology; students in earlier periods were texting the question to the ones who had me later in the day, who were in turn Googling the answers. Or tricking history teachers into telling them.
This year I tried having my class do research and write news articles. We read a lot of samples. They learned about interviewing. I even let them write about weed, if they wanted to.
But they still did not really care. I created no future news junkies.
It would be accurate to state that even an entire missing AIRPLANE could not raise the generally torpid interest level.
But why? How could a person not be fascinated by the political machinations of the situation in Ukraine? By the implications of the employment reports? By news of two giant earthquakes in rapid succession in the Southern Hemisphere?
I guess because if my students want to hear about power grabs and potential violence, they need only go home to their own gang infested neighborhoods. If they want drama, they need only read one another’s Tweets about prom. If they need to worry about the future, there is plenty to worry about starting with the day after they graduate in May. How can I expect my students to embrace a world far greater than the one which easily overwhelms them every day when they walk out their doors?
Okay, I get that.
But seriously, never even a Dennis the Menace?