I knew we were in trouble when we walked in and the conference motel smelled like a Tom Waits song, or, as John said, “cigarettes and despair.” The closest coffee was two hallways and an elevator ride away.
There is absolutely no way this instructor had ever taught a tech writing seminar before. There’s no way he had written anything besides email in the past 10 years. He had never heard of any software besides Word. (His flummoxed face when John brought up Adobe Technical Suite was priceless). He had us do a cluster mapping activity, like the kind you do for brainstorming in developmental freshman composition. The PowerPoint slides were riddled with spelling errors, superfluous apostrophes, and random capitalization. But the best and most ironic error: “Proofread” was spelled “Proof Read.” Hilarity!
The instructor never asked us what we do or what kind of businesses we work for, but made sure to ask for a show of hands of those who were in management positions and who had master’s degrees. He wanted to know what he was up against, but his knowledge didn’t stop him from going on a series of anti-education tirades. His lecturing was shaky, but with ease he blasted professors. He blasted tenure. He blamed teachers for all the items on his list of disturbing (and, I suspect, completely made-up) statistics regarding graduation, shrinking vocabularies, and reading levels.
The only other times during the day that he actually seemed comfortable was when he slid into sales mode. We were subjected to quite the book pitch. Some of the items made some sense, such as books and CDs that were related to business writing, but the longest pitch was for a money management collection. He started by asking the class, “What is the number one cause of divorce?” I think the answer he was looking for was financial issues, but Jenn, without a pause, answered “Marriage.” The class erupted into joyful laughter (we were due), and the instructor had a hard time getting back to the task at hand (not teaching, of course, but selling us $100 worth of money management books on CD).
He was not pleased.
He dove into his pitch, nonetheless. It went a little bit like this:
When he wasn’t blasting educators or trying to sell us stuff, he busied himself by making a series of racist coments. I’m not sure if this was just him or if it’s a new Southern trend, but his equivalent expression to “bless their hearts” was instead ”no value judgment.”
You do know what I’m talking about, right? I lived in the South for three years, and I was often charmed or disgusted (heck, sometimes impressed) by the way some people believe they can say ANYTHING about someone if it’s finished with ”bless her heart.” Examples:
1. “She got caught cheating on her husband, bless her heart.”
2. “Our neighbors don’t take care of their yard and the city threatened to clean it and then send them the bill, bless their hearts.”
3. ”He has a problem with the cocaine, bless his heart.”
The seminar instructor made sweeping generalizations about ”Asians and Orientals” and added “no value judgment.” He made similar comments about urban youths and immigrants in general. Oh, the whole day was painful. I am not proud of the cruel way I wrote in my notebook the words he mispronouned (such as “singular” & ”jargon”), but at least I didn’t correct him. (Okay, I kind of did, but it was only because there was no way around using the word “singular” in my response).
When it was memory map time, he referred to it as a Gantt chart.
Have you seen Important Things with Demitri Martin? He starts the show with introducing the Important Thing for the evening, and on his huge sketchpad he shows a cluster map of many topics related to that Important Thing. Now, I’m no chart expert– I’m not sure I’ve ever even made a Gantt chart– but I’ve always thought that a Gantt chart was used to show project progress with graphs and timespans and such. (Not at all the same thing. He was just trying to sound fancy).
The class closed with, naturally, paper airplanes: