I taught college English for ten years: composition, argument, English and American literature survey courses, remedial English, Humanities, even Business Writing, which I knew nothing about. I intensely studied the textbook a week ahead of the students to be prepared.
I don’t think I was a very good teacher, though, not even with the subjects I did know well. Students who started the semester with subject-verb agreement errors ended the semester with the same problem. Students with run-ons and comma splices and fragments still had plenty in every paragraph of their final essay. Mastering paragraph and essay structure just wasn’t going to happen.
When I said something to my father about how I couldn’t even get my students to understand what an adverb was, he said, “An adverb modifies an adjective or verb, doesn’t it?”
It wasn’t the complete definition, but it was closer than anything most of my students ever managed. To be honest, I was shocked my father knew this much. He grew up in rural Mississippi, and I never saw him read a book the entire time I knew him. He once had me type an invoice for him, and I had to ask for clarification. “What does ‘removal of debra’ mean?”
Removal of debris, obviously.
I renewed my belief that anyone, with virtually any level of education or natural aptitude, could learn some basic grammar. From then on, I handed my students the mid-term exam on the first day of class. “These are the questions for the test,” I said. “This is not a trick. I’m not even going to rearrange the order of the questions. I’ll be handing this exact same sheet to you the day of the mid-term. We won’t have time in class to go over every last bit of this information during the six weeks before then, but you have the questions. Start looking up the answers now, and you can all ace this test.”
Most of our work consisted in writing essays. I assigned nine per semester and dropped the three lowest grades, because I didn’t feel it fair to expect them to write fantastic essays the first few weeks of class. But the mid-term contained twenty-five questions like, “Define ‘adjective’ and give three examples,” “Define ‘preposition’ and give three examples of prepositional phrases,” “Define ‘adverb’ and write two sentences using adverbs, and then underline them.”
When I graded the mid-terms several weeks later, the vast majority of students failed. And I mean really failed, with scores like 17 or 24 or 33.
No matter how terrible a teacher I was, this was the one opportunity for them to score 100%. I wasn’t teaching at podunk schools. These were public universities that offered doctorate programs. Adult students should have been able to use the grammar books assigned to the class and look up a definition, certainly for something as simple as “adjective,” a term they should have understood before graduating high school.
I was mystified and remained so for years. Were the students stupid? Undisciplined? What?
But I see this same behavior every day among some of the most sophisticated and well-educated people in the country. When I receive fundraising emails from various Democratic organizations, particularly from the DNC itself, I answer the obligatory survey questions. “Should Democrats focus on saving Obamacare?” “Should Democrats push for affordable college?” “Should Democrats address climate change?”
If there is a box at the end of the survey for offering other comments, I fill that out. If there isn’t, I write an entire email to send back. “No, we don’t need to save Obamacare. We need single-payer healthcare.” “No, we don’t need affordable college. We need tuition-free colleges and trade schools.” “No, we shouldn’t ‘address’ climate change. We should refuse all donations from fossil fuel companies, ban all fracking, ban all new pipelines, and ban all new drilling, just for starters.”
Moderate Democrats are not the wave of the future. If you haven’t understood that yet, then Trump winning a second term is on you, not me.
If I post any of these ideas on social media, inevitably one of my “moderate” Democratic friends replies, “We can’t be so extreme! We need someone in the middle of the road, someone who can beat Trump and other Republicans!”
Yes, I say, we do need to beat the far right, but a centrist is exactly the type of candidate who won’t do that.
“It’s YOUR fault Hillary lost, because you were a Bernie supporter!”
Yes, I supported Sanders in the primaries and caucuses, but when he wasn’t chosen as the nominee, I voted for Clinton. However, it should be clear that choosing a centrist nominee was the wrong strategy. And how do we know? Because she lost.
“Oh, but she won the popular vote!”
If you haven’t noticed, that’s not what wins elections. So let me say this as clearly as I can. If the DNC chooses another centrist nominee, I will NOT vote for that candidate. Moderate Democrats are not the wave of the future. If you haven’t understood that yet, then Trump winning a second term is on you, not me.
“But if you don’t vote for the nominee, no matter who it is, you’re bringing about the destruction of America!”
Why would you insist on making a moderate the nominee when you KNOW millions of Democrats and millions more Independents won’t vote for that nominee? We’re TELLING you we won’t do it. So you KNOW it’s a losing strategy, even if we “should” give up our own ideas and ideals and just do whatever you say. And if you insist on doing it anyway, how can you blame us? Haven’t you ever seen the movies or shows where the main character is arguing with a police officer, and the officer says, “If you so much as say ‘boo,’ I’m locking you up.” The main character frowns and starts to walk away but then turns back and says, “Boo.” And the main character gets locked up. Now, whose fault is that? The officer TOLD them what the consequences would be.
You can be obstinate and arrogant and mad and holier than thou and whatever else you choose to be, but a moderate or centrist Democrat is not going to win. You can blame me all you want for that, if you don’t mind blaming me while Trump or another horrible Republican is in office, or you can do what it takes to win. And what it takes is to be BOLD and PROGRESSIVE.
I’m giving you the answers for the test. Not just the questions. The answers. Learn them or not as you see fit. I’m afraid I wasn’t a great English teacher. And I’m not great at persuading moderates to face facts, even when so many lives and freedoms depend on it. But there are actual answers to the question, “What should our platform be?” This is not a trick.
Please, let’s urge everyone we can to come to the exam prepared.