November / A high school in Arizona
I carefully transcribe notes that chemistry and physics students have handed in today in response to a video on electromagnetism. The video weaves together the historical development of theory and technology and demonstrates the effects of electrical properties. While dense with information, the presentation is organized, well-paced and thoughtful. Student work is so uniformly mediocre that surprises come from occasional competent papers; some work has the power to shock and shame.
Four classes have watched the video and handed in their notes and I’ve collected some interesting spellings: eleclisitey, electricuated, elktrick feald, eletic, elecudid, are a few of the variations on electricity, as in, “When Ben Franklin tried to cook a turkey with eleclisitey he almost elecudid himself.”
The spellings of other terms prove equally mysterious: protelter, potianal, caepgy, obvisour, pontechel, actrick, and dervasl. Even these, and mistakes like finominan, phylosifors, and poor Farid Day and Benterm Franklean would be helped greatly by a vocabulary handout, but the teacher prepared none. Torturous thought is another matter. Paper after paper is excruciatingly foreign, as if I’m in a country where only an occasional person has learned to read and write.
“If two charges attract the it attracts but if one attracts and one sudtracts then it will attract then subtracts.”
“The sun near stops or ends in space when a object has postively changed when moist with charge.”
“When to much elet charge attack whe not engugh charge repel.”
“Radio wave ditrabute a electric rate.”
“The core of an apple and the moon had something in common.”
But this is suburban America, the majority of students are white, middle class, and doing no better than the scattering of minority students. The only satisfactory notes, written in a breezy style in a careful and readable script, was handed in by a Latino boy. A few others manage a good sentence or two, but leave me longing for something more. One set of notes is composed of a stanza of phrases that when read aloud becomes a weird cry from some poor ghost trapped on the other side of literacy.