Monday, May 07, 2007

Die Old Man, Die

Today's reporting class turned into an unintentional experiment in the age-old art of cozying up to those who pay the bills.

I handed out the semester-end teaching evaluation forms to the class, having put that off to the last possible class period. And I also handed back a story the students wrote in class last week based on an actual police report.

The students did not do so well on the in-class story. With one or two exceptions, they wrote as if they had not read the police report very closely, even though I gave it to them 48 hours before.

They said the suspect had been charged with armed robbery even though he was actually charged with possession of stolen goods, as the report clearly stated.

They ignored the fact the victims had failed to identify the suspect. They committed a variation on that most common of all crime story mistakes: They said, "The victims said the suspect threatened them with a gun...."

Remember: The victims failed to identify the guy whom the police stopped on the street, that act taking place because the suspect matched the description the victims gave the police. But what ultimately linked the guy to the crime was the loot from the crime, which the victims did identify.

The suspect was 16, and some of the students gave his name as well as his age, though class rule is we don't do that. Seventeen or under -- no name.

The description the victims gave the police was what one might call "generic African-American with boombox in saggy jeans," of no use 24 hours after the crime even if no one had been arrested. Some students put the racial identifier in, even though....

Hey, wait a minute. In this case a smart public defender would argue that, yeah, the suspect had the stolen goods, but who's to say that someone who looked *just like the suspect and who was, in fact, the actual robber* happened to drop the goods on the street and the suspect just happened to pick them up? And if you entertain that possibility as you write the story, that would mean that a description of the robber belongs in the story because someone passing by at 2 a.m. might have seen two more or less identically dressed young African-Americans walking in opposite directions moments before the suspect was stopped....

Wow. A good exercise. But too hard, perhaps, for first-year reporting students. I threw out the grades. I did the right thing.

However, handing out the teaching evals immediately after pointing out at some length in a vigorous spirit the deficiencies of the entire class was perhaps not the best timing if I wanted to get the deep true love from the class.

I usually get high evals for this particular class. God knows I've taught it over and over and over again, and always in the spirit of the amnesia victim waking to a wonderful new world, as if I were teaching it for the first time.

When this particular set of evaluations comes back, I'll share the results. As the kids filled out the evals, I don't think those were looks of gratitude on their faces for the lecture I had just delivered.

Some teachers give a little party the day they give our their evaluations forms. We have a name for those teachers:


No comments: