My son, B-man, is graduating from college in a few weeks. He’s doing what we’ve been calling his victory lap this year. In general parlance, he’s a fifth-year senior. Whatever you call it, he’s definitely ready to be finished with college and move on. And, as you might guess, Tom and I feel much the same. Not that we minded a fifth year. We actually encouraged it, but five is enough.
B-man is a very bright kid, but he hates to read. It causes me physical pain to type those words. But it’s true. I actually raised a child who doesn’t like to read. But, for the purposes of this post, that’s beside the point. Being a reluctant-reader, as you can imagine, has made certain college courses more than a bit painful for the boy. Two classes, in particular, felt so daunting to him, he kept putting them off until this, his last, semester when he had no other option but to enroll. The classes? Western Civilization I and II. Yes, you read that right. The two college courses required on most U.S. university campuses in which the student must read the works of Homer, Virgil, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Sophocles, Genesis, Paul, Job…you get the idea. Clearly, not easily read works for a voracious reader, much less for a reluctant one, and the child is trying to do both courses in the same semester!
He’s taking Western Civ II through one of the local community colleges as a night class. Lots of class discussion, short weekly papers, friends in the class to study with. He’s making an A.
It’s a much different story for Western Civ I which he’s taking online through KU. He’s definitely not making an A in Western Civ I. This is a class presented by an ivory-tower academician who also happens to be the author of the textbook used in the course, a textbook, by the way, that is unavailable in the edition referred to in the course outline. A class in which the student reads a lot, writes a paper, takes a test, and starts reading some more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the instructor is perfectly brilliant (although she should update the course outline), but the format of the course is not the best construct for a reluctant reader who has senior-itis in the worst way, who put off taking the class until his last semester in college and even worse put off starting on the course until the end of March even though he knew he would have three papers and two tests to complete before May 2, and that’s not counting the other 12 hours he’s enrolled in. It hasn’t been a total disaster, but it’s turning into a nail-biter. Am I ranting? Am I hysterical? Sigh. It’s B-man’s fault. It’s all B-man’s fault. I don’t argue that point for one second, but I need the kid to graduate. Now! So…
I’m acting as his tutor. For all intents and purposes, I’m taking the class along with him. I read what he reads. We talk. I help him organize his ideas and outline his papers. We talk some more. We read some more. We meet in the library. We send text messages. I dig around in the stack of my old college textbooks to find my copies of Aristotle, Plato, and the rest, which…finally…brings me to Middle English and exploding heads. The texts for the last portion of the class include one of my favorite stories: Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath.” Woooo Hoooo! I headed straight to my bookshelf to find my copy. If you’ve not read the story, The Wife of Bath is a widow, five times over, with a salty mouth and an in-your-face attitude you don’t expect to find in literature from that time period. I love her. As an English major in college, I was required to read Chaucer in Middle English, so I thought little about doing it again this time. What a dope. Literally, what a dope. After a page or two, I began feeling like one of the fembots in the Austin Powers movie. Remember them? The ultra-groovy female robots with high-caliber boobies who try to destroy Austin by seducing him? He turns the tables on them, using his mojo to short-circuit their wiring. Before it’s all over, the poor fembots heads bobble frantically around on their shoulders and then their heads explode? Just blow right off their shoulders? Yeah? You remember? Well, that was me a few pages into Chaucer. Bobble, bobble, bobble. kaBLAM! How in the world did I ever manage Chaucer in Middle English? Have that many of my brain cells wilted and fallen out of my ears? How does that happen? It was humbling. That’s all I can say. Humbling. But The Wife of Bath? She’s still a total hoot. Even in Modern English.