The Reteach Wrecking Ball (or The Executioner’s Lament)

Tom and Jerry frontFrom Steve Ethridge —

Predictably, another of my favorite Orlando-area fixtures, Tom and Jerry’s, the border outpost between Winter Park and Maitland on 17-92, recently fell victim to the wrecking ball. Established in 1949 as a workingman’s watering hole, the little tavern had evolved over time into a popular gathering spot in its final years of existence due to some remodeling that took place under a change of ownership in the nineties; the squalid cinderblock shell was painted burnt orange, and its status as a corner bar had been upgraded to that of rustic picture postcard. Though its Cheers sensibility had not really disappeared, wherein all the regulars know the bartenders’ names and vice-verse, Tom and Jerry’s had also become a popular gathering place for local musicians and the Friday happy-hour crowd.

For a short time after the news of its forthcoming demise, a “preserve and protect” mentality set in, as it always does when Americana is threatened, but the ultimate execution took place in the late Summer/early Fall to great sadness among my Facebook friends. Prior to the dropping of the sword, I had happened by the abandoned structure one morning and noticed the ominous backhoe silently positioned nearby. Within a few days, when I passed by again, the place was an orange pile of rubble, the pilot of that vehicle of destruction and his crew long since gone. Though I don’t really want this getting around, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of empathy for the kill-joy who had manned the wrecking ball and brought down that quaint establishment. That’s probably due to in large part to the one I similarly wield.

The wrecking ball I speak of is the Reteach Wrecking Ball that’s once again landed in my hands in ENC 1101. Once again, I decided to open up this semester with my standard but much reviled Rhetorical Analysis. Students were assigned the task of analyzing rhetorical situations in a variety of genres related to a common topic of their choosing, and the results were pretty interesting, not only for the typically bizarre topic selections, but for the writing strategies freshmen brought to their essays. For one, there has been no significant decline in statement of purpose thesis statements that, according to most of my teachers and colleagues, should have gone to mulch decades ago. At first glance, I am determined to swing the corrective wrecking ball, but soon enough I imagine those Florida school systems that, in a desperate attempt to facilitate the FCAT writing requirement, had brought English teachers who had taught in the seventies out of retirement like grandparents to cobble together some sort of writing program at the last hour. I further imagine the hardship I would visit upon their progress were I to disparage these methods. I, nonetheless, come out swinging.

I also find myself at cross purposes with my Core 1 focus, elements of rhetorical situations, and other curricula incoming freshman have been taught, even if it happens to be knowledge I can appreciate. I find myself having to remark that imagery, as essential as it is to the art of poetry, is not really a recognized element of rhetorical situations as delineated by William Covino, David Jolliffe, Keith Grant-Davie, or Aristotle, for that matter. “The author uses imagery to reach his target audience,” they posit, as though imagery is a standard rhetorical tactic among writers.

So I regretfully respond that aside from some much needed legislation of the world, poetry is not what we’re really talking about here. It is then that I once again feel that tinge of empathy for those English teachers in those Florida school systems who just want to teach poetry. Some of my students have confided to me that in their senior year, poetry was all they studied. In this regard, I imagine that the study of poetry might have merely served as a comforting respite for FCAT-addled English teachers, briefly liberated from their high stakes and statements of purpose. In spite of this momentary sentiment, I still stand fast and do my writing instructor duty (I suppose I should be grateful that my students didn’t spend their senior year studying nothing but grammar: “The author uses sentences to reach his target audience.”).

So it is with a conflicted empathy that I swing the wrecking ball and disturb the much-loved relics . . . a sad glance at the rubble, the hope that they are not too missed.


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