90 Days of American Schooling

1. This syllabus is now your God. Best learn how to genuflect.

2. Everything is here in black and white. My expectations are clear. Don’t act like you weren’t told.

3. You see my late policy. You see our classroom norms. Don’t act like you don’t know, because now you know.

4. This is a contract. You will sign it. Your parents will sign it.

5. I will make my PowerPoints available to you every evening so you can study from them and absorb all this knowledge like a sponge.[1]

6. You will grow heavy and full with content that will be wrung out before ever fully absorbed.

7. Let’s be clear. I am the teacher. You are the student.

8. If you are ready, I will appear. If you are not ready, I will be marking your paper with red pen as the paragraphs bleed out into the margins.

9. I will puncture the arteries and veins of your language until a pool of red ink drowns out your voice as you choke and gurgle on the grammar that you never learned because you already had your own.[2]

10. Never say “I think” or “I believe” or “I feel like.” Just eliminate those phrases and leave the ghost of what’s left.[3]

11. No one cares what you think.

12. Remain objective. Take yourself out of the paper as much as possible, but still remain.

13. Write an argumentative essay without your opinion.

14. We don’t speak like that in this school.

15. Pull up your pants.

16. Take off your hat or at least turn it forwards.

17. Have some integrity.

18. Speak proper English in this room.

19. Speak a different variation of English. Yours is too versatile.2

20. You might get away with that at home, but don’t even think about treating my classroom like your home.

21. Would you put your feet on the furniture at home? Would your mother put up with that at home?

22. I don’t know what goes on in this community after 3:00 PM because I drive to the freeway and go straight home.2

23. We aren’t going to talk about race, class, gender or privilege in this class. We are all the same. Equality, people. Ever heard of it?

24. Just look – we have a Black president. This is post-racial America, so stop complaining.

25. Be grateful.

26. If you don’t love this country, leave it. Because if you loved it enough, why would you take a close hard look at what needs to be changed?

27. When I raise my hand like this, that means quiet.

28. I will count down from 3 – 2 – 1 and you will be quiet until you suffocate in the sweet symphony of silence.

29. We are going to learn respect if it’s the last thing we do.

30. You think you can act like that in the real world? If you talk like that on an interview, you’ll never get a job.

31. I’m trying to prepare you for the real world.

32. You’ll be thanking me in a few years.

33. Silence.

34. Silence.

35. Silence.

36. Let the silence rest on your tongue. Swallow it. Digest it. Let the absence of sound marinate in your gut until your throat burns with violence.

37. Oh don’t even think about bringing that hip hop into my classroom. This is school. This is academic. This isn’t the streets.[4]

38. Tuck in your shirt.

39. I don’t even know why I bother.

40. You call this a thesis? Get this out of my face and come back when it’s provable and debatable. This isn’t workable.

41. A thesis is a way of life. It guides everything you do. Think of it like a savior, Thesis Christ.

42. And think of this school as a factory. I’m the CEO. The captain. The foreman.[5]

43. You are the worker. Scratch that. You are the product.

44. We are going to produce greatness.

45. You will be sorted and boxed and shipped to any university of your choosing, unless a legacy student gets in over you because their father donated a building.[6]

46. Yes, why don’t you “keep it real” and meet me in detention at 3:00. You can write on the board, “I will speak proper English” over and over again until you forget who you are.

47. I will provide you with a list of acceptable topics to write about so that you won’t have to do any real thinking.

48. This is not an exploration. You will only find what I want you to find.

49. You must write like real authors and scientists if you want to be taken seriously by those who read your work.[7]

50. I am your editor and publicist, but there is no chance of publication.

51. You don’t need eyes or ears to write, so cover both of them now. What do you mean you don’t see what I’m saying? What do you mean you didn’t hear what I said?

52. This is not a twelve step meeting so don’t think we’re going to sit around in a circle and share our feelings, or talk about our process, or reflect on our journey.

53. This country is going downhill.

54. Don’t be like the rest of the illiterates who can’t write a five paragraph essay but somehow know how to embed YouTube videos on their blogs in under thirty seconds.

55. Your experience means nothing here.

56. See this? This is a literary criticism. You will write like this guy who majored in the study of Milton.

57. Participation is 50% of your grade but I’m going to talk for 75% of the time.

58. There is no such thing as a “shitty first draft.”[8]

59. Work harder. Make your first draft your third draft.

60. Does this make sense? Good. Great. Excellent. Moving on. We have a lot to cover.

61. This is not a democracy.

62. If you don’t like an assignment, too bad.

63. Get used to doing things you don’t like. It’s called life. I have to show up here every day.

64. The only way to become a better writer is to write a lot, but you will only compose four papers this year so you better make them good.[9]

65. Check this spelling – there is no “u” in identity.[10]

66. This draft is flat-lining. You killed it. It’s dead. Perform an autopsy and bring it back to life.7

67. Stop daydreaming.7

68. Stop using your imagination.

69. If you don’t get this grammar down, how do you expect to write better?

70. I don’t care that Michael Jordan knew how to fly without studying aerodynamics.

71. Get back to work.

72. I will not share my writing with you because I don’t have time to write. Look how many papers I have to grade. 11

73. You want to trade places? You can grade these papers while I attempt this writing assignment that I never placed myself inside of.

74. Think of reading and writing like divorced parents. You want to love both but they don’t live together anymore and now you have to pick one. 7

75. Independent reading time is for kindergarten. This is high school. You will read at home, in isolation, because that’s where learning happens.

76. This is not story-time. I’m sorry, did you want a juice box?

77. Language is about sound. Listen closer.

78. I don’t care that no one’s read aloud to you in ten years.

79. Use 60% of your energy to decipher the words and the other 60% to understand meaning.12

80. Your personal connections to this text are irrelevant.

81. Tie this poem to a chair and torture a confession out of it.13

82. When we workshop someone’s writing, make sure to pick it apart like chicken from the bone.

83. Deconstruct it.

84. Dissect it.

85. Tear through it with your teeth.

86. Never respond with questions.

87. Slaughter it gently so the writer can pick up the pieces and re-assemble its corpse.

88. I hope you’re writing this all down.

89. No questions at this time.

90. I have no answers.



[1] Freire, P. (1968). Pedagogy of the oppressed.

[2] Alim, S. (2004). Hearing what’s not said and missing what is: black language in white public space.

[3] Moffett, J. (1989). Bridges: from personal writing to the formal essay.

4 Morrell, E. & Duncan-Andrade, J. (2002). Promoting academic literacy with urban youth through engaging hip-hop culture.

5 Robinson, K. (2013). RSA animate changing education paradigms.

6 Larew, J. (1991). Why are droves of unqualified, unprepared kids getting into our top colleges? Because their dads are alumni.

7 Murray, D. (1972). Teaching writing as a process not a product.

8 Lamott, A. (1994). Shitty first drafts.

9 Walshe, R.D. (1979). What’s basic to teaching writing?

10 Winn, M. (2005). From the coffee house to the school house: the promise and potential of spoken word poetry in school contexts.

11 Elbow, P. (1973). Writing without teachers.

12 Chandler, P. & Sweller, J. (1991). Cognitive load theory and the format of instruction.

13 Collins, B. (1988). Introduction to poetry.






One comment

  1. Venus Alaiyo · · Reply

    the frustration. the oppression

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