CategoryBryan Munson

Pedagogues and Mountebanks

This is pretty spectacular.

“I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave.

That’s an excerpt from Erica Goldson’s valedictory address, which she wrote and issued earlier this year. Read the whole thing: it’s brief but convincing.

I wasn’t first in my class, but I was close, and I was aware of many of the issues Goldson raises even then–though less concerned, at a more self-centered time in my life, and mostly just happy that they were working in my favor. (Another thing we had in common: the textbook inspirational English teacher.) I’m less complacent these days, less willing to accept the cruel theater of fear and shame that we expect smart young people to suffer with piety. Our schools are bad, and their splash damage is everywhere.

I’m not sure what use I can be to education reform right now. It’s one of those issues that is never urgent but always important, and I need to figure out a path to involving myself in the cause. Erica Goldson’s example seems like a good start.

Follow-up

Mr. Munson wrote me a great email about The Implicit, and noted echoes of Naomi Shihab Nye’s Valentine for Ernest Mann–which I think we read in his class, and which I had completely forgotten until I read the “poem like a taco” bit, but had clearly absorbed and recycled. Just illustrates the point, really.

And Holly made two cakes (they were supposed to be a four-layer cake, but they got nervous and decided to be two cakes instead), one of which had this written on the dish around it:

Eventually he finds himself writing another pubic hair story, and realises he’s bored. He’s done three zombies, twenty-six otherworldly small girls, ninety-three ninjas; fifty states, every tube stop, all two thousand UN constituent nations, cutting everything he’s ever seen into 101-word pieces. He’s sent the small girls to Ganymede to fight the ninjas (the small girls won), and then set up a rematch deep within the sun (they united against their common enemy, the masked superwhale).

“Next time,” he says, eyes narrow beneath the unruly crest of his white eyebrows, “a hundred and two.”

People read my stuff and write about it. There is no better feeling in the world.

A day late

I keep track of Anacrusis anniversaries in an idiosyncratic way, which means that I don’t notice things like June 21st, the day I first went public with it. But Mister Munson did, two days ago:

“Something seems to have worked in your googlebombing efforts. Bobrulez is higher in the google results than your blog site.

Hey, Happy Birthday to Anacrusis tomorrow, and as a nod to that spirited bit of rhetorical dabbling, I have posted my xanga entry in 101-word-anacrusis form.

It’s no great shakes, but it was fun. It is actually more of a writing exercise, isn’t it? It’s like Soduku for the literate.

Not sure I want to get on face book, it just seems so public. Xanga is so much more anonymous.

By the way, this email was an anacrusis!

I’m hooked.

Bryan”

I’m not sure whether I prefer “Sudoku for the literate” to “fiction for the attention-deprived,” but it is a nice dig at Sudoku. I’m not a huge fan of crosswords, but at least they’re not entirely computable.

Googlebombing Munson

As of this writing, NFD is the top Google result for Bryan Munson, which means I occasionally get emails from other former students of his wondering where he is now and how to contact him. While I certainly don’t mind that, I learned yesterday that Bryan Munson does in fact have his own site, and has since 2004! Bad Google! Admittedly, most of the content is surreal and discontented blog entries by his classroom doll-mascot, but it still deserves to be the top Munson for Munson Munson.

Anyway, Bryan Munson is currently headed out of Korea at last and on to, er, Saudi Arabia. Are there any other English teachers that adventurous? Is there Bryan Munson fanfiction yet?

Get a Facebook too, Bryan Munson.

Tonight I got an email from Mr. Munson. He’s teaching his first Creative Writing course this semester, and he wants to use Anacrusis as a (positive) example.

Maybe someday I’ll sell a story or a novel and be inducted into the ranks of the print-published; maybe not. Either way I’m going to look back at January 5, 2007, as the day I Made It.

I like movies. Sometimes, I hate movies, because I realize that hundreds of people spent a year of their lives each, along with tens of millions of dollars, making Son of the Mask. But I really do like them in general, even the kind of movies that wins Oscars. If I was in high school and Mr. Munson took two days out of Multicultural Literature (it was a great class, title notwithstanding) to have us watch Hotel Rwanda, I would be moved by it. I would tell my friends about it and do research to find out more about the situation. I would value the experience.

But if I’m sitting at home with nothing to do and I’m like “hey, let’s rent or go to a movie,” there’s no way I’m going to pick Hotel Rwanda. I just don’t hate myself that much. As a result, I never watch great movies and David Clark embarrasses me in Team Movie Pong.

Since my solution to many of my personal flaws is rigorous scheduling, here’s my idea: Sad And Happy Movie Day. Maybe one or two Saturdays a month, I’d get together with other humans (assuming I could trick anybody else into it) and two movies. One would be a great, depressing film about human nature, like Hotel Rwanda or Dancer in the Dark* or Boys Don’t Cry or The Mission. The other would be a goofy big-Hollywood popcorn flick, like Ocean’s Twelve or The Scorpion King. Maybe something chop-socky like Ong Bak, or something happy-indie like Garden State. Maybe Hackers, the foremost cinematic achievement of all time.

We would watch the sad movie first, and sit there slumped over, realizing that all human hope is a doomed, brief match-flare against the endless dark. We’d take a half-hour break to make popcorn and go get some Sourpatch Kids. We’d walk it off a little. Then we’d pop in the happy movie, laugh and ooh, karate-chop the couch and go home feeling generally not suicidal.

This is not something I will likely start soon, and if it does start I probably wouldn’t be able to host it myself. Still, would anybody else be up for it?

* Actually I am immune to Dancer in the Dark now, thanks to Jon, but I can still inflict it on other people.

I’ve been meaning to post both of these things forever. First, even though Jon and Amanda abandoned their blogs, they do have a homey little site now. It’s even got Lucy’s cell number on it! Watch out for those “for a good time” calls, Lucy.

Second, Mister Munson found my posts about him and wrote me! He seems like he’s having a great time, especially in his new science fiction class; as part of that, he says he finally taught Ender’s Game, which I badgered him to do for about half of my junior year of high school. I’m pretty sure that means I win. Or really, that they win.

This makes two people I know (Sumana being the other) who have taught a sci-fi literature class. I’ve never even had the opportunity to take one! Injustice!

Holly has brought to my awareness the existence of the Lyttle Lytton Awards, which are pretty great. I loved the Bulwer-Lytton books Mister Munson kept in his classroom, and I’ll roll over and sit up for anything involving limited word counts, so for me this contest is like a robotic arm that also shoots doughnuts.

By far my personal favorite is S. Kurruk’s Berman Prize winner:

“I know who the murderer is, Kevin blogged.”

Update 1030 hrs: Hey! One of those winners is named A. Holloway!

Hey, I found Mister Munson! He’s still in Korea, apparently, at the Taejon Christian International School. He would have been there for about three and a half years by now, so he must be enjoying it. He looks good.

Google can’t seem to find a tribute or anything out there from any of his other students, which is disappointing. He deserves one. For that matter, I don’t have him mentioned in my own bio, which I should a) fix and b) really, really update.

I have a list of teachers I once planned to thank in my Oscar speech. A lot of them have disappeared from it, because I realized that they owed as much to me as I to them. But Bryan Munson remains.

(For the first time in a long time,) Emma makes some good points here. I did see and love Hackers many times, and I taught myself HTML, and I am pretty good at finding printer drivers, and there have been times when my computer science major has made me pretty frustrated. I’ve seen my class of CS majors diminish, leaving perhaps not the most talented but the most persistent.

Should I be majoring in something else, then? I love philosophy, and I made better grades in it than I ever have in CS; the same goes for English and Latin. Had I the power, I might go back eight years and join the high school band, because I find myself wishing for that kind of musical background now that I realize how much I like it.

I don’t think I’d change anything, though. Majoring in drama has reduced my once-all-consuming desire to be an actor to a gentle tug, but I want to write software more than ever. It comes down to a basic internal need to solve problems by building things, and since I still hate math and can’t do much with a hammer, computers are where it’s at.

So I think the frustration comes not from an inability to grasp memory addresses (which, surprisingly, I do understand) but from a simple and terrifying lack of good teachers. I have loved a few CS classes, but I have yet to find a single teacher in my field who wouldn’t be better off doing technical design (as one of them decided to do) or math research. Meanwhile, I’ve had Munson, Bayer and Becker for English, Latin and Philosophy–three individuals who are not only tremendous talents but instinctively connected people. They love what they teach and they love that they teach, and their impact on my life and on thousands of others comes directly from that.

Why? I think it’s the same reason computer science textbooks are, by and large, horrific and devoid of readability: the generation of people now teaching comp sci is not a particularly social group. Think about it–if you were really into CS twenty years ago, enough to want to get a master’s or even a PhD in it, you were probably also the one with the large glasses, a stutter and two or three left feet.

Am I stereotyping here? Certainly, but it’s not without grounds. I’ve had a few excellent math teachers, but none of my CS teachers, wonderful people though they might be, has really belonged at the front of a classroom. That means that only the really determined CS majors can do enough self-teaching to do well. The whole subset of people who do like programming, but aren’t quite as singularly focused–the same ones who would never have read As I Lay Dying without Munson, who would never have studied Vergil without Bayer–is being lost to programming.

I have faith that things will get better. There are popular, social people in my graduating CS class, and while I hardly think that popularity is a really desirable personal characteristic, the fact is that none of us are actively afraid to talk to people. That’s important for the next generation of teachers. I don’t think we’re the first class with this kind of social compass, either, so it may only be a few more years before people who weren’t beat up in high school are teaching CS.

So what if my major isn’t a bastion of geekhood anymore? I’m all for the bourgeoisement of the science, and if that means even jocks are writing Java, then that’s what it means.

Besides, the geeks are still going to be better at it.

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