I teach writing at a community college. Last week I worked with a student in the Writing Center who came for help with a problem solving essay. She was allowed to choose an issue to write about from her local community or our campus. "Keep it local," her instructor had written on the assignment sheet. The problem for the student was that she didn't know what to write about. So I said, "Let's make a list of possible topics. What issues concern you on our campus?"
"I don't know any of the issues on campus," she said.
"What about issues in the city you live in? What problems are there in your community?"
"I don't know of any," she said.
I was becoming more and more disheartened. "Did you vote in the election yesterday? There were lot of propositions on the ballot."
"No, I didn't vote. I really don't know about the propositions."
I was racking my brain for ideas. "We have a campus newspaper. Do you read that?"
"Yes, I'm on the staff of the paper, and we just had a meeting yesterday to discuss the stories for the upcoming issue."
"Great," I replied, thinking that we were finally getting somewhere. "What's the subject of some of the stories? Which ones interest you?"
"I don't remember any of them now. I didn't really pay attention."
I was running out of ideas. "Do you have your textbook? Maybe we can get some ideas from the readings."
"I have a textbook, but I didn't bring it with me."
Feeling a strange combination of sadness and frustration, I pulled out my own textbook for a composition class I teach. "Do any of the topics in this book interest you, such as Living Green, Childhood Obesity, or Immigration?"
"I like the Obesity topic. I'll write about that, " she said, a bit too quickly. I think she was as tired of hearing my suggestions as I was of giving them.
I breathed an inward sigh of relief and I'm guessing that she did too. After we brainstormed possibilities for writing on the topic, I suggested she go to the library to conduct some research on obesity and asked her if she knew how to do that. While she talked I thought, "How can I help this young woman? How can I encourage her in some way to become engaged in the world around her?" We had two minutes left in our session. Desperately, I suggested that she set her homepage on her computer to a news site and read the headlines every day, so that the next time her instructor wanted her to choose her own topic, she would know about some of the issues of our day.
"I can do that," she said. "Oh, and I didn't vote in the last election because I registered too late. Next time I will though."
I found some hope in that comment.
Causes Patricia Thomas Supports
Room to Read, UNICEF, Kiva, Save the Children, Pencils of Promise