In my last quarter of teaching, one young woman, who wore punky reddish-pink hair and a razor blade on a silver chain around her neck, announced that she was tired of the nonsense of alternating feminine and masculine pronouns and in her own writing always used masculine ones—“and I make it a point to say ‘mankind,’ too,” she added, “never ‘humankind.’” She also wrote wonderfully and without the least hint of victimization about her complicated family, including an alcoholic father whom she had last seen when she was eleven. Another young woman with the innocent look of a Disneyland guide showed an astonishing mastery of language and could sustain an extended metaphor over four full pages. A young man who rode a motorcycle and was a practicing rock musician wrote with terse but uproarious comedy about the zany behavior of otherwise intelligent people when they enter hardware stores. Still another young woman, with a fine smile and an ebullient laugh, handed in an essay about the treatment of migrants at the New Mexico border that was filled with lucid and persuasive political rage.
These were four members of a class of twelve that, for the nine weeks it met, caused me to walk into and out of it with a dance in my step. During our time together they were lively and bright, cheerful and receptive—everything one could desire from the intelligent young.
American essayist Joseph Epstein memorializes, not only his teaching career, but also four students from his final class.
I am rereading this ten years later, and I am thinking, yes, I would also desire this in a student and person.
I was so staunchly antifeminist because nothing in the world had ever seemed very unfair to me. When did I stop being that person? Why? How? It is important to me to be that person again. I am sitting here, wracking my brain.
The other students he describes are writers Karen Russell and Whitney Purvis, and of course, motorcycle-riding writer-neuroscientist Tim Requarth.
For all it is worth, his students, too, danced in and out of class.