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Back in early March, I had 125 college students write for about eight minutes in reaction to Rick Santorum’s quite visible comments about President Obama being a bit of a snob. Obama wanted all American students to go to college; Santorum didn’t agree. Additionally, Santorum said that college often separates students from their religious faith.

Among the many short answers that pointed out the irony of a guy with three college degrees saying this, and the various clichés I expect on the importance of college, came a well-written paragraph that began: “This class is a perfect example of what Rick Santorum stated. Nearly every class we must listen to throngs of anti-conservative positions. For example, when referring to the candidates, they are the ones with names that are ‘four letter words.’ We all know the reference is to the fact most curse words are also four letters…”

By way of background, I often give a quick current events quiz and many of the questions this semester have asked for names of Republican presidential nomination aspirants. In what I thought was a mildly amusing, but also helpful mnemonic hint, I would say thinks like “most of their first names are four-letter words.”

Newt, Rick, Mitt… you get the idea.

I probably repeated this “joke” three times. Obviously, for at least this student, that was enough repetition to become a clear and meaningful pattern.

The fact that he took a shot at me (and his name was on this short writing sample, as I use the samples for attendance), is really quite admirable. I mean, I could hold it against him. Or perhaps he felt “protected” by the quasi-anonymity of being one soul in a large lecture hall. Or perhaps he genuinely wanted to have some sense of engagement with a guy he listens to twice a week.

I don’t really know, and I honestly couldn’t connect the name with a face. But I included his quote in the little PowerPoint of writing samples I used in a follow-up lecture.

I hope he felt honored, or at least noticed.

I couldn’t resist pointing out that my own first name is a four-letter word.

After 30 years teaching English and advising school publications, Jack Kennedy now torments college students at Metro State University of Denver and at Colorado State University, focusing on their writing (and thinking).

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  1. journalismguy #
    August 30, 2012

    I cannot tell you how many times I uttered a little joke to hopefully liven up my lessons, only to worry later about who I offended and how I might balance that. Trying to steer a middle course in all things political can be exhausting, but still I felt I should try.
    That probably did little good. One of my students told me, “We know that you are a bleeding-heart liberal; all teachers are.” I guess he was right, mostly.

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