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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Essay

Ricky Martin, Goths and M&Ms

November 04, 2000|BETSY POTTS | Betsy Potts has taught English for 26 years at La Reina High School in Thousand Oaks

Blank stares. I know them well--I've taught for the last 27 years.

They come whenever I say things like "I would like to teach you some grammar" or "Remember when we did this?"

But for the last few years I have been giving some stares myself. More and more.

I remember my first blank stare. It was two years ago. I was telling my students about the life of Lord Byron and someone in the back called out "Livin' La Vida Loca!" My face went blank. "Ricky Martin," another student said, clearly seeing that I was lost. Another blank stare. Eyes rolled; looks were exchanged. The king of Latin music, another offered, with that gee-you-really-don't-know-much-of-anything-do-you tone in her voice. That tone was familiar--I had introduced it myself in September. Then I did something I learned from my students. I pretended recognition. It didn't work.

Not long after, it happened again. A student was using an example about Goths in an essay. Why is she writing about these ancient Germanic people in an English class, I thought? Do students really learn facts in one class and then transfer them to another? What a strange and wonderful phenomenon. As I read her essay, I began to realize that she knew nothing about these invaders of the Roman Empire. She was writing about strange people in black. Not a single correct fact. This was preposterous. I went up to her. What is this? I asked. Where did you get this information? This time she gave me a blank stare and said, "Goths, Mrs. Potts. Don't you know who Goths are?" Well, I used to, I thought. Back in Latin class. In the '50s. I returned the stare while she slowly explained about disaffected youth who wear all black. Except for white makeup. Speechless, I returned to my desk.

And then just last week a student came up to me and said she would like to write an editorial for the school newspaper about something that sounded like enemies or M&Ms. Would I object? Well, certainly I needed to know more about the first, but I saw nothing wrong with the second. Since my two interpretations were so far apart, I asked for clarification. What is that, I asked. She repeated the word. I repeated the question. She repeated the answer. Finally I was forced to admit that I didn't understand. Now her blank stare. "Eminem," she said, "the white rapper with the filthy lyrics. I don't think I should repeat them, but I would need to give an example in my article."

Now my blank stare. And then a realization: Teaching. It is La Vida Loca.

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