Slice of Life for Late April: Lost my Favorite Student, Violence in Black America

Friday afternoon by accident, I found out from former students on Facebook that my favorite student had died upon moving back to Los Angeles from  Dallas. My initial reaction was a scream, followed by typing a tribute to him. Saturday, I called a favorite teaching colleague to see if she had heard about Kemmel’s “Bandit’s” death. Much to my surprise, he had been murdered in a double homicide. I returned to the that Facebook post and realized in my shock, I’d misread the cause of death as motorcycle accident because the colloquial term “rider” was used.

Bandit was a “B” student in my first year of teaching Developmental English for five years at Texas College, an HBCU in North Tyler.  His attendance was very good, all too uncommon at TC–unlike Mountain View Community College, the Hispanic Serving Institution in North Oak Cliff where I’d been an adjunct instructor for five years. I gave two grades on essays, one for grammar and another for writing. I read most essays twice; an obvious A/A essay is a quick read. First, I plowed through the essay looking for grammar and spelling mistakes. Once I got to the end, I’d start over and look for skill or its lack in the structure of writing. Kemmel’s frequent B’s were the result of C+/A- on grammar/writing respectively. One of his earliest essays was about repairing cars. One particularly rewarding car fixing was marred with a hail of bullets from a rival gang member. Now that’s a shocker in the conclusion paragraph! Since one of my essay rules was not to discuss committing crimes, but being a crime victim is okay to discuss, Kemmel got his usual B. Please don’t stop following me on Word Press!!

As time went on, he took me to hear speeches in Dallas from a popular, yet controversial Black leader. Once I talked him out of mourning the death of an old gang buddy via shooting some rivals. That teaching colleague had the same conversation with him. Kemmel moved to Tyler to get away from “intra-Crip” violence and attend the college where his aunt had a staff position. His small faction was targeted for extinction by a rival, larger Crip group. Yet wearing red that semester to teach became a no-no, for he was a proud ex-Crip who still couldn’t stand Bloods. I was prudent enough never to dispute the illogic of that stance.

Kemmel graduated with a bachelors in Sociology, and he invited me to his graduation party, a truly touching moment for me as the only Texas College instructor or White person there (O.K. 7/8 White). We saw each other a few more times before he moved to Dallas. I’ll never understand why we drifted apart. Suffice it to say that I developed problems with “frienemies” that became quite distracting. He didn’t become a social media addict like me. I moved to MidTown Tyler (east-central/hospital district) almost three years ago. It’s better than the frozen South, where Mom lived near rich, Catholic haters, and the hot North where I integrated the neighborhood. Now I’m in a temperate business area. So now you have the background that leads to the sad ending. I’ve vowed to catch up with long-lost friends and at last, stay away from the “frienemies.”

I wasn’t sure if this would be a good essay to share on Slice of Life, but either MSNBC or CNN is covering the riots in Baltimore following the spine-snapping of Freddie Gray by the police. It’s said to see the anguish of Michael Steele and Elijah Cummings among others amidst the failure of Baltimore over the years. The debate on immigration reform (a largely Hispanic issue) seems ironic when Canada instead looks so inviting as it did during the time of the Underground Railroad during slavery; they’re still sparsely populated, immigration-friendly, and above all: non-violent.

College Composition Topics–Give Regional a Chance, an Issue of Sustainability–You Matter

Sustainability in composition marks the biggest paradigm shift in curriculum and instruction for composition since the multicultural revolution. Yet rather than supplant multiculturalism, sustainability links it to other movements, such as environmentalism–but with a broader meaning than is traditional. This op-ed will look at sustainability as concern for the students’ immediate environment. This means students and book authors can write about what matters to them in their environment; the “too regional” critique would no longer have merit. Note the subtitle, “Give Regional a Chance.” Yes, that’s a take-off of John Lennon’s famous song, “Give Peace a Chance.” Edited student essays can catch the public’s eye by expanding the range of model essays that answer the instructor/author’s prompts. I can personally attest to the new worlds that my students opened for me.

Derek Owens on Sustainability

Derek Owens (2001) expanded the definition of sustainability in his book, Composition and Sustainability–published by the Refiguring English Studies of the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE). Check out the blog The Bookfish by Steve Mentz to read Owens’s book online. Furthermore, ERIC provides a fine abstract for Composition and Sustainability too.

The Refiguring English Series “examines the role English should play in larger society and public policy.” Sustainability has an inherent interdisciplinary style, such as public policy and sociology or marketing and philosophy. Among other things, it should expand the already wide range in human interest stories while maintaining relevance.

In the “Chameleon Vision” chapter, Owens defines sustainability as “meeting today’s needs without jeopardizing the well-being of future generations.” We collaborate with our environment and depend upon it. Therefore, sustainability includes simply allowing students to write about their environment–whether it’s that barbecue restaurant on the next block, their favorite rap or duranguense band, a hope for a gospel concert to come to town, or their favorite job as a tank driver. As you can see, the political connotations could be liberal,conservative, centrist or none at all. Owens asserts to let students think about stories that belong to them and want to preserve. Could he be asking our faculty, students, and textbook authors to think like anthropologists?

Here’s a chance to bring real students’ interests to the desk through fairness in topic choice. Check this website for a wide range of exciting essay prompts This can mean no less than the difference between passing and failing in developmental courses. A boring or irrelevant cluster of composition prompts can alienate students–especially the marginal ones. English faculty function as “gatekeepers and catalysts,” according to Owens. Owens proclaims it’s time to get away from anthologies that remind one of a “greenhouse or wax museum for the same small number of species…Move outside the safety zone and bring in the outsider.” The freedom inherent in composition topic choice could lead to provocative inquiry and inspiration.

Maybe the composition or developmental English instructor would feel free to share their pop culture interests in such a liberated environment. In my case, I might start with the many careers of Bruce Dickinson, the Iron Maiden singer who flies commercial jets for a British airline, the Iron Maiden jet. He has written novels, hosted a BBC radio talk show, and did a documentary on tanks. Dickinson is a top fencer who has a line of fencing equipment. Most recently, Dickinson started his own brand of mail-order beer called “The Trooper” after the famous song. Lately, I’ve noticed that many of my model sentences are amusing–a factor that can increase textbook engagement.

On Branding

The state of brands and how they affect well-being was measured by media consultancy Havas Media. The study examined how people interact with businesses in a world full of crumbling institutions; a brand will stand apart from the crowd if it makes people’s lives better and more meaningful. Branding research has insights relevant to the sustainability in composition topic movement.

“What’s the trick to making a brand meaningful? Focus on outcomes, not outputs. The criteria, says Haque, are simple: “Did this brand make you fitter, wiser, smarter, closer? Did it improve your personal outcomes? Did it improve your community outcomes? Did it pollute the environment? We’re trying to get beyond “did this company make a slightly better product” to the more resonant, meaningful question: Did this brand actually impact your life in a tangible, lasting, and positive way?”

#You Matter

Finally, Angela Maiers is a leader among educators on Twitter, and we have been mutual followers of each other for some time. Ms. Maiers of Iowa has introduced the hashtag #YouMatter to dialogue on education. What could show a student or an aspiring author that they matter more than allowing flexibility on topic choice? Plenty of essay prompts and the ensuing essays have the chance of making someone angry, whether teacher, student, or administrator. It could be due to political views, love or disdain for contemporary culture, appreciation or distaste for multicultural or regional topics, and “too controversial” to name a few. It’s really important for an instructor to provide a choice of essay prompts for the student. She is also a member of General Leadership, an e-journal founded by General John Michel–another Twitter associate.


To conclude, Owens notes the unique position of the composition instructor because of the freedom to explore. According to John Langan, the dean of Developmental English and Reading instructors, the purpose of writing is to inform, persuade, and entertain.The vast majority of courses have a set body of knowledge that the instructor must cover. Let’s allow our Composition and Developmental English/Writing students to report their world to their instructor and college itself. Branding research confirms the common sense observation that people want a meaningful product. Angela Maiers has developed #YouMatter into a philosophy of education through the primacy of acceptance–a close relative of sustainability. The arguments against regional topics appear more like censorship than a quest for a generic national prompt list.