The students in my American Lit class have developed a habit of listening quite…selectively. For example, a sentence such as “Tomorrow, we’ll be spending the whole class working on the group projects that are due next week” will almost certainly elicit the following response: “We have to do a project that takes up the whole class and it’s due tomorrow?!?!” Sometimes, this selective listening is quite funny. Occasionally, it’s hilarious.
Yesterday, we were discussing Stephen Crane’s “An Episode of War,” which is about a soldier who gets shot in the arm and subsequently has his arm amputated. I told the students that during that time, soldiers would frequently die from infections, because people didn’t yet know about germs, and the conditions of surgery were often quite unsanitary. I told them that this was also why some women died in childbirth.
Then I said, “Okay, take out a piece of paper and draw a plot diagram of Crane’s ‘Episode.'” One student looked up at me, confused. “Why do we have to do that?” she asked. “Well,” replied, “I want to know what you remember about it. Be as specific and detailed as you can.” She looked absolutely horrified, and I asked her what was wrong.
Apparently, all she’d heard from the previous discussion was “childbirth” and “draw a diagram.”