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Cristian's story--Learning in spite of me

Written by Steve Fulton
November 08, 2011

Cristian was 15 during his time in my class and sat across the room from Erin. Like Erin, his journey is also one of growing as a learner and writer, but for Cristian, my relationship with him had little to do with it. From the start of the project, he spent much of his time sitting at his desk with a blank sheet of paper in front on him, claiming that he wasn’t interested in anything. Eventually, tired of my prodding him, he decided that he was interested in cars and resigned to begin his inquiry here, as he wrote in this first post. Yes, a report.

After a little web research, he wrote a brief post about the Bugatti, then decided that he had learned everything he wanted to know and was back to having nothing to write, which is exactly what he wrote about here.

I set time aside to talk with Cristian, asking him if there was anything he felt strongly about or had an opinion on. Smirking, he told me that he thought pot should be legal, and grateful for having something for him to go on, I agreed that this would be a great place for him to start. After some web research, he ended up writing a letter to the president, persuading him to legalize marijuana, and while this letter bared a resemblance to the five paragraph argumentative essay that was drilled into students the previous year in preparation for the writing assessment, his classmates posted comments on it in support of his ideas, and Cristian decided that he found a topic worth sticking with.

During class time from this point, Cristain wrote continuously, switching as he needed to from computer to daybook, and searched out information on the web about gangs and gang violence along the US/Mexico border. He didn’t care much to talk to me about his writing, and I left him to it. He eventually published a fictional piece titled gang life, which turned out to be incredibly popular among his classmates, eliciting and 22 comments posted in response and inspiring multiple writers in all of my classes to try their hands at fiction.

Over the course of the year, he drew from the work that other students were doing with poetry and relationships, creating powerful pieces of writing in the form of rap. He created this poem collaboratively with another student, bringing in both English and Spanish to convey his perspective on a relationship, while also including the words of the girlfriend (the other student) to speak back to him within the poem.

Gradually, he moved away from love poetry and created multiple pieces that criticized and questioned society. He wrote such pieces that responded to such areas as mainstream media and religion. Critical, powerful, and uniquely his own, Cristian’s writing grew in popularity across all of my classes.

Aware of the ownership and empowerment he was gaining through this experience, I decided again to approach Cristian during one of our work periods. I wanted to share with him the work of Youth Roots, which I had been introduced to the week before when they were keynote speakers at the UNCC Writing Project Spring Conference. I showed him their website, explaining how the amazing work he was doing mirrored the “Artivist” approach of Youth Roots. He clicked on one of their videos and only watched about 10 seconds of it before pressing stop, telling me, “these guys suck,” and turning back to his daybook. Of course, I was disappointed, but at this point I understood. His work wasn’t about me, and his learning was dependent upon keeping it that way.