Expressions of Jerrick

Jay Larson
Adjunct Faculty, Humanities

Jerrick first caught my attention through his articulate facial expressiveness. Regarding him in the middle row of Western Civilization, I would gauge how well I was communicating by the drama playing out on Jerrick’s face. He shook his head in dismay at Cortez’s treatment of the Aztecs. He responded to sycophants in Louis XIV’s court with a face that exclaimed, “Seriously!?” Similar engagement drove his class participation, as Jerrick posed astute questions and played active roles in group work. He seemed an ideal student. Then came exams and papers.

As I perused his first exam I was perplexed. The bright, engaged learner’s answers were disjointed collections of random facts. “Okay,” I thought, “so he’s not a test-taker,” and optimistically anticipated his first paper.

Jerrick’s essay was a two-page version of his test – stream-of-consciousness text with no paragraphs. How could an intelligent, active student perform so poorly on standard academic measures? I assumed one reflected the other. Among the comments on paper, I included an invitation. “I think we can make some improvements for your next paper,” I wrote. “Come see me and we’ll go over this one.”

With Jerrick’s paper on my computer screen, I initially had to guide him through collecting ideas into paragraphs. Soon, though, he was jabbing his finger at the screen, exclaiming, “Oh! – This goes here. I just gotta change umm . . .” as he tweaked some phrasing. Suddenly, I saw the astute, animated character from class.

Jerrick brought drafts of ensuing papers to my office, each one a substantial improvement. He began weaving his innate gift for detailed insight into papers that were well-framed and as expressive as his presence. We would also chat, and he sometimes spoke of “just kinda stumbling through” his inner city Detroit high school. When I once asked if his school seemed concerned with college readiness, Jerrick almost laughed. “No one expected us to go to college,” he said. I thought back to that first paper, and then further back. I thought of a young man sitting in high school classrooms where he knew so little was expected of him.

The day before the final I happily uploaded my comments for Jerrick’s last paper into D2L – a paper among the best in the class. The next day, as he handed me his exam, he smiled, shook my hand, and said, “Thanks.” As usual, Jerrick’s actions were as eloquent as his writing had become. That handshake was probably the high point of my semester, because you shake hands with a partner.