Teaching Notes

You must become the flame on the candle. - Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, February 1, 2010

TO MEGHAN, ASLEEP IN ETHICS CLASS (originally published in Silenced Press)

What's Meghan's apparent attitude toward ethics? What does the poet think of her attitude? Do you think the poet is right to be upset with Meghan? Why or why not? (The comments posted in the past in response to these questions have sometimes disappointed and surprised me with their lack of self-reflection. Don't treat this as just another task to get through -- think about what the poem is saying about ethical unawareness and those who cling to it.)

Please respond by 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3.


TO MEGHAN, ASLEEP IN ETHICS CLASS
As if what people are is all they’ll ever be
you close your eyes
and it’s suddenly night everywhere and always

nothing can reach you not even

the agitated ghosts of ancient philosophers
swirling around our hot basement classroom
but to you it’s just words love death etc.

so why wake you to see the firelight

beating frantically on the walls of Plato’s cave
when your sleeping face is beautifully composed
like that of a fairy-tale princess

with a piece of poisoned apple caught in her throat

36 comments:

KHutchinson said...

I had to read this poem more than a few times. It was hard to follow for some reason.
The "apparent attitude" this Meghan has for Ethics, may or may not be shown in her act of falling asleep in class. The Poet chooses to take this act as a rejection to the subject; a representation of her lack of interest in both the class, as well as the material.
He says that by closing her eyes in his class to fall asleep, she is closing her eyes to the subject of ethics, and the material that comes with it.
But what if I'm wrong. What if this girl isn't asleep at all, just blind, you know? What if by "asleep in Ethics" he means that she is just totally blank when it comes to the matter. Maybe she does not grasp the concept, maybe she shrugs sed concept off, as if it has no place in her life. I can't decide which I think he means, because both would be appropriate.
If he means that she has literally fallen asleep, then there are variables to the situation that must be considered. If Meghan has fallen asleep, what are the reasons she may have done so? Yes, maybe she is just completely bored with the subject of Ethics, but maybe, just maybe, she stayed up all night taking care of her sick mother or roommate. If so, does that not change the ability to interpret her action as a reflection of her uninterest in the subject? Her previous actions must then be looked at. Has she ever fallen asleep in class before? Does she participate and do her work? If the answers to these questions are no and yes, then the poet is wrong in his feelings of discontent. He must understand that a person may not be judged solely on one action.
However, if the poet is speaking metaphorically, as in Meghan has yet to show not only an interest, but is actively naive to the subject, things change. Then, by "asleep in ethics" me means she is totally unresponsive and has missed the point; her eyes have been closed in class and she has not learned or absorbed anything useful. If this is the case, then by all means, the poet has every right to be upset. Ethics is at the root of most decision making. Meghan is really closing her eyes to a guide to making healthy decisions for herself, and developing her morals and boundaries.
He then talks about just letting her sleep. Not bothering to wake her to the wonders of ethics, and make her aware of all the importance she is missing. It is here that I cannot agree. In either situation, literal or metaphorical, I think it is his duty to wake her; shake her of her silliness and push her to learn and educate herself. If we want this whole society to work, we need to all develop a sense of ethics, right and wrong, morals and values. And even further, this sense of ethics must be somewhat that same for most people. The people who have poor moral values, or are just blind to the subject, are the ones who pose a danger or threat to the community and society. People need to share common ethical values for things to run smoothly. So in this case, it is the poets duty to wake Meghan up! Shake her! "Get up! Listen and learn!"
It's important that we all develop our boundaries. Important for ourselves, and important for the good of society. Either way, Meghan needs to wake up. It's just a matter of whether the poet wakes her; which I think he should.

Howie Good said...

interesting response, kaitlyn! can i respond in turn? is it possible to wake up someone who wants to sleep? i mean, really shake them into awareness? can a teacher teach a student who resists learning? can a doctor cure a patient who keeps smoking and drinking and overeating? doesn't a person have to want to wake, learn, heal?

Meg said...

First off all I have never been good at interpreting poetry so I definitely had to read the poem a few times to try and remotely understand a few meaning, so work with me. Initially just looking at the surface of the poem,someone will probably interpret it that Meghan fell asleep during the class, and the professor/author of the poem is complaining about it. Now that that's out of the way though I think KHutchinson covered a lot of different possible meaning that the poem could have, as well as a lot of questions that the poem raises.
First off, say the author DID mean the poem to have a literal meaning and Meghan really did just fall asleep in class. I think it's important to just look at the situation and determine what was or could've been going on. Was she really bored out of her mind and that's what caused her to fall asleep? Or was there another cause to her sleeping, such as the time of day of the class, the environment, how much sleep she got the previous night. Is this the first time Meghan fell asleep? There are a lot of factors to determine first before I think someone can judge a situation. After all we are talking about ethics here. Is it really ethical for the professor to judge the situation and assume that Meghan has no consideration in learning?
However, most of us know, poetry is never that simple, and most likely has a deeper meaning (s) to it. Personally, I think what the professor is really trying to say is that he/she is concerned with how society is slowly falling off when it comes to want to learn or understand the ideas of the ancient philosophers. I think people today have become really self centered or just assume that they know everything there is to know rather than being open minded and willing to learn more. They either do not care or have no interest in learning things that should excite and inspire them. Rather than do above and beyond, people do what is expected and then move on or in this case "sleep". He describes the ancient philosophers as agitated. I'd be surprised if they wouldn't be though. The ideas and philosophies they spent years developing are suddenly of no interest of people and are slowly being forgotten. These ideas were what philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates lived by, and slowly "they are just words to us". They have no meaning to us. It seems like Meghan could be a metaphor for society, and the author is using her as an example as to how people are viewing philosophies and ideas such as ethics.
If "Meghan" can't even pay attention in ethics class how will "she" (or the rest of society" be able to make decisions and god choices in the world. What will happen to the state of society? Will it ll soon crumble because no one bothers to make an effort anymore? Has she even tried to make an effort in class or has this been going on all along? Is there any hope for her now? For some one who resists learning and really doesn't try I think it would be pretty hard to motivate them. I guess you could try and find a common ground that they could relate on, but then does that just teach them that it's okay to ignore (o sleep through) what we find boring, and only pay attention to what we want to. I don't even think that's ethical. I think the author shows real concern as to what can happen if we don't wake up people like Meghan or wake up even ourselves. Society can really fall into trouble one day if suddenly everyone decides they no longer have a use or concern for ethics.

Kim Dubin said...

Her apparent attitude is that she doesn't care to look into it. Her falling asleep in class signifies that. It's another thing in this life to her as only a topic is. For example when watching the news you go right past it, as if it never happened. The poet dislikes her attitude and seems as if he is mocking it. When he says her face is "beautifully composed" and than adding the poisoned apple in the end as if she was poisoned from not wanting to look at ethics further and wanting to know.
I do think the poet has the right to be upset with her. It especially made me realize it when it was stated "So why wake you to see the firelight." This strong sentence is just saying why wake her to care now when she doesn't initially. Can you really teach someone who doesn't want to be taught? should be the question. The way ethics is compared to a firelight it seemed to signify that it is bigger to know than she realizes and that is why the poet would be upset. I think most people do lack the awareness of ethics. Some go about their lives not caring to know about it, but when a situation presents itself when you need to be educated about it, some principles of ethics to me would be important at that time. If your not open to knowing it would bring you to situations you don't want to be in.
I think what Meg said is interesting when she points out all the other events that go on in our every day lives. There are many other circumstances that can make someone tired in class. It may be that they want to learn but had to deal with situations the night before that just took their attention. As it is said a lot anything can happen. And could Meghan this girl in the poem have undergone something that permitted her to be sleeping in class. Yes, possibly. But in my opinion a class on ethics would be a primary thing for me to learn. Depending on what careers we all have in the future, we're all going to need to know it at one point or another. Is it will power that gets us through class when were extremely tired? It can be, but for our futures perhaps will power in this situation is what we need.

Howie Good said...

meg, i think you understand the poem just fine. it really isn't that complex a poem, though it operates on both the literal and metaphorical level.

Howie Good said...

kim raises an interesting point -- doesn't being a professional mean doing the job -- fulfilling your obligations -- no matter how you feel? and let's look at it from the prof's perspective for a moment (empathy!). why should he or she have to put up with boring or apathetic students? and it isn't the prof who's being affected by meghan's sleeping. how about her classmates? isn't the culture of the classroom lowered for them (as it would be if people whipped out their portable devices and went of facebook)? and how would students feel if prof had problems at home or a rough night for some other reason and let it affect his or her class performance? aren't you the class that believes in "do unto others. . ."?

Howie Good said...

i should have said "it isn't JUST the prof who's being affected. . ."

J.Rodriguez said...

I feel like once you first read this poem, You automatically think that meghan doesn't care about ethics. You see a girl in class sleeping in her ethics class, your first thought would be that she's not taking that class serious or that she just flat out doesn't care about it. But what you haven't thought about is, what kind of night has this girl had? or even what kind of day is she having? Every action has a reason for being done. Ethics could actually be her favorite subject for all we know. I will admit and say that I have fell asleep in a class that I consider to be my favorite. I was tired because I had been sick and up all that night, in and out of the bathroom, so I was tired during the time of my class. Obviously The poet is very upset with the way she thinks meghan thinks about ethics. She feels like her sleeping is disrespectful and rude. Also, how meghans missing out on alot of info. I got that part from the poem when she mentions how "Beating frantically on the walls of Plato’s cave
when your sleeping face is beautifully composed
like that of a fairy-tale princess

with a piece of poisoned apple caught in her throat" I understand how "Ethical awareness" plays a part in this situation. You are sleeping in class, and you may not even realize that it's such a disrespecting thing to the proff. When someone sleeps in class, I highly doubt that someones thinks about the ethics of sleeping in class.

aDavis said...

I really love this poem and the overall message it sends about society. Meghan is the majority of the population in my opinion. I wouldn't say she has no interest in ethics, but her falling asleep symbolizes her unwillingness to really see. Sleep is, for the most part, peaceful. It is a state where none of us have to worry about tomorrow or yesterday, we are content and happy. Meghan's constant night in ethics class can be reflected in any of us. At one point or another we are all reluctant to see things the way they really are. Take for instance the narrative fidelity we talked about in class. If we want to see something as true, sometimes ethics becomes diluted. I think the poet worked dry sarcasm into the poem well. the comparison he makes to her face being that of a sleeping fairy-tale princess is how many of us are, sadly. Waiting for our prince to come when all the sudden, oh no, he's not coming! He also makes reference to the ancient philosophers, the original contributors to ethics as we know it. Meghan being asleep while talks of the origins of ethics take place shows she simply cannot be bothered with real ethics, let alone their principles. Meghan may argue back that she already has ethics and makes ethical decisions in her life, yet her inability to wake up and take part in class demonstrates her reluctance to really find her own "distinctive spirit or character" as the word ethos suggests. Many of us, myself included, are guilty of following what society deems ethical instead of asking ourselves the questions that need to be asked to understand our own ethical standpoint and give constructive arguments for it. Of course, this is not to say that Meghan cannot be enlightened to ethics, as the poet suggests, she just has a piece of poison apple caught in her throat. There is always the possibility that that poison apple could be removed and she could finally awake from her fairy-tale land. I have been caught in that fairy-tale many times, but eventually it numbs a person up so bad they cannot be pulled from it. We just have to allow ourselves to be asked these hard questions, no matter how much we may not like to hear them. One of my friends, for example, when asked an ethical question, can sometimes only come up with "I think it's wrong or right." That angers me. Ethics is a generic 'yes' or 'no' to some people. But come on, how can that work at all!? I believe the poet has every right to be upset with Meghan. She fell asleep in ethics class because she viewed it as something as either she already had a good grasp on and did not want to hear another point, or a topic she viewed unworthy and uninspiring. Because what real confrontations are there in dreamland?

Maxim Alter said...

Well let me just say this: I am afraid to ever become Meghan. To me, this poem kind of feels like a message to everyone on the importance of ethics. Ethics represent everything you are as a person, so when you are fast asleep during what could ultimately be what makes you a successful and responsible individual, it honestly scares me. In my opinion, falling asleep is a metaphor for being unaware and not caring. There was never really a time in my life where I was like Meghan. Sure I was immature and didn't think about anything else but doing my own thing, but I always thought about the consequences of my actions and gave my decisions a lot of thought. I hope that through this ethics class, I can become completely ethically aware and the absolute opposite of what Meghan represents in this poem. I also feel as though Meghan depicts what a majority of people are like in this world. Being ethically unaware is a real problem and people cling to that, because if you don't think about it, then you don't need to care.

When the author of the poem says, "so why wake you to see the firelight beating frantically on the walls of Plato's cave when your sleeping face is beautifully composed..." I think they are using sarcasm. As if they are saying, "Why wake you when you can just be ignorant. It's not like you are going to care about your ignorance anyway." Now, only three classes into this ethics course, I have already started to re-evaluate my position in this world. I don't want to be ignorant. I don't want to be Meghan.

Kim Plummer said...

I really liked ADavis’ interpretation of the poem. It’s one that I agree with. A lot of the earlier interpretations seemed to be a little hung up on whether or not Meghan was actually asleep, but either way, in my opinion, that doesn’t seem to matter. Plenty of people have proven that students are capable of sleeping with their eyes open anyway. It seems to be more about the idea of what sleeping means. That she’s dismissed the idea of ethics. More symbolically, when it comes to her relationship with ethics she’d prefer the dark, unconscious state of sleep, rather than being awake to “see the light.”

If Meghan was literally sleeping, the professor would have the right to feel upset, offended and disrespected. But, even more difficult for a professor to deal with would be if Meghan was awake and just has chosen to dismiss the significance of ethics in her life and the media. I think it would be hard to teach someone ethics and their value, if they can’t appreciate its significance.

Meghan has accepted that what is is, and that neither she nor ethics can change that. Whether or not she’s awake doesn’t matter, because since she’s already dismissed the idea altogether.

I liked that ADavis mentioned that ethos is defined as “distinctive spirit or character” and that in order to be an ethical person you have to recognize yourself as that. In my opinion, this idea gives this poem a positive message, rather than just writing off Meghan as unethical person. It’s as if by choosing sleep, Meghan has decided to place the poisoned apple in her own throat. But, if Meghan recognizes the value of ethics, she can too recognize her own distinctive spirit and character and wake.

M.Blumenfeld said...

I like the poem a lot. It says exactly what it needs to very subtly and with great metaphors (sleeping beauty). You get a real sense of passion for the poets ideas and class.

Meghan's clinging to ethical unconsciousness is obvious by simply the irony of the situation; A "student" asleep in an ethics class. It speaks for itself really.

I believe what I said in reaction to my first post after the first class reads true to this situation as well as our previous class, in that understanding your social role is part of the task. Once you associate yourself with that role and assign yourself that task, it is a fulfilling achievement to have overcome what you have initially set out to accomplish despite the obstacles and downfalls.

In communication however, we are taught that relationships are symbiotic and rely on both the sender and receiver to fulfill each task as two parties in a communicative relationship. We learn that at a certain point relationships should be viewed from a third party perspective. If one party is putting more in to the relationship than they get out of it, it is not healthy for either party and thus the relationship ends.

I believe this goes for student teacher relationships for just as in any relationship you cannot provoke positivity if it is not there.

M.Blumenfeld said...

to add to what I said, In class Prof. Good mentioned how our beliefs are far different from what we thought 2 or 5 years ago. It is because of progression; in thoughts, learning, character...etc either way, there is no progression taking place with behavior that Meghan demonstrates. She is doing herself a great disservice.

MBachmann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MBachmann said...

This was very hard to interpret at first for me, especially after reading many of the comments because they bring up good points I would have never thought about. But after reading this poem over a few times I believe that by Meghan falling asleep in ethics class is symbolizing her lack of effort and morals towards ethics. As Professor Good had given us a brief lecture towards the end of class how you need to just do more then show up to class, how you need to go beyond the simplistic measures because it teaches you the ethical values of life. Well it is interesting how the author puts Meghan falling asleep in ethics class and not another class. It makes many references through out the poem of her ignorance towards ethics. "As if what people are is all they'll ever be," saying that either this is how she feels about herself or others and that people cannot change, how they are is how they will always be. The last sentence was what really stood out to me, "with a piece of poisoned apple caught in her throat." It reminded me of snow white, and how the witch poisoned the princess with an apple. I think it means that at the moment, Meghan has this "poisoned apple" caught in her throat which is why she has fallen asleep in ethics class or just does not have the right ethics but she can still change. All she needs is the prince to kiss her, which can reference to this ethical class that can change her view on life.

Lindsey said...

I have read this poem about 10 times and still don’t have a good grasp on the full meaning yet but ill give it a shot. First of all anyone who falls asleep in class just shouldn’t be there and that’s a known fact. Not only is it a waste of time for them (person who falls asleep) but also for the teacher and students. One of the first rules we learn in school is to respect the teacher and classmates, which in this situation breaks the rules. Why is Meghan even in this class? Media Ethics is a class you take because it’s in your major so obviously she doesn’t like her major or just doesn’t like school in general, so in that case she should drop out of the class or drop out of school. It’s a waste of her money to be coming to class and falling asleep. Also since Media Ethics usually is a full class there are students that would rather be in her spot and deserve it more then Meghan.

It says in the poem “nothing can reach you not even the agitated ghosts of ancient philosophers swirling around you hot basement classroom…” which means nothing interests her and that is why she is falling asleep. Another part of the poem, which is interesting, is the text about the poison apple. I interpreted this part of the poem in but don’t know if it’s correct. The poison apple reminds me of the story snow white so my guess who be that poison can kill you, which in this case the poison could be what’s keeping her from staying awake. Snow White was a beautiful princess that had a lot of things going for her until she had the poisoned apple, which put her to sleep. The apple could also be her eagerness to learn, which she doesn’t want to do and that’s why it’s “poisoned”.

I believe what Meghan did was not ethical because it is not morally right to fall asleep in class. In the beginning of the poem the author states “as if what people are is all they’ll ever be”, which means in Meghan’s case that it’s not even worth trying to get to her because she will never get it or even attempt to get it because she falls asleep. It seems like she has fallen asleep before and the teacher is just done trying to get to her. I believe that the poet has a right to be mad at her because he’s wasting his time as well as the student in the classroom. Why should the teacher waste there time on somehow who just doesn’t care. The teacher has given up of Meghan as it states, “So why wake you to see the firelight”, meaning that the teacher isn’t even going to wake her because she doesn’t care or want to try and learn.

It seems to be that Meghan doesn’t have an attitude towards ethics just because she is asleep during class. She doesn’t share her knowledge of any sort so how do we know what her likings and interests are. I believe she does what she wants and doesn’t care what others think.

pspengeman said...

There's one idea in this poem that heavily reminds me of T.S. Elliot's poem "The Death of Alfred Pufrock". There's a line in his poem that states, "I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas." To me, it reminds me of the poem's stanza where he talks about the class beating on the walls of Plato's cave while the girl remains asleep and uninvolved. But who should we envy more? The naive student, or the worrisome philosophers?

Meghan, as the poet suggests, is "blind" to the "deep" conversation, possibly disinterested in furthering her ethical beliefs or standards. Yes, it is true that by ignoring a class that can undoubtedly change one's thoughts, he or she is losing out on intellectual depth. By not addressing questions that force your soul to grow, force your mind to question, and above all, sharpen your ethical values, you become looked down upon within the "intellectual" community. In my opinion, ignoring a class that will improve you're ethics is unethical. But what about the people we see everyday? Possibly our distant relatives, our parents, our friends? Is it impossible to become "successful" or to be "happy" with low ethical standards? Basically, what I'm trying to say is that who are we to judge Meghan, to say that her ignorance in an ethics class will alter her life goals?

I confess, I approach this poem a bit cynically, and I'm trying to leave a refreshing comment without reiterating all the really great comments before me. But this is a debate I get in with one of my closest friends all the time. As a Psychology major, and a huge enthusiast of the Myers & Briggs Personality Type Test, he detests my opinion that people who try to find truth, those who are constantly looking for soul growth and question, and those with a high moral code are better off. I like to say that I am one of those people. My friend disagrees. He says there are differences in how people operate, some people don't want or require philosophical engagement. It's not a matter of wrong or right, it's just a matter of difference.

All that being said, I agree that "sleeping" in class, whether taken literally or figuratively, is wrong. ONe should never limit his or herself in the gaining of knowledge, and by ignoring her class and teacher she is not improving herself in any which way. Stagnancy, in my eyes, is wrong. But again, don't those who claim to be intellectuals end up having more headaches? By being in Prof. Good's class, of another class that deal's with philosophical discussion, we are certainly engaged and interested, and stimulated by the pondering of big ideas. But in the grand scheme of things are we that much better off? There are times when having this deep and complex where I feel better off and closer to the answer I'm looking for; there are also times I leave these types of conversation and wonder how in the hell I got so lost.

Chelsea LaDue said...

Like others have said, assuming that sleeping in class literally meant physically being asleep, we don't know why she was sleeping. If anything, it was disrespectful for her to even come to class if she was that tired, which I guess in a way is unethical. I don't think the fact that she fell asleep necessarily says she doesn't care about ethics.
The poet is clearly annoyed that Meghan fell asleep during class. The line "with a piece of poisoned apple caught in her throat" clearly shows that the poet has negative feelings towards her. I think the poet thinks Meghan doesn't care about ethics and doesn't want to grow as an ethical person based on the line "As if what people are is all they’ll ever be."
I think the poet does have the right to be upset with Meghan because if someone fell asleep while I was speaking in front of the class I would be offended. I would think they don't care about what I'm saying and that I'm wasting their time. Like I said before, we don't know why she fell asleep, but it's not out of the ordinary for the poet to assume it was because she doesn't care about ethics.

Howie Good said...

peter, i had a friend in college who defined philosophy thus: "many roads leading nowhere. . ." i don't agree. i'm of the opinion that 1) it's exciting and valuable to get lost (the alternative being security, boredom and tedium); and 2) the journey is the destination. last i don't see life as a competition or race. i don't count other people's money and i don't worry if this one or that one is better off than i am. all i could control is the kind of person i want to be. i can't even control that i'll be that person (circumstances shift beyond our control). but my aspirations are mine, and i aspire to be more than i am at the moment -- more thoughtful, more creative, more loving.

pspengeman said...

Prof. Good:

I apologize for not explaining myself more clearly. The idea of a "competition" on who's better off is not what I meant. I was talking more about being content. For example, some people may be happier living in routines, a way of life one may deem "boring". They could say the same for someone who studies philosophy consistently, or engages in these kinds of conversations or discussions. The point I was trying to make is, that this "destination" they strive for is more easily reached because it's closer than it would be for someone trying to figure out all the answers. I'm saying that people with lower expectations to exert spiritual/ philosophical energy won't go through the same woes someone with higher expectations might. There have been nights I've stayed up thinking about various aspects of life and have woken up in the morning tired.

But I wholeheartedly agree with your two points. I was trying to offer new insights/ alternative opinions. Although frustrating at times to stay up all night, only to wake up more lost in your mind, or to sit in a class and become more confused than when you started is a blessing. I truly believe that. The brain needs exercise just like our bodies do.

I wasn't trying to measure our worth by money or any other standard. I was just trying to make a point that the journey to a stable happiness is relative.

Howie Good said...

it's cool, peter. i got your point the first time, but do appreciate the elaboration. i tend to believe with Socrates that "The unexamined life is not worth living." The unexamined life is what a beast leads. To be human -- to grow fully into our humanity and be deserving of the gift of our consciousness -- we need to reflect, I believe, on the glories and terrors of existence.

DevonP said...

This poem can either be taken literally or figuritively. Either way, it seems that Meghan does not have an interest in ethics. If she did, she literally would not be sleeping. However, being asleep in ethics class could mean that Meghan is not grasping the concepts of the class. She could be doing the work, showing up to class, but if she is not understanding, and not making an effort to understand, she is blind to what is being taught. The poet makes it seem like she is choosing not to learn about ethics by saying " as if what people are is all they'll ever be." And when someone does this, no student can learn, because learning requires the student and teacher to cooroperate with eachother. Students, myself included, can do all the things students are supposed to do for a class, but if we really don't give any extra effort to really internalize the material we're being taught, we really are not learning anything. It appears to me that is what Meghan is doing. When the poet says why wake you, it seems that he is kind of giving up on that student, which you can't blame him for. It should upset the teacher because he most likely is passionate about ethics, and since he is a teacher he would like his students to be the same way.

Andrew Limbong said...

I really like the first line of the poem. "As if what people are is all they'll ever be," is a great way of summing up the fallacy of ethical unawareness. Of course the poet has a right to be upset with Meghan. Not because she can't name drop and quote ancient philosophers, but because their ideas, of love death etc., are integral to the understanding of people and the world in which we live. This is reflected in the last bit, when the poet calls her "a fairy-tale princess/ with piece of poisoned apple caught in her throat." Not understanding people, not paying attention in ethics class, leaves you helpless and vulnerable in the harsh world that school is supposed to prepare us for.

Where the poet falters is when he/she asks "So why wake you to see the fire light." The poet should do their hardest to wake Meghan because its as much their job and responsibility to make sure Meghan pays attention as much as it is Meghan's responsibility to stay "awake." Professor's should be vigilant in keeping the vigilance of the student.

Chanel Arias said...

This poem seems to be speaking about people who who know that there is knowledge being passed through conversation, experience, every day interactions, and even more specifically within the classroom, but many people choose to take these things for granted. There have been many instances where I have been sitting in a classroom and I notice other classmates sleeping, or distracting themselves with text messages, and at first I think of what disrespect that is to the professor, but even more importantly, it goes to show how much worth they put into their education; in this case, how much worth Meghan puts into ethics.

Megan's attitude toward ethics seems to be apathetic. Just by closing her eyes, she is communicating a variety of messages. Her sleeping signifies disrespect for whomever is sharing knowledge, it signifies her belief that there is nothing new to learn, and most importantly and ethically it signifies that she isn't seeking truth; it could possibly be that she believes there is no truth to seek.

Although Meghan can very well be interpreted as just a girl in ethics class, if we were to look at the larger picture, Meghan may symbolize each person on this earth that does not seek to better themselves ethically, or that might have even lost hope in anything ethical.

The poet has a right to be upset with Meghan because it seems that the poet knows and understands that things change, and us, as a people, need to keep up with every change by challenging ourselves intellectually all the while maintaining an ethical balance.

JustinMcCarthy said...

Meghan is clearly disinterested in ethics and, likely, education in general. I've always thought that sleeping in any class gives the impression that "this class is taking up precious time that I could spend sleeping." So, it's clear that Meghan is interested in getting credit for her presence in the class without any interest in obtaining the knowledge it has to offer. This also implies her outlook on college and education in general.
If there was a legitimate reason for her exhaustion, she should have just skipped class out of respect for others who are taking the course seriously, including the professor. But because she actually showed up, the professor/poet has reason to be annoyed, upset and offended by her behavior.
To me, the poet is looking at Meghan and almost wishing he was as naïve, ignorant and literally unconscious as she is. Ignorance is bliss, after all. And her "beautifully composed" sleeping face is so peaceful.
But the last line of the poem indicates his real feelings for her lack of awareness. Choosing a nap over knowledge comes at a price. She will eventually choke on the "poison apple" of ignorance. Poor Meghan.
I agree with what some others have already said about this poem: I see many Meghans everyday. They're not always necessarily sleeping in class, but their cocoon of unawareness keeps them happy and comfortable. They avoid enlightenment because the path to it might teach them they are wrong, or what their parents taught them was wrong, or that learning a new perspective can make them question everything they thought to be true. Learning is hard, uncomfortable and not as much fun as sleeping in class.
Perhaps I'm going off on a tangent, but I really relate to the speaker in this poem because I think a lot of people are like Meghan. Her behavior represents the attitude of a substantial portion of my generation towards education and learning in general. It’s a serious problem.

Julia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eden rose said...

When I read this poem all I thought was that people really abuse the privilege of having opportunities. Do I relate to this poem, no, because I don’t see how one can fall asleep in an ethics class especially one that’s so intriguing. Meghan definitely has an attitude toward ethics, its just not one that I agree with. Her attitude is one that she doesn’t give a fuck that people would kill to be in her position and she’s wasting her own and other peoples time and space. In this exact situation she doesn’t realize that falling asleep in an ethics class was the "wrong" decision. I feel that there is no reason to wake up Meghan to see the "firelight" and excitement of the class and discussion if she OBVIOUSLY chose to care less about the present and what’s being spoken about and instead fall asleep. She doesn’t deserve to hear the important conversations and thoughts that her peers and professor are speaking about. I don’t think that the word upset is the right word to explain the poets’ feelings toward Meghan. I think that the poet and all of Meghan’s peers have the right to feel sympathy for Meghan. Why? Because she doesn’t know what she’s missing if she isn’t even giving ethics a chance. To actually be able to fall asleep in such an interactive setting is beyond me. Although this might sound harsh, personally I feel that if Meghan can fall asleep in the middle of one ethical discussion then she might as well be asleep for all of them because she has no insight or purpose (for this particular moment). If I was in this class I personally would be frustrated with Meghan for taking up a spot in a class that someone else could contribute to. I just also wanted to compliment the last line of the poem. The whole poem had a theme of fairy tales and the imagination and it really is true that if you are falling asleep to ethics you might as well have a poisoned apple caught in your throat. This poem makes me want to shake this girl and just say wake up and realize that your surroundings, peers and professor can actually enhance your self-being.

Howie Good said...

some of you criticize the poet/professor -- you know, me (but don't worry, i can take it)-- for not waking meghan up . . . eden raises a legitimate point, though. . . what good would waking her up do? meghan isn't emotionally or intellectually ready to grow ethically. . .she isn't receptive. . . socrates could be teaching her, but if her attitude is "whatever," it won't matter how brilliant or important the lesson is

Julia said...

Meghan’s outlook towards ethics is very lazy and it seems she is not learning to be a good worker. The poet is obviously frustrated with lack of care for ethics and the class that Meghan radiates. I also believe the poet to feel sorry for her because of the things she is missing out on. The poet takes offense to the fact that Meghan cares not for “the ancient philosophers” ideals and teachings. I certainly think that the poet has the right to be upset with Meghan. The poet puts himself in the poem when he writes “our classroom.” If the poet is the teacher, it must be frustrating and insulting to be standing up there, looking out, and see someone sleeping. If the poet is another student then maybe he/she is distracted by the sleeping peer or perhaps embarrassed for Meghan.


It is, by far, easier to be ethically unaware. Meghan is taking the easy track by sleeping and just scraping by. She should soak up what she could learn from these ancient minds, as well as from the teacher and the other students. I think what Mike said is so true. She is hurting herself and really stunting herself as a student, as well as an ethical person.

Sarah Boalt said...

It seems that Meghan's attitude towards ethics is one of discouragement. When it says "As if what people are is all they'll ever be" it shows that she is lazy to try to understand the concept of ethics when people in society are unethical, so she just doesn't care. Being in the ethics class is more than just showing up and taking notes, you need to understand and actively embrace the concept and it seems that she is lazy in doing that because of her preconceived notions.

The poet seems to be frustrated with her attitude. When it says "beating frantically on the walls of Plato's cave when your sleeping face is beautifully composed" is shows how he is trying to make her interested and understand ethics, yet she sits there unchanged by anything he has to say. It also seems that she chooses to remain unaware in the subject because it is easier that way.

I feel as though the poem goes much further than just Meghan because Meghan is not the only one "asleep" in ethics class. I think it shows a lot about how the author feels about how people view ethics. I think he is saying that you have to go further than just taking an ethics class to understand it. You have to actively think about it because the idea of ethics is not completely cut and dry (pardon the cliche). Ethics is not just how society acts, but how you choose to act as well.

George Selby said...

Chanel just said what I had thought of when I first read this poem, that Meghan represents all the people in the world who try to distract themselves when they should be concentrating on improving themselves. I think Meghan represents the worst in all of us, because I believe that everyone is seduced into inaction and laziness on a daily basis. Only those with exceptional work ethics can escape the urge to text message, fall asleep, or just stare blankly in class. Some times we tell ourselves that it’s not up to us whether or not we can stay awake, or stay away from the siren song that is our cellphones, and in this way we are able to separate our incidental laziness from our real problem, which is a “bad work ethic.”
What I mean is I have the same tendencies as Meghan, and I would argue that most of my peers do too. Ethical unawareness runs rampant in our culture, and I think that the “piece of poisoned apple” represents this. We feign our responsibilities and think that it’s enough when in actuality we might as well be asleep. I think another word that could be used to describe Meghan, and all of us that are like her, would be apathetic, because “not caring about anything” is similar to being ethically unaware. To me the line “Suddenly it’s night everywhere and always” means that Meghan isn’t just ignoring ethics class, but everything that is important in her life.
Of course this outrages the poet. The ethics class that the poet is teaching is meant to break the curse of the poisoned apple, but the poison seems to have gotten so deep that her efforts are in vain. This is disheartening for the poet, and it also makes her feel like Meghan might be a symptom of a bigger problem.
The poet has the right to be upset with Meghan. If I were the poet, I would feel personally insulted, and I would make sure to insult the student right back. Maybe with an extra 500 word assignment titled “Why it is Unethical to Sleep in Ethics Class.” I would not wake her up, because it is far more embarrassing for a student to realize that she’s been sleeping through a whole class and everyone noticed. Plus, like Prof. Good says, there is no way to really wake her up. Why she fell asleep in the first place doesn’t really matter. Sure she could be exhausted, or maybe she can’t understand the lesson and just isn’t smart enough to pay attention. We can all have legitimate excuses for our unethical behavior, but that still does not make us ethical.
Even though the poet shouldn’t wake her, she shouldn’t give up on Meghan, because nobody has a better chance to make her ethically aware. We can’t expect students across the country to start taking their work seriously if their teachers give up on them after getting insulted a little bit.

LImpagliazzo said...

I liked this poem. It definitely expressing how professors feel when students are zoning out or down right sleeping in class. I love the allusion to Snow White at the end.

Meghan either doesn't like or doesn't care about the ethics class and the poet sees that. Of course the poet has a right to be upset with Meghan. It is disrespectful and the poet is obviously frustrated. I'm not sure if the poet meant she was actually sleeping or if she just didn't care and was zoning out. Either way she is not learning anything which is the frustrating part to the poet. To Meghan is it just words, they don't mean anything. I think Meghan being in the ethics class is ironic since she isn't doing the ethical thing.

Allison said...

Having “As if what people are is all they’ll ever be” as the first line really preps the reader towards the poets attitude about the subject and also to the rest of the poem. This Meagan, girl is not only rude but unwilling to be faced with opinions other than her own. Her being incoherent gives the perception that she is above the theories and above her classmates. She knows it all so she is excluded from any further discussions on the matter. As she sleeps her classmate’s minds are being shaped into ones of ethical people. As a classmate of Meagan, the poet has strong feelings about her attitude towards ethics. Maybe Meagan doesn’t have her own values, or just doesn’t value the class. No one can wake her not her Professor, or her classmates she must wake herself; to education and to ethical decision making.

The poet has a right to be bothered by Meagan's actions. Everyone else in class is trying to connect with the material, and really grow. The poet is obviously passionate about the philosophical topics and feels that everyone else should agree. For some people it's hard to see beyond words and connect on an emotional level to the lesson. I'm not saying the poet was wrong to be upset with Meagan nor am i agreeing that it was okay for Meagan to sleep. i just see it as, Meagan may not have been able to connect, or appreciate the material. Miss Meagan will find her own ethical voice, in time.

Samantha said...

I really enjoyed this poem and I can absolutely relate with the author. Literally, Meghan has insulted the professor by falling asleep and ignoring the lesson that has been planned out and taught for her benefit. Numerous times in last year's Press in America class you pointed out that as students we have a "job" or social role that we need to carry out in order to be a part of this community at the university. Our job as students is to come to class prepared, pay attention and retain the things that we are taught and then turn around and apply them in the real world. Unless Meghan's job is to test mattresses or sleeping aids, she is not doing her job if she is sleeping. Instead she is being unethical and rude to the other students, her professor and ultimately herself. She may not be physically harming anyone by sleeping in class, but I know that I get extremely annoyed when people are sleeping or on facebook when they are in a class with me. Last week the kid next to me was actually playing his Nintendo DS in the middle of class, I wanted to punch him. I find it distracting and I tend to think that if I am sitting in class trying to pay attention and learn something, then it is not fair that someone else is not taking advantage of the opportunity and should just go home.

Even though I can tell that the author is upset with Meghan, I think he also feels a little bad for her. The lines "so why wake you to see the firelight/beating frantically on the walls of Plato’s cave" is a reference to Plato's "Allegory of the Cave." The allegory or story tells of people who were chained in a cave and only saw shadows moving in firelight. These shadows became their reality, but only once they were freed from their chains could they enter into actual reality did they see that there was more to life than shadows and fire. Meghan is stuck in the cave because she believes that "people are all they'll ever be," unethical, immoral, and she can't do anything about it, so she goes to sleep and chooses to ignore it. Only once she literally and figuratively opens her eyes can she see the reality that is presented in front of her.

I agree that the author should be upset with Meghan because I also would find her sleeping offensive. However, to give her the benefit of the doubt we don't know what the circumstances were that caused her to fall asleep in the middle of class. However, as a metaphor it doesn't matter what Meghan's reasoning for sleeping was, it only matters that she represents the student who is blind to reality and neglects to take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow.

Victoria said...

I believe the poem is explaining many things about ethics. Meghan sleeping in her ethics class perhaps is a display of her own personal ethics. Perhaps she does not believe that ethics are solely based on the beliefs of ancient philosophers, but are formed in our own minds. I believe the poem beginning with "As if what people are is all they'll ever be" explains that the poet is not mad at Meghan for falling asleep in ethics class. He realizes her justification and realizes that just because she has fallen asleep in this "hot basement classroom" that she is not at fault. She is not a bad student or a bad person, and it doesn't even imply that the subject bores her, just that her ethics may not directly comply with those the professor is teaching. Ethics are a code of morals that each person individually chooses to live by, which means that no one persons ethics are exactly the same as any other person's.

On the contrary this poem shows an importance of ethics, which leads the reader to belief why the professor would be angry with Meghan falling asleep during the ethics lesson. Ethics play an important role in everyday life, and it is important to be as educated in them as possible. The concluding line of the poem speaks of the poison apple. I feel that the allusion of the poison apple is not just to the classic story of Snow White but to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The apple is not just a characteristic of he saw her, but the temptation in life to ignore ethics. Many people are close minded to learning about ethics, feeling it is just a personal choice and not something that is to be taught by professors. Yet, as I have already said, there is a deep importance in learning about something that plays such a crucial role in your life.

I think I disagree that Meghan is not an ethical and responsible citizen. Who is to say that your code of ethics is actually formed in a classroom. Who is to say if the professor woke her up that she would have created more valuable ethical beliefs for her life. It is good to be educated in ethics, but it does not necessarily mean you will live your life with a deeper ethical value, or that you will even lead your life any differently then before you took the class at all. Classes about ethics are meant to educate you, not change you. I mean it is wrong to sleep in class, so I guess Meghan is at fault for that, but would it have really made a difference is she was awake?

Howie Good said...

when we're talking about social or professional ethics, i don't think the statement that ethics is "individual" applies. if it did, then each profession would be in a state of ethical chaos. now, ethics aren't often enforced or followed, but that's not the same as saying all ethics is individual.

Is Media Ethics Education DOA?

It sounds like a joke Jay Leno would tell during his opening monologue on The Tonight Show. Hear about the graduate students at the prestigious journalism school? They got caught cheating on an ethics exam. Ha ha ha. Except that’s actually what happened at Columbia University in late 2006.

Students had been given 48 hours to sign onto a Columbia Web site to take the final exam in a required course called “Critical Issues in Journalism.” They then had 90 minutes to answer two essay questions.

The students were warned to not discuss the questions with each other, but apparently they did. As the headline over a story reporting the scandal put it, “Ivy J-Schoolers Fail Ethics, Ace Irony.”

No one admitted cheating despite pressure from the school’s administrators and pleas from classmates, who feared the scandal would damage the market value of their degrees. Meanwhile, the teacher of the course, New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman, refused to comment. But if the disgruntled posts on RateMyProfessors.com are any indication, his students hadn’t exactly been soaking up knowledge. “Maybe he could e-mail his ‘speeches’ to the students instead of making everyone suffer through the most wasted class in j-school. . . ,” one read.

There’s an old cowboy saying that goes, “When your horse dies, get off.” Journalism ethics education is a dead horse. Or else those aren’t vultures circling in the sky.

A Question for Socrates


The question of how ethics is learned, or even if it can be, is as old as Western philosophy. In Plato’s dialog Meno the title character asks, “Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?” Of course, Socrates, being Socrates, resists giving a definite answer. But we can’t. The sad fact is, students had better get an effective ethics education now or they may never.


Last summer I conducted an ethics workshop for some reporters and editors at the Poughkeepsie Journal, a small daily in upstate
New York owned by Gannett Co., Inc. The woman in charge of organizing the workshop had supplied us with several case studies to examine. I remember one dealt with a classic conflict of interest, a copy editor who moonlighted at a local radio station.

But what I remember most is the air of defeat that clung to the staff as we sat on hard plastic chairs in the break room discussing the cases. I could hear in their voices the bitterness and cynicism of employees forced to follow corporate policies they despised. Recently, for example, the paper had started running display ads on the front page and section fronts, a much more grievous ethical lapse, their mumbled asides suggested, than anything the case studies might have to offer.

I don’t want my students to ever wear the gray, defeated expression I saw that day on the faces at the Journal. But given the downward direction in which the media are moving, and fast, how in the world can I prevent it from happening?

Teaching Media Ethics by Telling Stories

A friend of mine who teaches at a big Midwestern university recounts in class the events of her first week as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. She was sent to Duluth to cover Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey on the campaign trail. When they were introduced, Humphrey vigorously shook her hand. “Oh yes, Susan,” he said, “I read your stuff all the time.” He couldn’t have read her stuff, though; she hadn’t written anything yet. “Just a few words,” she explains to her students, “but words that taught this fledging reporter a great lesson about pols and the little lies they tell.”

I usually find occasion during the semester to quote I. F. Stone’s dictum, “Every government is run by liars and thieves, and nothing they say should be believed,” to make the same point. But Susan’s story makes the point better. That’s because it has existential force. Her story vividly captures in a way a secondhand quote can’t the realities of a reporter’s life.

Some might think telling “war stories” is a waste of precious class time. I’ve a colleague who didn’t want to fall into the “trap” of regaling students with stories ad nauseam (“which, let’s face it, is easier than teaching or grading,” he said). So one semester he kept track. When he toted it all up at the end, he was surprised that he’d used less than an hour - out of 45 – talking about his newspaper experiences. And yet, he admitted, it was his stories that students seemed to remember most.

“Stories teach us how to live,” Daniel Taylor said in his essay, “The Ethical Implications of Storytelling.” What he meant was that stories preserve our experience for contemplation and evaluation. Although not all stories carry a heavy message, there’s an entire category of stories, so-called “exemplary tales,” that are told to convey a moral.

Our war stories are potentially just such tales. They can provide evidence, in ethicist John Barton’s words, of “how real human beings live through various crises and trials and remain human.” My colleague who kept tabs on his storytelling has described his stories as cautionary. Most, he said, deal with “screwups I learned from.”

But sometimes the storyteller and the audience can’t agree on what exactly the moral of a story is.

When Susan was a cub reporter on the Tribune, she interviewed the Beatles, who were on their second tour of the States. She got into their hotel room by dressing up as a waitress in an ugly, mustard-colored uniform and accompanying an actual room service waiter upstairs. Ringo took one look at her little plastic name tag – it read “Donna Brown” – and snorted, “What kind of name is that?” The waiter nudged her in the side. “Tell them what you real name is,” he urged. She did, as well as her reason for being there. Rather than throw her out, the Beatles politely answered her questions. They even let her phone for a photographer. The next day her story ran on the front page, with a photo of John sitting at a table and looking up at her and laughing as she poured coffee in his cup. She still has a glossy print of that photo somewhere.

Many of Susan’s students think she’s nuts for not having the photo hanging up in her office. They also think she’s nuts for saying she’d never participate in the same kind of stunt today. To her celebrity-struck students, disguising herself as a hotel waitress to get an interview with the Beatles seems soooo cool. They lose all sight of the fact that it wasn’t a story of vital public interest that demanded undercover methods.

Susan intends one lesson when she talks about her hard day’s night, but her students, living in a paparazzi-saturated culture, draw another. “It may be a lost cause,” she remarked to me.

Or maybe not. Negotiations over what the point of a story is can be part of the point of the story. In the process of negotiating, we test different interpretations, try out different themes. This is helpful. This is educational. Lawrence Kohlberg, the Harvard psychologist famous for his research on the stages of moral development, contended that “the teaching of virtue is the asking of questions. . . not the giving of answers.” Stories don’t necessarily have to yield clear moral rules to be of value. It’s enough sometimes if they just give us something to think about.