27 April 2010

A Little Repression Is Good--For Whom?

It rained heavily when I left for work this morning.  That didn't delay me, but it seemed to be the reason some of my students were late for class.  However, I get the feeling it's not the only reason.  Some of them just want the semester to end; they seem to have wanted it since about the second or third day of the semester.  Others are fed up with one thing and another, inside and outside the college.   As for others, I'd bet there are plenty of stories to go around.

The first class I taught today was a course that everyone has to take in his or her junior or senior year.  It's devoted to research writing, and, frankly, I wonder how much good it actually does the students.  Certainly, most of the students need all of the help I or any other instructor can provide for their writing.  However, some students wait until their last semester to take it; others take it after taking all of the other required courses that demand significant amounts of writing.  

In a way, I can't really blame them.  After all, some of them get practically no guidance, either inside or outside the college.  Others have learned, by osmosis, to be utterly passive about their education.  They take classes because they're told they have to; they have no idea of how different bodies of knowledge are connected and why it's really a good idea to learn A before trying to understand B.    I can't really fault them for that:  All most of them have ever learned is to do what they're told, as they're told.  And that's exactly what, if anything, they learn at the college.  It's an utterly authoritarian atmosphere:  Some will mutter, to themselves or each other, about the way they're treated. But they have no idea of who to talk to or what to say about their problems. Paradoxically enough, that  is the reason why some of them react as they do when they think they've been graded unfairly:  They'll complain, but not challenge, me or other profs.

Anyway...I was talking with one student about her research paper.   In the course of our discussion, she told me that she works in a day care center and is a single mother, as her mother was.  Also like her mother, she doesn't know for certain who her father is, although, she says, she believes that he is the man who molested her when she was a child.  She says she didn't talk about it until just a year ago, about seven or eight years after it happened.  

My tears ducts filled like water balloons;  I could just barely keep from spilling them over.  I think she noticed.   I think she also noticed that she was probably even closer to tears than I was.  The reason why she was so close to tears is also the reason why she probably knew why I was so close to tears.  

Being in each others' presence may have done us some good; being in that room and that building probably didn't. I was, therefore, tempted to tell her to take her kid and get as far away from her neighborhood, and the college, as soon as she can.  Really, it's just an extension of what she's always known, from the style and layout of the buildings to the police-state atmosphere.   In other words, it's part of what caused her to withhold the story of her molestation:  the expectation of judgment rather than empathy.  Someone would've told her that it happened to her because she didn't do as she was told.

How is anybody supposed to get an education under those conditions?

1 comment:

Velouria said...

I will abstain from commenting on the student's personal story, but regarding the general mood of your students:

The way I view it, is that there is a difference between an education and a degree. Today, a degree is often perceived as a necessity. In order to work as ____ and earn $__ per year, you need such and such a degree/certificate/diploma. An education, however, is still perceived as a luxury. I suspect the students who attend your college are so firmly in the "need degree" category, that taking a genuine interest in the *education* itself is almost culturally unacceptable.

The university where I work is quite different demographically (private, European, students have money), and yet 75%+ of the students in my lectures have the same mentality. Why are they there? Because they need a piece of paper that says they have a degree in X in order to get a job. And to get that piece of paper, they must endure years of these lectures and seminars. These students did not grow up in poverty. In fact, many of their parents are in the business sector - and so they were raised with a certain viewpoint, which in many ways contrasts the type of education my university has to offer. The idea of intrinsic rewards and intellectual enrichment is as new to these students as it is to the disadvantaged, low income students you describe. Just thought it was an interesting juxtaposition.