Monday, May 30, 2016

Then there was that time when Dr. Amelia read the news

Choice tidbit from this article.
theweek.com
Students at Oberlin College are asking the school to put academics on the back burner so they can better turn their attention to activism. More than 1,300 students at ...
"You know, we're paying for a service here"

13 comments:

  1. The linked article at The Week in turn links to one in The New Yorker, which I'm reading now.

    The Big Uneasy
    What’s roiling the liberal-arts campus?
    By Nathan Heller

    I stopped at this passage to report that the article is well worth the read.

    "...he sees a game of retitling courses and bowing to complaints in a transparent attempt to appease the college’s crucial customers: the students."

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    1. The New Yorker article is depressing. I keep wanted to yell "GROW THE F! UP!"

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  2. If you want to make activism a higher priority than classwork, fine, but be willing to deal with the consequences. Accept your bad grades with good grace, or take a reduced course load or a leave of absence. If neither option is available at Oberlin, transfer to a college that allows part-time study. Or drop out and be a full-time activist. Nothing wrong with that--it's completely fine to have other goals besides a college degree. But FFS, you don't get to have your cake and eat it too.

    BTW, my cynicism is showing big time, but what is the typical Oberlin student activist's ratio of actual work to self-congratulation?

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    1. Alice the AdjunctMay 31, 2016 at 5:17 AM

      Your comment is everything!

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  3. It seems like they've learned to be self-involved and self-righteous. When I say "seems," I really mean that; I'm not sure. But these students don't come off too well here. Neither do some of the profs, including the one who discusses social class and then defines them as black people and "the poor." Uh....trenchant analysis, there.

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  4. In one of the last courses that I taught, I had a student protest her grade. She didn't like her grade. You see, I was a big, bad meanypants for awarding her a zero when she missed the deadline for a very short, very easy paper. It was due on the last day of classes. I was forced to grade the paper by the department, but I demanded only to give her 1/2 credit. You see, the appeal committee thought it was just great that she skipped class and didn't hand in the assignment because she chose to attend a protest march that day. I'm still not sure why she couldn't find a way to hand the paper in early or get someone to hand it in for her. I am also not sure how this was fair to all the other students who either handed the assignment in on-time or sucked up the zero they got for skipping it (like she did).


    - Anon y Mouse

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  5. Ugga is right. If you want to learn stuff, go to college. If you want to protest, go do that, or party, play sports, whatever. I tell my students that you don't need to pay tuition to do those things. Learning is a lot easier when you attend college, so try that while you are on campus.

    As for the article, "But I understand the material, and I can give it to you in different ways." Like taking it next semester, when you repeat my class?

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  6. According the the article, the students are demanding "an $8.20-an-hour activism wage." OMG. WTF. LOL. I can't even... (as today's kids would say...). Students have been protesting on college campuses for a long time, but the idea that they should get paid for activism is a completely new one to me.

    Here's an idea: how about if Oberlin allows students to protest for 3 credit hours (and the course can be repeated for additional credits). The course could be called something like "Introduction to Marginalized Identities." Of course, the twist here is that the students would have to pay tuition to take the class and protest. But in exchange for paying tuition, students would be guaranteed of getting at least a "C" in the class, or even better, all students would get a grade of "A" or "B."

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    1. You had me up to the guaranteed passing grade. If they want such a grade, they should be willing to WORK for it. None of that "like my status if you agree that teechurz is unfair" pigshit. That's not working the system from within or without in any meaningful way.

      I want picketing out in the rain and/or cold, because it is not easy. I want cogently argued lists of demands with citations to scholarly works and precedents in case law (or nearest policy equivalents). I want personal growth and tempering of expectations, but also for them to effect real change because they argue their case so well.

      Maybe guarantee an A for getting arrested for engaging in non-violent protest that is non-trivial. No points for getting hauled to the clink for underaged drinking or for sparking up a spliff while bellyaching about just any old stupid thing.

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  7. There's a level on which I'm sympathetic to the students' arguments -- for instance, it seems to me that both "microaggression" and "intersectionality" describe real phenomena, and that coping with the effects of both require real energy, which is then not available for other things.

    But it also seems to me that these students are giving other people and their opinions far too much space in their heads. You can never, however hard you try (and some C20 totalitarian regimes with originally-good intentions tried very hard, to ultimately disastrous effect) control what other people think, about you or anybody/anything else. You also can't completely control what they say, or do (though you can make the consequences severe enough that many people will think twice, or simply remove themselves from the situation if they can). You can, however, decide how to respond to such speech/behavior.

    Of course, the equation is different if you're being denied basic rights, or being threatened with lynching, than if people are simply saying things that you believe to be untrue or that you find hurtful. One tricky thing about the present moment is that many students, especially students of color, feel, with considerable justification, that they are in danger of death (e.g. from police shootings), and that danger stems in part from perceptions and misconceptions about them in the larger culture. And they're not wrong. Heck, I -- a middle-aged white woman who I'm pretty sure most cops would find distinctly non-threatening -- would be much more fearful, and much more careful, during a traffic stop today than I would have been five years ago. And to the extent that ideas about who "belongs" in certain places, or what counts as seriously unruly/disruptive/noncompliant behavior when performed by whom, and what consequences are appropriate, is shaping the lives of students of color (and of those they love), it's pretty easy to see how the situation, and the ideas underlying it, feel life-or-death, and therefore worth fighting about, to them.

    But I'm still not at all sure that their energy is best spent surveilling their professors, their fellow students, and each other for "incorrect" attitudes. Challenging and discussing ideas, and the assumptions that underlie them, strikes me as effort well spent (and a useful thing to do, in and out of class, in the course of a college education). Trying to shut down ideas or their expression entirely strikes me as less productive, and (as I pointed out above) less possible. At some point, there's something to be said for an attitude that says, especially in response to potentially-hurtful or demeaning/discouraging language, "you're just wrong, and I'm going to live my life in such a way that proves that -- but not live my life in order to prove you wrong."

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    1. And yes, choosing activism over schoolwork is just that, a choice, and like all choices it has consequences. The Lane Rebels, after all, left Lane Theological Seminary when trustees tried to end their antislavery activities (and many eventually finished their educations at Oberlin). I strongly suspect that more than a few participants at sit-ins and other civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s faced expulsion or the loss of a good job as the consequence of their activities (if I'm remembering correctly, Rosa Parks and her husband eventually had to move north to find work, and of course some civil rights workers, black and white, were outright murdered -- not a consequence anyone would support, but one those who participated in the struggle knew they faced).

      I'm not sure what is going to stop the disparate rates of cop-on-citizen violence, or incarceration, that young people of color currently face, but I don't think an "activism wage" or any number of safe spaces, or trigger warnings, or get-out-of-homework/paper/final exam/D on your trancript-free cards, are going to do it. More young people of color getting an education (and a degree), and developing the skills they need to describe and combat unjust (and also complex) systems, and going back to their communities not unchanged, but changed in ways that make them stronger and more able to combat injustice, just might. It's not an easy struggle, and their colleges probably do need to learn from them as well as vice versa, but spending too much energy on the small stuff -- and college grades, in the course of a long life, really are small stuff, even for people who need all the credentials, and accompanying credibility, they can gt -- isn't going to solve the larger problem.

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    2. ... going back to their communities not unchanged, but changed in ways that make them stronger and more able to combat injustice ...

      This strikes me as a really important distinction. I want to be sympathetic to the student who says she doesn't want to assimilate into middle-class values, but her desire "to be exactly who I was before I came to Oberlin" strikes me as both unrealistic and totally counter to the purpose of college.

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