January 15, 2009

I Was A Horrible Teenage Skeptic

Edit: I should mention, lest anyone think I've finally lost my mind, my wonderings here are based on MY particular class. There are, obviously, more African American History classes than the one I'm in, at different times, so goodness knows what their racial make up is.

And, you know, I'm just wildly speculating...I swear I'm so much more firmly grounded than I appear sometimes. Carry on!

I had a fulfilling first day of classes. The brisk, 15 F air in my face, freezing my early morning oh-my-god-I'm-so-sleepy tears, the snow, the sunlight, the two classes I had...remembering those two classes...forgetting those two classes...

Anyway, I usually don't go on about my edumacations because unless something bad has happened and I have to yell at someone, my day is pretty boring. Today was the first day of class so there wasn't much more than syllabus handing and walking awaying.

So...if you accept my criteria above, something bad must have happened and I had to yell at someone. Well, I didn't yell and I wouldn't call this bad.

I don't think I mentioned it here, but thanks to a complete scheduling snafu, I'm taking African American History Since 1877. According to my major (English for those keeping score), technically I'm actually not even supposed to be in this class. But...uh, yeah, that's how it worked out, so it goes towards my hours but may not go towards my major. No there isn't anything I can do about it now *sigh* But fuck 'em I say! I'm payin for this shit! *coughs*

Anyway, back to my class. It's an 8:15 class so I go in, the room is dark, there's one white guy looking as miserable as I feel. I sit down, look at the book and get my stuff ready. People start pouring in and sitting down, and not long after the teacher comes in--a very nice, funny woman with an accent I'm dying to place--and speaks to the class. The lights come on and I take a brief look around the class.

To my...surprise, I'm...the only black student in the class. If I could the teacher there's two black folk. In an African American History class. I felt a mixture of dread & fear, hope and cynicism; I was also slightly impressed.

First of, before I go into ideals, let me give you what I think are the real reasons:

1) There are just more white students at ETSU. We've been over this
2) It was 15 fucking degrees outside. If I had bothered to check the weather before leaving I would have seriously thought about coming. What I'm saying is we may have been missing some folks
3) It's an oral & writing intensive class, and all students attending ETSU need at least 2 of these, one in their major

I think it's probably a combination of 1 & 3, the 2nd reason being an afterthought. And that's alright, really, plenty of students wander into strange classes to fulfill some requirements. God knows I did (I'm looking at you American Lit II). Also, god forbid the students be interested in the class right? I can't give anyone anything.

So, now that's out of the way, it's time for some speculating! It's also interesting, because it wasn't just white students I saw, it was a great deal of white males, a couple of them being what we call "non traditional" students, which is the nice way of saying students 30 & up.

As I mentioned, when I glanced around my class this morning I felt a strange mixture of dread, fear, impressed, hope, and cynicism.

Dread, because goddamnit yet again I'm the only minority in a room full of white folks. And it's a class pertaining to black people, I think being on the internet so much has gotten to me because I was already bracing myself for bouts of ignorance. Fear because I felt like if I had to take a stand against something, I would pretty much be alone. Who in that room, other than the teacher, could relate to the struggle of my ancestors? I mean truly relate?

Impressed because so many people turned out for an 8:15 class. This is bound to change. But also because all these students willingly--so I hope--selected this class. Hope because if that's so, obviously they actually want to LEARN, because a $10,000 a year college is not the place to troll as it were. If you're taking an oral/writing intensive class you'd damn well better be interested in that class or else you're going to FAIL and fail hard.

And then...cynicism, because as I looked at a few nodding heads, blank stares and sweater-over-face-you-can't-see-me-mwahaha sleepers, I wondered just how many of them were here just to fulfill requirements and nothing more. Like I said, if you take one of these oral/writing intensive classes you'd better be prepared to LOVE the damn subject matter, but that's really only in theory; it doesn't always happen that way...that's how people fail, and that's how I know. I seen it!

I settled after a while as the teacher began lecturing (well, going over the syllabus) and I felt more and more at ease. Unfortunately, without much to do in front of me my brain tuned into its latent Skeptic Mode and I began wondering, other than the totally obvious, why so many white students would be bothered with a black history class.

Out of interest? Sure. I know I took Cultural Anthropology because it was the most interesting looking thing I could take, according to my major's requirements. Learning? Of course. God forbid people actually want to learn about the history of blacks in America. In fact, if that's not THE reason I don't want to hear another one.

Guilt? Hmmm. What do I mean by "guilt"? You may or may not remember the black face incident on campus I talked about a while ago. I mentioned a few times the fact that none of the people seemed to understand what blackface is or why it's offensive. Perhaps these are the 20 or so people on campus that actually have a clue, or perhaps they want to know why. And we certainly will teach them *side eye* perhaps through learning this is a good way to ease the racial tensions on campus...just because there's a small minority population doesn't mean you can just ignore them.

As for why there's more men in the course than women, I really don't have anything for that other than there's being more men at the college (it seems to be about 50/50 but a lot of them are in nursing and other medical fields. Oh well).

So in the end, whatever realistic or idealistic reasons these folk may have for taking the class, in the end it doesn't matter. I just support the desire to learn and grow, and step outside your narrow little view point. Also, I fully support the effort to get them hours and make them grades.

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