Notes from the classroom: A humanist lost in an engineer's world.
Me: "Okay. So we've just finished watching two documentaries on global climate change. One, An Inconvenient Truth, makes compelling claims that suggest global warming is an impending or ongoing crisis of severe proportions. The other, Global Warming: Hype or Hazard? suggests that, while we may all agree the climate is warming and that we are contributing to that warming, climatologists don't understand enough about the phenomena to support policies like Kyoto, and certainly don't know enough to call this a crisis. What do you all think?"
Student: "Clearly the Al Gore movie is just left-wing propaganda. He's just trying to get elected."
Me: "So, you think he's just making all that stuff up to get elected?"
Student: "Pretty much."
If I have to grade one more paper on how the special effects in Star Wars or The Matrix were groundbreaking, I'm gonna hurl.
Me: "I want to encourage everyone to refrain from using the terms 'mankind' and 'man' in your writing. Terms like 'humankind' and 'human' reflect a more mature and inclusive understanding of history and identity."
Students: General outrage, from the women especially. "I know that when someone writes man, they mean me, too! That's ridiculous! Left-wing propaganda."
That semester, I graded ten final papers which went out of their way to refer to "mankind."
Me: "So! Let's discuss what you all think are the more pressing environmental issues of the day. What matters to you? What is important? How do we figure out what's really going on with these issues, and what our own responsibilities as citizens of the world are?"
Student #1: "I think a lot about water quality, and the availability of all people to get to water. And droughts and stuff."
Student #2: "Overpopulation. What does it mean for our food sources? For natural resources? So many people are having tons of kids."
Student #3, after a long pause: "I'm worried about gun control fanatics. Where I come from [Idaho], there are people trying to tell me I can't carry my rifle in the front seat of my truck. What's up with that?"
What's up with that, indeed.