Friday, April 12, 2013

Move on. Nothing to see here.

Another day, another postcard from a former student saying "Your class changed my life." I taught that class two years ago and so far half of those students have gone on record lauding the class as a life-changing experience.

I mentioned this during my encounter with Admissions yesterday in reference to declining enrollments in humanities courses and majors. I wanted to know how we can get the word out to prospective students that these classes can change their lives.

Short answer: we can't. Prospective students (and the parents who foot the bill) seek a clear path toward secure employment, not a nebulous promise about changed lives. And then what if we promise to change lives and don't deliver? 

The more disturbing answer, though, occurred to me while teaching Richard Russo's Straight Man. The main character's wife, Lily, comes from a working-class background and is the first in her family to go to college, which changes her life so much that she and her father seem to be speaking different languages. Education inserts a wedge between Lily and Angelo, changing her in ways that he finds appalling.

Maybe the "change your life" message won't sell because prospective students are perfectly happy with their lives the way they are, or maybe parents want their children to return from college more employable but otherwise unchanged. Maybe the prospect that my class can change their lives sounds like a threat, one small part of the vast left-wing conspiracy to destroy the youth of America. Ooh, scary.

And so we keep it a secret, a silent time-bomb ticking beneath the desks or a delayed-action drug wafting through the classroom ventilation system. Sometimes the effects aren't apparent for years, which explains the long line of postcards saying "Your class changed my life." 

Shh! Don't tell! We wouldn't want to spoil the conspiracy.  


cbooked4213 said...

I'm a student who likes getting my life changed by classes, can I ask what class it is and what books you read? I confess I'm not an English student, though.

Bev said...

Let's see, that was the California Literature class that studied California authors for the first half of the semester and then went on a spring-break trip to California, where students gave presentations on various authors in places associated with their works. I wrote quite a lot about that at the time (spring 2011); you can find the posts here: