Dec 6, 2004

High, Higher, Highest Education

"Are there any good museums in New York?" You would say that's a good question coming from a five-year-old. When you hear it was from an eighteen-year-old, then you would say, "Kids are so ignorant these days." Then when you hear it came from an art student, you . . . don't know what to say. (I work at an art college.) No, she wasn't being ironic. Trust me.

I know. I know. It's incredible. In the past, with fellow graduate students and then other faculty, I have made many a joke about student gaffes, errors, and bizarre (to us) gaps in knowledge. My first year as a teaching assistant at Temple I made a list of amusingly (to me, at the time) error-ridden sentences. No doubt I could have sold the list to Reader's Digest for an easy hundred bucks.

No more. Not that I don't still laugh--I photocopied a whole essay the other week for John to see--it's just that I could make one of those lists every month. Which would be very weird, verging on cruel. Now that I work in academic support and am not teaching in the classroom, the thing is this: I know the backstory.

This young woman of the art museum question, I'll call her Sarah, was on the upswing from a depressive episode at the time, voluble, chatty, and ready for anything, this after holing up at home for a few days, AWOL from classes and ashamed of her absence. Given the circumstances, I was heartened by her question, because it showed that she was looking forward to the next day's class trip to New York, ready to welcome the chaos and beauty of the world.

A few weeks ago, a student told me what she thought about the other women on her floor in the dorm: "They're all cretins." This from a girl with spikes sticking out of her nostrils? Ha ha ha. But I know more about this girl, whom I'll call Annie. Annie has two brothers, one dead and one disabled. She is not on speaking terms with her mother. And her father can't afford the $2700 to get her tested for the learning differences that she most surely has. If she could get her ADD documented, then our college is legally required to give her extensions on assignments.

So . . . Annie stays up all night working up to 14 hours on projects that "should" take only three hours. Well, I'd be bitchy too, wouldn't you?

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