Friday, February 8, 2008

Filler Post

All right, I need to knock that self-indulgent moping down a little further on the blog. So, else can I write about?

Well, my friend/colleague's wife (also a friend, or friend-ish; we're still getting to know each other, but I like her a lot) gave me a lift to the big discount grocery store in nearby mid-sized city this afternoon. I'd been there once before, and it's amazing--I buy preposterous and unlikely (for me) things, like cake mix, because my god the cake mix is FORTY-NINE CENTS! I mean, how could I not. I also purchased a jar of baby corn, like eight pounds of nuts, two big boxes of Texas Toast (an embarrassing addiction), and more other stuff than I could possibly eat in a semester.

As always, though, grocery shopping has put me out of the mood for cooking, so I might just have spaghetti for dinner. With Texas Toast, natch.

What else? OH! Here's a question for the academic blogosphere, particularly those more experienced teachers out there. What do you do when you overhear, during a group activity, a student say something that is patently offensive (although s/he probably doesn't realize it)? I shall give you the scenario.

Student 1: Hey, did you hear what [Friend of Student] said? He hopes that Obama gets elected so he can get capped.

Student 2: Ha ha, yeah, in, like, a drive-by.

I think it's safe to say that I was appalled. But I'm pretty sure that these students didn't see or at least understand the racist implications of their statements, and I couldn't think of how I could possibly broach the subject. I'm pretty sure that they didn't think I'd overheard, for one thing, so it would have been a little weird for me to swoop in there and call them out. (The group was mostly on-topic, so I couldn't legitimately bust them for a moment's deviation.)

This is, of course, offensive for a lot of reasons, racist overtones being just the top of the list. How would you, o teachers more experienced than I, respond to this? Would you respond at all?

But, okay, not going to make this a downer-post--no, it's Friday night, and despite the HORRIFYING stack of grading that's been building up over the last few days, I will not go down that path. No. So here are a couple of good things.
  • My friend/colleague--the one whose wife drove me to the grocery store--just got a great job offer this evening. I'm really happy for him (envy notwithstanding! go altruism!) because he absolutely deserves it, and it'll be a terrific opportunity for both him and his wife. Yay!
  • I'm having a drink with a different friend/colleague later on tonight.
  • I had an odd moment with a student after class this morning that makes me think that some of his/her behaviors that I'd interpreted as aggressive actually might come out of a much more vulnerable place, and that s/he might actually think of do I put this...not as an adversary, but as a positive presence in his/her life. It was startling and strangely touching.
  • I love my survey class. LOVE it. Even though it's out of my field. I'm loving the readings (which I hadn't read in years, and in some case had never read before); the class itself is full of hilarious and lively characters; and its being my last class of the day means that, by the time it rolls around every MWF, I'm punchy and entertaining.
Well, I had a lot more senseless rambling in me than I thought. Now, about that spaghetti....


Dr. Crazy said...

Usually what I do in a situation like what you note is I address it out of context. So, let's say a student says an offensive thing that I overhear. I'll then somehow incorporate, somewhere in the next week or so, an "off-the-cuff" example about something that addresses the issue. Example, let's say a student says something racist in group work on a Friday. And next week you're working on something like.... connotation and denotation. You can bring up the overheard conversation, talk about how connotations are often negative (racist, sexist, etc.), how that relates to their writing, why we have to be very careful about the language we use because it might make us appear to hold beliefs that we don't necessarily hold, etc.

This is a way of addressing what was said without making the students feel like you're holding it against them. Also, though, you're indicating what is appropriate speech, and that you don't tolerate racism. Some might say that this is a weak approach, but I've found it's the one I most often use when I'm caught off guard by something that offends me, mainly because in the moment I am not sure how to handle it and I need to think about how best to address it without alienating students (either those who were offensive or others who watch how I respond).

Another more direct approach would be to use the story as a starting point on the first day you meet with them next week. Something like, "I overheard X in a group, and I wanted to talk about it because I think it's important not to let such things just go by, and also that it connects to Y that I'm trying to get you to think about in this course."

Anyway, good luck! These are always tough calls to make.

(I'll say, if it were a class of mine and I overheard something like that in the context that you describe, I would have probably just said something friendly and yet disapproving right in the moment and started a conversation in the group about it. My demeanor would have shown that I wasn't "mad" at them about it, but I probably would have nipped it in the bud directly. I'm usually more reticent when stuff comes up in the larger class, for whatever reason - maybe because more students are watching me?)

Belle said...

Oh, woman. Is Dr Crazy wondermus or what! What she said. I say/do the same. Double ditto. I also take it into the rest of my classes, which increases the number of students who learn.

heu mihi said...

Really good suggestion, Dr. C--I'll work on exactly such a plan. Thanks for the detailed answer! Really, one of the best things about blogging is that I get to borrow from so many other people's expertise. And Belle, thanks for the add-on; that's a good idea, too.