Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Relevance 101

I feel so sorry for my English professor sometimes. He picks out deep, thought-provoking essays for us to read and discuss in class, and makes up good discussion questions to go along with them. Even when I don't agree with him or everyone else, we've had some awesome discussions and even debates on some great topics. I have a handful of really intelligent classmates (almost all guys, incidentally) and most of the time it's me and them tossing ideas/thoughts back and forth. On those days I leave class with my brain on a kind of high--I just love thought-provoking conversation.

But on some topics, things go completely awry. Without fail on these days, one of the, er, less bright members of the class always derails the discussion with completely irrelevant and unhelpful comments. Take today, for instance. We were discussing an essay by Virginia Woolfe, "Shakespeare's Sister," about the oppression of women throughout history. Very good stuff. It could've been a very interesting discussion, too. But no, it was not to be. The professor read this quote out loud:

"Indeed, if woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even greater. But this is woman in fiction. In fact, as Professor Trevelyan points out, she was locked up, beaten, and flung about the room."

Immediately a female student's hand shot up. "I just don't get that! I've told all my boyfriends, if they EVER hit me, they better hope I'm not able to get off the floor!"

Umm, okay. Thanks for completely missing the point of the entire discussion (sexism in history). I'm glad you won't ever be the victim of oppression, Classmate, but Virginia Woolfe was talking about how women in the old days didn't have any choice but to be oppressed. But no, we didn't get to discuss that for more than a few minutes, since the topic went to the birds after that. Especially after that same classmate, after expressing extreme disgust with men who look down on women, turned right around and started talking about how men are so much dumber than women and how her husband hates it when she crushes his ideas. (Poor guy. And that's not sarcasm.) Professor S. tried valiantly to bring some depth back to the topic but it was in vain.

If I could teach a college success course, I would teach one on "Relevance: How to Intelligently Contribute to Class Discussions." Dream on.


  1. Sadly, even in grad school it's not much better, if my mom's stories are any indication. =oÞ