Hello from my office as the semester steams toward the end,
I have had a busy week, but I am counting on this finals week being both busy and productive. It has been an emotional rollercoaster, both as our department has processed the loss of a dear pillar and colleague in the department, but also as I watch so many students struggle to manage this thing called college. The first semester is a rude, kick-you-in-the- pants sort of experience where most realize they were ill-prepared for what they will experience between the excitement and fear of beginning the semester and finals week, which is now upon them.
As is often the case, the cold glass of reality splashes them and you receive visits, emails, texts, or some communique asking what they can do to improve their grade. In spite of the fact that I have released grades throughout the semester, and they know where they stand, somehow the shock of “it’s here-the end-of-the-semester” always catches them off guard. Of course, we, on the other side, also find ourselves wondering where the last 15 weeks has gone. I remember the first time I assigned a failing grade to a student. My heart honestly hurt. I actually called my undergraduate advisor and spoke with him because I was so upset. I still take no pride in a student struggling or doing poorly in my class. What is different is I do not take each thing so personally, but I still abhor assigning grades to a person’s work. I realize the value and the problem in evaluation. The problem is simple: instead of seeing it as a reflection of the products turned in during the semester, students see a grade as some reflection of their self-worth. That can be devastatingly damaging to their understanding of who they are. I actually address this in class, but there is so much power given to those 5 letters. We need to work toward something different. The only time a GPA matters is when you are applying for that first job or if you are going to graduate school. After that, no one cares. That is sad, but it is reality. It is sad because we have throughout our educational process somehow made grades the be all, end all. In the last day and a half since I last wrote, I have had no office hours and no finals, but I have had students from my First Year Seminar (FYS) class in my office by the droves. They are overwhelmed and frightened, but they are working to manage all the end of the semester brings. It frustrates me that our public school system seems to fail on so many levels in preparing students for what college will bring or demand of them. This is not to say that all teachers are bad. That is not the case. I think the issue is a systemic one, and more significantly it is tortuous; more problematically, it is almost impenetrable. I could be political here, all the way to the DOE, but choose not to go there. The connection to my title is that students and even school systems seemed stymied by what is above them, and speaking out is not encouraged. To discourage dissent is to bully someone or someone(s).
I have noted at other times in my blog that I was bullied. I am not sure I saw it as bullying at the time, but I was most undoubtedly teased and literally pushed around because I was so small. I was not a fighter; I learned to get along with people as a pre-schooler because I would lose most physical confrontations. I learned that early. Often, until about 2nd grade, my sister was my enforcer, if you will. I also learned that I did (and do) not like pain. I think even to this day, in spite of having a relatively high pain tolerance because of my medical issues, I would never participate in pugilistic endeavors. I refuse to watch MMA things and, in fact, I find them almost nauseating. I did not weigh 100 pounds until late in my junior year of high school and as such I wrestled some and ran track. I was not going to be involved in either football or basketball. I learned that I would have to rely on my brains and not my brawn (or lack thereof) and that became more the case when I decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. I remember the infamous Pugilstick training. My drill instructor told me if I got beat in the ring I would get beat when I got back outside the ring. I learned quickly to be smart and fast. I managed that quite well, but it would teach me something else: to not allow myself to be bullied or pushed around. There was both a blessing and a curse to that realization. I tried to act tougher than I was at times. I would teach me both thoroughly and expeditiously that there was always someone tougher. I remember once stepping in when a male was abusing a female. The female was able to escape the situation, at least for the moment. I got a serious ass-beating. Certainly there were more than a lion’s share of bullies in the Marine Corps. Much of our toxic masculinity is based on the idea of bullying if you will. Many do not want to call it that, but that is what it is. No matter how big, how fast, how bad you are, there is always someone bigger, faster, “badder” and that person wins. The idea that violence is acceptable in every aspect of service life is problematic, but it is irrefutably present. While there have been things implemented to minimize this, as I speak to those still in the service and some have been there for decades, that bravado has not disappeared. I might go as far as to say raising the issue can be seen as undermining the esprit de corps of the service itself. That is some indication of how thoroughly this is engrained. I think it is one of the reasons there is such a culture shock for many when they try to acclimate back to civilian life after being in the service. In the Marines, I was taught to be invincible. I attempted to teach others to be the same. It is that incredible vision of what Jack Nicholson says to Tom Cruise during the court scene in the movie, For a Few Good Men. The entire idea of training someone, of a Code-Red, while managed as a movie issue is not something that is unrealistic. The idea of a blanket party in boot camp, as happened in Full Metal Jacket, is reality. While I am sure there are directives to not do such things, taking things into their own hands, contrary to the argument between Cruise and Nicholson is common practice and I would be hard-pressed to believe it no longer happens. The questioning of this practice can be traced to the work of Raewyn Connell, the Australian scholar, who is internationally recognized for her work in this area. The fluidity of masculinity in a society that is questioning the dichotomous gender binary certainly creates a lot of things for consideration, but most males older than 35 (and that is my arbitrary number) buy into elements of toxic masculinity more subconsciously than they might realize.
What I believe is most problematic is how the idea of the “ol’ boys club” permeates most of what we do from our neighbors and the streets of our cities to the very halls of the United States Capitol. As I write this, articles of impeachment have been laid out against the President. While there are a number of policies the President supports I disagree with, that is not a new thing for me. There were other Presidents with whom I struggled because of their policies, but I still respected them. There are Presidents for whom I voted, but was disappointed in how they managed their presidency, but again I still respected them. My struggle with President Trump is his arrogance and his propensity for calling people names, both of which are below the office to which he has been elected. His use of Twitter is abhorrent. Not that he uses it, though I have some issues about his usage that are more theoretical and rhetorical, but rather the tone and rudeness that is the overarching style of whatever he does. He is a schoolyard bully, one who has bought his way into and bankrupted his way out of so many things. He is beyond reprehensible in the way he treats those who work around him, in the manner he addresses those with whom he might have a disagreement. He has little difference from a two year old throwing a full-out tantrum. He is embarrassing in the way he kisses up to dictators and then disparages our long-important and most supportive allies. I understand this is my personal opinion, but I believe he has damaged foreign policy in a way that it will take a decade or longer to repair his failures, if that is even possible. In addition, I believe he has bullied the Republican party into buying into his pomposity. The disdain he and the Republicans have for the Democrats and vice versa has thrown the entire idea of bi-partisanship and checks and balances into such disarray I am unsure if we will recover as a country. I am sad to say, but I am rather happy to be in my 60s. I should also note that Sen. Mitch McConnell is perhaps even a bigger problem than the over-grown Cheeto, which is what my colleague’s children call President Trump. BTW, that says something else entirely and is also problematic, but emblematic of what has happened to the country. I will never respect someone who has to bully their way into getting what they want. I lose significant respect for those who believe this is a reasonable way to conduct our national affairs. Perhaps it is because it is the Christmas season when we should be a bit more understanding. I am not happy about the prospect of impeaching the President. I am also not supportive of the things he has done to undermine the very fabric of our checks and balances. Impeachment is, however, a constitutional process. What good comes out of it? I think it calls into question his arrogance and self-stated hubris that Article Two of the Constitution gives him absolute power and immunity. I am pretty sure that is not what the founders of the country had in mind. Do I believe he will be convicted? I will be beyond stunned if that happened, but I know that every single person will have to stand up and be accountable for their vote in the Senate. They will have to somehow justify that reaching out to a foreign power with an incredible degree of self-importance that seems to characterize this President is not acceptable. To ask for favors for political access (e.g. an Oval Office visit) or to hold up Congressionally authorized aid is an issue. Is it impeachable? For some, the answer is unquestionably, yes, and those were constitutional scholars. For some, they will support his statement he could go into the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone, and they will support him. Stunning to me; beyond frightening to me; more astounding that it is true. What has happened to us? Where is our civility? Where is our belief in the ethics of government and the support of our United States Constitution? There is so much more I could write, but I think I will stop. Here is the scene from For a Few Good Men that I mentioned earlier.
Thanks for reading and good luck with the end of the semester.