Back to School All Over Again

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Do you remember ever once saying "I'd be a professional student if I could?"


Two days ago I set foot upon the fifth - count 'em! fifth! - campus of my life wherein I shall be a student, albeit just for a semester, and just for one class. This waking nightmare is the fault of my neurologist. It's his way of testing out whether or not I can keep to even a minimal schedule and focus for a (limited) extended period of time several times a week, without things getting much worse migraine-wise.

He insisted that the course be something quite challenging, and suggested some sort of mathematics. I felt I have had enough mathematics to last me a lifetime (no offense to my dear friend and brilliant math guru Mark @MarkCC). So I picked philosophy: PHL 100, Intro to Philosophy. And what do we commence with? Logic. Logic, which is akin to math. But of course!

I must note here two interesting and somewhat discouraging observations from my brand-new one-day experience as a student. We shall call them (1) What? Where? Help? and (2) All That Feminist Theory in Action.

(1) What? Where? Help?  New Campus is a nearby, very good community college that draws a diverse student population.  Their website is one of the most friendly, welcoming, and easy to navigate of any I have ever seen. Colleges and universities across the land could take many a lesson from New Campus's website.  As I mentioned, this is not my first student rodeo (4 degrees, worked for a university).  And yet...registering for the course did not go smoothly. New Campus has me in their database as a former student with a student i.d. number because four years ago, my neurologist asked me to try the Take a Course experiment.  I tried it at New Campus and had to withdraw within weeks. Returning students need their student i.d. number to register.  But I didn't remember that number. No problem, friendly online registration will look it up for me! by my name and social security number! Oops, I cannot be found in the system. Sorry. So I registered as a new, not a returning, student. No problem, registration app accepted! The online form asked for my email; I gave it. I was to be notified within two business days of my course status.

Days went by...a week...there was a family crisis...I forgot about the registration...then suddenly, hey, this is the first day of the semester! I called New Campus. A friendly staff person told me I had indeed been registered, but then dropped from the course, because I had not paid my tuition. Why had I not received notification of my registration? It had been sent to me, via email - to my New Campus student email account. Which I did not realize I had and could not have accessed if I did, because I did not have my student i.d. number.  Long story short, staff person put me back in the class, took my tuition payment over the phone via credit card, gave me my student i.d. number, and walked me through the web portal, which is all quite easy and obvious if (a) you know it exists, (b) you know you should look there, and (c) you have your student i.d. number.

When you check your course registration online, there is a nifty option to order your textbook from a link right there beside the course! Then you just go pick it up at the bookstore! How handy! As it turns out, ordering your textbook actually means ordering it, as in, they will now ask for it to be fetched from some faraway warehouse. It does not mean, you have purchased a book that is physically lying on a shelf here in the bookstore and we are reserving it for when you come in to pick it up.  Luckily, there were actually textbooks physically in store, and I was able to buy one of those and cancel my order.

Now, I have not been a student in some time, so all this stuff may be old hat to the twelve-year-olds jostling past me on the New Campus pathways. (Students! So young!) But I am really, really feeling for the Adult Learners who do often come to community colleges for a degree or certificate program as part of a career re-boot, or even a career start, in some cases. Nevertheless, I suspect that every student, young and old, can identify a little with the stomach-churning anxiety of looking for your classroom in an unfamiliar building - especially when you have missed the first day of class. The stakes are about as low as they can possibly be for me, and I still felt that anxiety of not knowing my place in this place, being alone in the swarm, and already behind at the start.  It vanished at the desk, after I sat down in what was assuredly the right room, wrote the date at the top of a fresh notebook page, and commenced studenting. But I have a lot of empathy for the twelve-year-olds.

(2) All That Feminist Theory in Action  It is with dampened spirits and a cheerless heart that I report this to you: my class contains A Dude Who Talks All The Time. He is compelled to answer every question the instructor asks, often before it is quite fully out of the poor man's mouth. Many times it is on the tails of comment from another student who managed to get a smidge of words in before Dude's Autopilot SuperJaw opened to spew forth his brilliance. He will mansplain your answer to the professor for you, because the Things Women Say are difficult for instructors to understand unless a sympathetic mansplainer mansplains them into mansplain-speak. What a bracing experience indeed, to be a 50-year-old woman in PHL 100, and watch some twelve-year-old mansplain your words to a twenty-something instructor, whose head immediately swivels towards the translation.

Obviously, I cannot let this continue. The Dude Who Talks All The Time was sitting right smack in the center of the classroom. I think I will be sitting there come next class time. And if the instructor is not going to do more to actively keep him from mansplaining and controlling the discussion, I will have a word with the instructor.  I welcome your suggestions in the comments for fun things I can do in class to deal with TDWTATT.

Near the end of the class, we had a small group break-out to work on the logic structures from the lecture. I was in a group with two twelve-year-olds, one male and one female. I would say they had about an equal grasp of (a) what the instructor was asking us to do in our small group work and (b) the actual concepts he had gone over in the lecture. You, like me, may be dismayed but not surprised to learn that the female, with a deer-in-the-headlights look, kept saying that she wasn't quite sure, and that she felt like she got it for just a minute and then it would slip away. When we finished an item she wanted to review it to make sure she understood it.  Whereas the male, who made little eye contact with either of us, except when I would tell him "no, that's not correct", confidently pronounced "ok this is an X" or "We need to do Y" or "this one is valid AND sound" (it wasn't). And when we finished an item he just wanted to charge on to the next one, even though he didn't exactly know what it was.

So, I may have a little work cut out for me in the small group sessions. Have to tread lightly, but I can't just let the Overconfident Dudes get away with making the Underconfident Wimminz feel worse about things. Especially in light of the dismal state of affairs for women in philosophy. (Have you been following the NYTimes Opinionator Women In Philosophy series? Start here.)  Please do fire away with helpful suggestions in the comments, also please feel free to vent your bile about similar situations you have observed, either as student or instructor.


10 responses so far

  • MarkCC says:

    I could ship you my former "manager trainer", from before I worked in the city where it would be illegal to bring into the office.

    Does a very nice job of pounding clues into thick heads. 🙂

  • Afsaneh says:

    Suz! I do sympathize with you. I felt just that feeling Wednesday night. My first ever college teaching experience, not as a TA. Was walking on Northeastern campus being entirely lost and looking at all the 12 year olds...Teaching a class on management and team skills in Biotechnology. I would say don't forget the purpose of the experiment. You are in class to assess your tolerance for concentration, not to put the 12 year olds in their place.

  • Andrea says:

    A young grad student recently posted this question on Facebook:
    "How did you even get textbooks before" Part of laughed as if it was a joke, most of me worried it was a serious question.

    As to the loud mouth, I've found that a few tough rebuttals can help normalize that type of behavior. Unless of course he is a real asshole, then you and the class are doomed.

  • Asphericity says:

    I'm sorry your instructor doesn't have the guts to say, "Let's hear from someone who hasn't spoken yet today" or, "I want everyone to just think about this question for a minute and not answer it aloud" or even simply to call on someone other than Mr. TDWTATT. Do you think complaining privately would have any effect?

    • Zuska says:

      My guess is that the instructor is oblivious to the fact that TDWTATT is, indeed, talking all the time. Unless they've had some pedagogical training around this issue, all teachers, male & female alike, tend to be unaware that males dominate the classroom conversation and talk over females. The instructor may not "hear" that this one dude is taking up so much air space. Or maybe he's just relieved that some student, any student, is speaking up. We'll see how things go next class time.

  • stickypaws says:

    About 1.5 years ago I attended a relatively high level government office training session for new software. The software company rep leading the training was a *very* competent woman in her early-mid twenties. She really knew the product well and explained it well.

    This did not stop a 30-something HQ gov't guy from interrupting her to re-explain the feature she had just demonstrated. He literally interrupted every sentence that came out of her mouth. Every. Single. One.

    I mentioned this to a woman at HQ at the end of the training, and even went so far as to (gently) use the term "mansplained". She hadn't noticed the problem and my comment was not well received. I did make the same comment in my written review of the session.

    Last I knew, this guy had been promoted to CoS of some office.

    (But, I guess that if it never gets pointed out then there is no chance of it changing. I vote for having a friendly chat with the class instructor. Friendly, 'cause men fear and avoid angry women. Must be friendly, smiling, and unintimidating!)

  • Lu says:

    But... why register? You could've just audited the course.

  • Kea says:

    Oh, just ditch the stupid course. They ain't gonna get it. Ever. (vast) experience as an almost 50 yr old STEM woman (now permanently disabled from decades of abuse) Phil is one of the worst disciplines for mansplaining and chest-puffing. Trust me, I know. Ever since I got that PhD in theoretical physics I have been treated worse than dog shit. Much worse.

  • Rugosa says:

    Hey, that dude was in a couple of math classes I took several years ago! It was truly enjoyable in algebra when one of them tried to correct the female instructor on something, insisting that he always solved the particular type of problem in a certain way. She firmly looked down on him sitting at his desk, and said "Joe, you're wrong. I'm here to tell you that you are doing it wrong." She must have had some experience with mansplainers.