April 24, 2006

Current mood: sunshine and daisies.

Smiles, laughs, et cetera. Balloons!

You know how it's said that if you know someone who's suicidal, and you see him or her one day looking happy and calm, you should take it as a really bad sign? Don't worry, this is not that kind of post. But it's just occurred to me that if you have a student who's fighting you tooth and nail about an inappropriately personal paper assignment on which you won't budge, and then you see her one day looking perfectly cheerful and innocent, you should take it as a sign that she's going to turn in an excellent paper that's nothing but lies and then go and have a really long talk with your department.

Current music: Alkaline Trio - I Lied My Face Off. In fact, I just started up iTunes expressly so that I could listen to that song expressly so that I could say I was listening to that song. De de dum de dum de de dum.

Posted by dianna at April 24, 2006 02:09 PM

It's a bit late for it, but I'd like to take the opportunity to retract my earlier statement about it being inappropriate for the student to go straight to the dean about the film thing. It now strikes me that anything that prevents your instructor from exercising continued authority over students is for the greater good.

Posted by: Zach S. at April 24, 2006 03:12 PM

I'd tend to agree, with the caveat that the LGBT/gender & women's studies department is a better place to go than the dean. It wouldn't be appropriate to give any potentially hostile administrative arms of the university a reason to attack the department when it's really an intra-department problem with one instructor who's out of line. At least, I assume it's one instructor who's out of the line, and the department would be the place to find out if that's true.

It was probably possible, at some point, to find a rhetorical approach that would convince me that this was a perfectly fine assignment and that there was nothing wrong with my instructor's theory or reasoning in assigning it. But the last response to my attempt to explain the problem contained the statement that (all grammar and punctuation original) "sex gender sexuality are not private(s) issues in this class". That, I think, is a bigger problem than the assignment itself; you can't be having that kind of crusade imposed on people who never consented to be part of it.

Posted by: Dianna at April 24, 2006 03:34 PM

Based on your description of your dealings with him, I feel like the problem is that he's working from a completely different frame of reference. Not only does he feel that sexuality should be a public aspect of one's character, he can't even conceive of anyone believing otherwise in good faith. He not only doesn't agree with your objection, he doesn't understand who anyone could object.

To make an analogy, he's sort of like Christian proselytizers who attempt to convince people of the immorality of their actions by quoting the Bible at them. Even if you politely explain to them that you're not Christian, they come back at you with more Bible quotes. They not only believe in the Bible, they can't conceive of someone not believing in the Bible and not finding scriptures persuasive.

Posted by: Zach S. at April 24, 2006 05:33 PM

I think you're doing this perfectly on two fronts, dude:

1. You're handing in a paper that is nothing but a pack of lies? Good. You're not doing the assignment you don't want to do, but you're doing *an* assignment and are thereby fulfilling the requirements of the course.

2. You're marching over to the department. Good. I think they need to know as much of the full picture about this class as possible, sooner rather than later - and your experience is an important part of that. Your understandable displeasure aside, from the department's point of view, they have a right/obligation to know about this shit so they can make decisions about who to hire again (or not) and how to structure courses.

Good way to play it, I say.

Posted by: katie at April 25, 2006 02:15 PM

My thinking on this is actually changing as of today. My discussion section today clarified the assignment as, at least as understood by my GSI, something totally different than my interpretation of the prompt. As explained today, it's not only a reasonable assignment but a fun and potentially worthwhile one. Specifically, it's not "tell me everything about your bodily experience of your gender and sexuality", but "use some experience of yours which is related to culturally-influenced interpretations of bodies to analyze some of the theories that we've seen in the class about what bodies are, to wit, arbiters of gender truth, reflections of an internal gender truth, collections of superficial cultural signs, totally meaningless, something else entirely, or some combination of the above". My GSI's example involved an exchange he had with a cab driver who was hell-bent on directing him toward cheap beer, easy women, and appropriate gifts to bring home to only the female members of his family.

He also, in a refreshing change from our usual frustratingly vague discussion, stated fairly bluntly that he found the prompt confusing and the deadline severe. I don't actually know if his interpretation of the assignment matches the instructor's, but hey! It's my GSI who'll be grading it. So I'm writing my paper to address my GSI's interpretation, and as such I have no problem doing so without lying.

I'm somewhat ambivalent on the subject of the instructor, who in class on Tuesday suggested that the reason his students are fighting him so much is that they're unnerved because they don't know how to read his gender. I think he's a little out to lunch. He's out to lunch in some really cool ways -- in the breath before the above statement he was arguing for why "because I was bored and I wanted to" is a perfectly valid reason for gender transformation -- but also in other ways that have been undermining his effectiveness as an instructor. It's something about which I think there ought to be feedback, but I'm no longer totally sure in what form or forum.

Posted by: Dianna at April 26, 2006 09:22 PM

Huh. I have a hard time being down on anyone who advocates for gender-transformation-caused-by-boredom. It would be nice, though, if he could write paper prompts that weren't muddled gestalts from which any number of paper topics could emerge.

I would say that probably the appropriate thing to do now would be to just write a strongly worded course evaluation, since those tend to matter for instructors-who-aren't-professors. If you know what the form looks like, you might write out what you plan to say ahead of time, so that you'll be articulate and concise when you write the evaluation in class. And that way you can be sure you get the nuance in that you want, like "thought-provoking and interesting, but really needs to work on instructional technique and student relations," or some such.

Posted by: Zach S. at April 27, 2006 08:27 AM