How Students Can Ruin a Great Class

Disclaimer: This isn’t a journalistic story. It’s criticism on the classroom environment, so unless you don’t mind reading some of my concerns about a particular academic course, you may not want to read this.

I once had many issues with my Women and Literature course, which focuses on the study of female subordination in all time periods. It’s true that women have endured much from sexist men, myself included, but I chose a long time ago not to hold any resentment for the way women were once treated. There’s no reason to still be upset about the Malleus Maleficarum, the witches treatise which targeted intelligent, free-thinking women in the 15th century.

I used to complain about the course’s one-sided reading assignments, but as I’ve stated before, I love my brilliant professor, and even though I don’t agree with her political views (she told me which 2008 presidential candidate she voted for and said it was time for political change), I respect her greatly and have accepted her curriculum.

The biggest problem is not the arguably liberal slanted required reading list. It’s the actual class of students. Some of my classmates have ruined the classroom atmosphere.

Whenever the professor mentions an old sexist belief of men, students laugh. One particular student laughs every two minutes, and on one occasion, she busted out laughing when the professor stated, “Aristotle said women were equivalent to animals.” Yes, the notion is ridiculous, and some of the BC ideas are laughable now, but it’s inappropriate and inconsiderate to laugh every few minutes just to be obnoxious. The class doesn’t care that one student is appalled by what she hears, and we don’t need her opinion reinforced fifty times in an hour-long class period.

Not only does the motivation behind this laughter bother me, but it’s distracting to have a laugh track in class, and I’m someone who laughs at everything, when it’s appropriate, of course. I have a good sense of humor, but I know when it’s not appropriate to laugh, and I highly doubt these women laugh in all seriousness in class.

Then there’s the moaning and interrupting. This same student constantly interjects when the professor is speaking. Even if the student is excited about class, it’s so disrespectful to cut the teacher off and try to beat her to the punch. We all know you’re well-educated on history and women’s studies, but there’s no need to show off and try to outdo the professor. I can tell the teacher doesn’t think it’s cute anymore.

We studied the bible at the beginning of the semester, and one girl said with a shaking voice, “They have to murder the animals in this passage,” even though the characters did not kill the animals out of malice. They simply had to eat. Everything that men did in the bible seems to be scrutinized by my classmates, and I feel very sorry for the only male in the class. He says nothing, and I’m not shocked. I wouldn’t want to be in a class where everyone constantly bashes my gender.

Today, we read Sojourner Truth’s (née Isabelle Baumfree) Ain’t I a Woman?”, a powerful speech about female and racial equality. She mentions once in her story that she has thirteen children, though this is an irrelevant detail with regards to the speech.

Not to some students.

“Since Sojourner Truth was a slave, were any of her 13 children a product of rape or molestation?” some girl asked, and this had absolutely nothing to do with the content of the text.

Slaves were often raped because of their vulnerability, but this question had nothing to do with the class discussion, and even the professor seemed to hint at this when she explained that none of us can ever know the answer. Another more sensible student finally said that she didn’t think someone as strong as Sojourner Truth would permit rape or sexual violation. If you’ve read the speech, you’ll probably agree.

I spend much of the class period tuning out my classmates’ constant laughter at the sexist ways of males in the past. Sometimes, I wonder why they’re so angry at men. The professor definitely isn’t bitter, but much of the class seems upset about something, and I can see that a few classmates have chips on their shoulders.

At the end of class, one student who usually expresses interest in the material approached the professor and said, “As always, wonderful lecture today. Thank you so much.” It didn’t seem sincere, even though she does love the course. It seemed a little more like sucking up, especially since this girl fell asleep last class period, and even the professor didn’t have an extensive response to such an ingenuous compliment.

I really hope you’ve never had a class that has been destroyed by rowdy, pompous classmates. I thought this was unique to high school, when students act like this because they’re antsy in class, but no one in my course is bored. They’re just trying to put on a show and demonize men while they’re at it.

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6 thoughts on “How Students Can Ruin a Great Class

  1. This is good. I totally sympathize with you when it comes to this. In my INDV class, my teacher gets really annoyed by newspaper reading in class. She pointed at me and said stop reading the paper. I was never even reading the paper. that was kind of rude of her. I asked her explanation afterwards. She said that she was asking another person but pointed right at me.

    In other incidents, many students always shuffle their papers during lecture. She always says “we have four minutes and a lot to learn”. I personally like to hear what she has to say. Most of the time, it is very important. It doesn’t register with me in particular because people around me are very rushy.

    I totally understand how you feel, Laura. Good job on this article

  2. Public humiliation is never appropriate, especially when it’s just accusatory.

    I think it’s rude when students pack up five minutes early. It makes me sympathize with the professor, though I draw the line when professors go over time and fail to realize that students have other classes to rush to.

    Thank you for your understanding, I’m glad at least one person is in accordance.

  3. “Another more sensible student finally said that she didn’t think someone as strong as Sojourner Truth would permit rape or sexual violation. If you’ve read the speech, you’ll probably agree.”

    The thing about rape, though, is you don’t get the opportunity to “permit” it or not. To suggest that a strong woman couldn’t possibly be raped is to call rape survivors weak for “permitting” it to happen to them. People who suggest these things fail to understand how unexpected, confusing, and nebulous a situation sexual assault is for the overwhelming majority of people who experience it. Plenty of strong women have been raped; indeed, in many cases rape is a man’s effort to put an exceedingly “strong” woman in her place.

  4. Alyson, yeah, you’re right. It can happen to anyone, I just thought that maybe this speaker would put up a stronger fight than a more passive woman. More than anything, I was trying to make a point that any rape that went on had nothing to do with what we were talking about, and none of us can really know whether or not Sojourner Truth was molested because she never mentioned anything about it.

  5. I don’t want to belabor the point, but whether or not a woman is sexually assaulted really has nothing to do with whether she’s passive or not, because the situation is not one that really provokes a normal response. People seem to have this kind of Hollywood idea of rape being some guy leaping out of the shadows, and you know he’s going to try and rape you, and you are able to consider whether you want to fight him or not, and then you’re able to be calm and collected enough to successfuly fight him, but the fact is, as I’m sure you know, a majority of sexual assault victims are assaulted by someone they personally know, which makes the situation very confusing. If it’s someone you know and like who is coercing you into doing things you’re not sure you want to do rather than a total stranger physically forcing you to have sex with him, it’s a lot more difficult to remain clear-headed enough to defend yourself, regardless of how assertive you normally are. As I expect is also the case with being mugged or robbed, it’s a very disorienting experience, and I doubt any of us would really be able to react as effectively as we hope to in a situation like that.

    Of course, this isn’t relevant to the Sojourner Truth stuff, and the question about her sexual history wasn’t relevant to the class discussion in the first place, but I think it’s extremely important to stamp out the misconception that rape is something a strong/intelligent/modest/etc. woman would necessarily be able to avoid. Like I said, though, I don’t want to beat a dead horse so I’ll leave it at that.

  6. I get it. I’ve been fortunate to have never been sexually assaulted, so I don’t know how rape plays out. Yes, many women are assaulted by men they’re acquainted with, and that complicates everything. I don’t know how I’d react, and I agree that most of us wouldn’t know how to respond under such circumstances.

    My real point is that the question about Sojourner Truth’s sexual history had nothing to do with the class discussion, and I can go on ranting about this for days.

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