Thursday, August 28, 2014

A "helpful" Big Thirsty

The beginning of the academic year brings with it articles exposing the secrets of college success - don't be a douche, show up the class - you know, the little-known techniques that those with at least marginal intelligence figure out on their own.  Some are written by students themselves, faculty or non-academics.  The articles offer good advice but they are still written for students who see themselves as consumers of education and the center of their professors' lives.  Most gloss over the problems of academia.*

What would you say to incoming freshmen that is true, though not necessarily helpful to them?

This is an exception.


  1. As amaaazing as your HS friends think you are, in college, most people will find you considerably duller, less funny, less attractive, and somewhat of a cretin. (Look it up.) If, when asked about the summer accomplishment you are most proud of, all you can say is "I managed to eat a whole bag of Taquitos without licking my fingers once!" * then maybe you should relinquish your seat and let someone else with a bit more, shall we say, potential, have a go at it?

    *actual quote - I hate my life.

  2. When I was a freshperson, I suddenly went from being the smartest kid in the school to being in the middle, for the first time in my life. I got over it. I realized that smarts, while nice, are not the only part of this game.

    But then, 20-year-olds never listen to 50-year-olds. Perhaps they shouldn't.

  3. Maybe as much for highschoolers (and their parents) visiting campus as for freshpeople, but it still applies: if the tour guide is telling/told you that you won't be taught by adjuncts at the institution you're visiting/attending, that means much of your small-group instruction in the first two years will be by grad students. If you're told the school doesn't rely on grad students for first-year teaching, that means it relies on adjuncts. There really isn't any way to bypass the ill effects of the undervaluing of teaching on your college education, especially toward the beginning (though heading for a community college in a state with strong unions and/or a well-endowed SLAC are probably your best bets. Well-endowed private universities have also been known to pay recent Ph.D.s pretty well to teach intro. classes, but your experience will be very much dependent on whether you end up with a postdoc who wants to be a teacher, or one who has grasped at the job as a chance to finish some publications while looking for a tenure-track job).

    You could interpret the above as indicating that you're screwed, because your/your parents' tuition dollars aren't going to support the sort of attention that would, indeed, be helpful as you adjust to college, or you can decide that life isn't always fair, that most (though not all) of the teachers you encounter will genuinely care about teaching, even if they're too harried and overwhelmed to consistently remember such details as your name, which class you're in, or possibly even (if an adjunct teaching on multiple campuses encounters you out of context) which school you attend. Work with them; do your work; take responsibility for your own education; re-read the syllabus and assignments before asking questions (and frame your questions to show you've done that), and things will work out pretty well. The situation may not be ideal, but a bit of goodwill and understanding on both sides will go a long way.

    That got potentially useful at the end. Sorry. The first paragraph was sorta responsive to the prompt. Do I still get full credit?

  4. You are, according to the rules of our culture, adults. Your brains have not finished developing, some of you have not yet finished puberty, and you have had no experience with the trappings of adulthood. The conjunction of these two facts makes this a perilous time in your life. To survive it, you need to remember the following:

    1. If a person drinks alcohol to the point where they pass out, giving them more alcohol is attempted murder. You should roll them on their side or stomach and have someone stay with them.
    2. Put down the fucking phone or I will break your goddamned thumbs off and shove them up your ass.
    3. Heterosexual men: you do not have the right to a woman's body. Even if she grants you access to it, never forget that you do not have a right to it. If, at any point, she changes her mind, that is her right. Your duty is to stop what you're doing.
    4. Women: Sorry. You should not have to live in a world where you need to keep in the back of your mind, at all times, that the nice young football player may want to hurt you. It's not your responsibility to protect yourself from drunk fratboys. It's not required of you, and if you fail to do it, it doesn't mean that you deserve what may happen. People who speak like that are idiots. But . . . you live in such a world. Be careful. Sorry again.
    5. You should not be able to drive until you are 23.
    6. I am an expert in my field, and -- not to brag -- one of only a few people in the world who study exactly what I study. I am incredibly intelligent and have spent my entire life up to this point training my mind and honing that innate intelligence (well, and watching Netflix and drinking red wine). Sit down, shut up, and stop acting like I'm Mrs. Grundy, your fourth grade teacher. I have written and published half a dozen books! I may, just may, have something interesting to say.
    7. When you cry, I think you are a manipulative and ridiculous person.
    8. I couldn't care less about what grade you get, and when you say "My grades really matter to me" as if that's a laudable sentiment I tend to think less of you. Knowledge and wisdom matter to me. Grades are arbitrary letters. I think my newspaper horoscope is of more value than grades; at least the individual words have meaning.
    9. A ridiculously stupid chunk of my time is spent in dull, dull, dull meetings where people without social skills argue about comma usage and call it "wordsmithing." I have not punched a person in the face since high school, and I think I deserve a medal for that. So when you come to class, please don't act like you're doing me a favor.
    10. I am wearing really, really sexy underwear. You have no idea.