I had occasion to write recently something that brought to mind for me some of the better days of my teaching, back when I had hope that I would have a secure teaching job and still had reason to think that I did a good job of it. It reminded me of a couple of things, actually, and I might write about the other one later–but the thing that came to mind first was the idea of students–of people, really–saying that they “don’t care.”
Now, the simple fact of making such a remark carries some certainty of care; it is an expenditure of time and effort to make such a statement, and expending them is not something done without some regard for the thing on which they are expended. The performance is itself an indication of caring; it is an instantiation of it, however small a thing it is. And it is a statement that tends to prove false quickly after being challenged, as I suspected and found when I was teaching at a technical school in Midtown Manhattan, back when I did such things in such places.
One session among the several I taught–and I did a lot of teaching, covering six or more sections of two or three courses in each of three fifteen-week terms at the institution, for which I was well compensated thanks to a strong and heavily integrated union–I fell back on an idea I had had the good fortune to learn early on in graduate school. Namely, I aligned my writing exercises–yes, following the not-too-apt generic model of composition classes because of institutional policies (because I did rather appreciate my paychecks) with problems I have spoken to, and others besides–along a single theme. One session, it was music; another, citizenship (I did try to be socially aware and engaged).
The first session I did it, though, I did it with food. I figured that all of my students ate, so they would all have material with which to work–and it was New York in which I was teaching, so there was no shortage of food to get and comment about. Given my own love of eating, and my then-budding enjoyment of cooking–my family uses it as bonding, among other things; cooking together helps us be together–I had some passion for the subject, and I figured that my students would have something similar.
Of course, there was the one student that is in every course at every school, it seems: the contrarian. And the one that session told me that he didn’t care what he ate; for him, he said, food was fuel and nothing else, not to be enjoyed or savored, but to be consumed and forgotten. (I am paraphrasing, of course; it’s been ten years or so, after all.) But I was still quick on the uptake then, as I am not so much anymore, and ready to reply with a riposte to a thrust of wit I was confident I could turn aside.
I asked the student if, since he did not care what he ate, why he spent money on food instead of fishing restaurants’ leavings out of dumpsters, where they could be gotten for free. After all, if it was not to be enjoyed or savored, but only to be consumed and forgotten, and the food still sound, why not? Or even if it was not quite sound, because, hey, he didn’t care, right?
He didn’t have an answer for me then. He did, however, have a paper for me when it was due, and I don’t recall that it was a bad one.
Did I bring you as much pleasure as a slice of pizza? Could you kick in the cost of one for me so that I can keep doing this? Click here, then, and thanks!