Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Two of my classes

Two of my classes


That's how many people were murdered at VaTech yesterday. I cannot imagine how the VaTech community will even begin to deal with this. I walked into my afternoon class yesterday, and all I could think was, "I could walk into this room and find them all gone and never see them again. Ever."

I've seen a lot on the internet about how some people hoped that others wouldn't use this tragedy to jump on the gun control wagon. It's one of the reasons I didn't post yesterday. But I think that one of the things tragedies do is make us wonder why they happened -- and like it or not, one of the reasons this happened is that guns are readily (and in my opinion, far too readily and easily) available in this country. We have many, many constitutional rights in this country that we have allowed the government to regulate and, in the case of the so-called Patriot Act, almost entirely abrogate. Why, then, is the one right whose entire underlying premise is the possibility of armed violence against others the only one we seem to hold sacred?

There are many other wagons on this train. Mental Health services in this country, especially for those without insurance, are a joke. And our culture is not particularly good at addressing such issues in the first place. There is generally little awareness and training, and even where one knows that someone is suffering unduly from some kind of deep emotional problems, there's often nowhere to send them -- if they'll accept help in the first place, because there's still a stigma involved. It's very weird to me that we live in a culture that thrives on the emo of reality TV and self-revelatory talk-shows/circuses, and yet can't come up with a way of dealing with the actual, real-life stuff.

The last of my wagons is academic culture. Since I've been blogging, there have been so many posts, here and all over the academic blogosphere, on the changing demographic of our students and the changing expectations of academia. The first is more about the wider range of students and often their lack of academic preparation. That may be true, but my experience also points to a lack of preparation in terms of what a college education, especially one in the Liberal Arts, is all about. The work load, the idea that one's primary focus should be on learning, not that outside job that pays the bills, the huge cultural adjustment for some students when they are thrown into an alien world -- these things can all be very stressful, especially in addition to the normal stresses of adjustment to college life. The second, the changing expectations of academia, only makes things worse. If we are seen as providing a service for customers, and if those customers are putting themselves under huge financial obligations to get that service, it's no wonder that they feel resentful when they don't like the quality of service. The problem is, of course, that we offer a service that is different from the one the customer thinks he or she is buying. We offer access to knowledge and the methods for acquiring it. Unfortunately, the customer thinks that the money is paying for a piece of paper that will hold the key to future success. We all know this is just wrong, but we've been very bad at explaining why. I would like to entirely do away with the customer/service model. But if we are going to be stuck with it, perhaps the analogy we should use is that of buying a gym membership or getting a personal trainer. You can throw all the money down that rathole that you like, but unless you actually use the facilities and watch what you eat, you are not going to get the body you want.

I don't know that anything can stop a determined person from committing mass murder. But I'd like to think that we can try to create a society where fewer people think that's the only viable solution.

3 comments:

Dance said...

The analogy I heard was a Mountain Guide. Sure, refuse to follow instructions from the Sherpa taking you up Mt. Everest, since you pay their salary.

Thinking in terms of my entire class wiped out does bring this home to me. And the sadness is that it probably is distributed that unevenly--there will be people who lost several while others knew no one.

PS. Once upon a time I commented here as Dee.

Sceopellen said...

Beautiful post, thank you. I have found recently that one of the people killed was a Fulbrighter, the same organisation that I am a part of. He came from the same town as my cousin, and went to the same school. I am also a university student, and the thought of so many people losing their lives is more than a tragedy.

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