Monday, November 16, 2015

Teachers Have Rights Too

Recently, students at the University of Missouri in Columbia forced the school's president to resign. Several of the football players refused to play until he resigned. One student, Jonathan Butler, went on a hunger strike. Several other students, as well as a professor, Melissa Click, were overly aggressive with a reporter and literally pushed him away, claiming their right to a "safe, private" space.

They were (and still are) protesting because of several racist incidents on campus, including black students being called racial slurs by white students and a swastika made out of feces (though I should think that's more offensive to Jewish students than black students).

Jonathan Butler received a lot of praise from people for going on a hunger strike. It made me think of all the people in the world who are literally starving right now and who don't get to choose to be hungry. I doubt that they would praise Butler for what he did. I certainly don't.

Now students at other universities are protesting, and at Columbia University some undergrads reported feeling intimidated and pressured into protesting. Students at other schools are demanding to be excused from classes so that they can participate in protests. It reminded me of a "movement" at  Oberlin College a while ago. Students who were skipping classes in order to go to protests against police brutality wanted to be exempt from failing grades and demanded nothing less than a C for their final grades, regardless of what they earned. (The school refused.)

All of it makes me angry. I can understand their anger at feeling discriminated against, excluded, and treated unfairly. But I do NOT agree with their actions. On the one hand, NO ONE should call anyone racial slurs or leave swastikas for them to find. But on the other hand, it's gotten to a point where everyone's "offended" by everything these days. For example, once a student accused me of being racist towards minorities because I didn't call on him every time during class. He disregarded the fact that I called on him MOST times he raised his hand, but I wanted to give other students a chance to talk in class.

It makes me feel like professors and university administrators have to tiptoe around students' feelings all the time, because if we don't we'll be forced out of our jobs. Yes, racism is a problem at many schools, but that doesn't mean that students should be able to force people to quit. It doesn't give them a right to prevent reporters from doing their jobs (it's ironic and hypocritical that those Mizzou students demanded the right to free speech but prevented that reporter from exercising HIS right to free speech). It also shouldn't mean that professors have to give them a free pass from doing their work and giving them grades they didn't earn. I have never done that, and I WILL never do that. I'd rather give up my entire career than do it.

Honestly, I don't think that making university presidents or professors resign is going to solve the problem. I think they'd make a much bigger difference by tutoring students at inner city schools, volunteering at soup kitchens, or building affordable housing for the homeless.

Yes, students have the right to speak out against racism and discrimination, and they should. But they don't have the right to tell me how to do my job, or to accuse me of being a racist if I do something they don't like or they disagree with. I have rights too, and I refuse to back down to anyone, just because he or she was "offended." I read more than one article where the authors also disagree with some of these students, because they claim that the students are restricting or prohibiting any free speech that they think is offensive. (I'm sure the ACLU would have a problem with that.)

If I and all the other professors gave in every time, we'd be sending the students the wrong message. Can you imagine what their future bosses will say if they demand promotions they haven't earned or blow off work so they can go "fight for the cause"? I think that if they want to "fight," they have to be prepared to take risks and make sacrifices, not expect everyone else to cater to them.

What about you? Did you ever participate in any protests when you were in college? What do you think of the protesters' belief that they have the right to make school officials quit and that they should be exempt from classes and failing grades?

Side note: By the way, I decided not to change my URL after all; sorry about the confusion! I just figured it would be too complicated to try to change it to a different URL, since then I'd have to contact everyone about it. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Road Rage

I hate driving.

In Chicago, I didn't have to drive. I could take the El or the bus, or I could walk to my destination. Many of the places we needed, like the bank, the grocery store, the dry cleaner, coffee shops, and restaurants, were within walking distance.

In this small town I've moved to, I hardly ever see anyone walking around, except for the students walking around the campus of the school where I teach. It's necessary to own a car here, which is why I will spend the next four or five years making car payments. I wanted to buy a cheaper, used car, but my parents insisted that I buy a new one. Since they were loaning me the money for a down payment, and since I got tired of arguing with them, I did. My mother demanded that I get the color and make that she wanted, even though technically it is my car.

One bonus is that since this is a small town, I can usually get through two weeks of driving on one tank of gas. I must admit that it is nice to only have to make one trip to the grocery store, rather than two or three trips like in Chicago, where I could only buy as much as I could carry in my reusable bags or small shopping cart.

I'm also saving up for a summer road trip to some place I haven't been to before, even though my parents say that they want to come along to "chaperone" (did I mention I'm thirty-four years old?). But there is NO way they're coming with me. I'm looking forward to a trip where it's just me, my car, and the open road in front of me.

But in this town, I often get stuck behind drivers who apparently drive by the following mottos: "I'm going to drive this ol' pickup truck as slowly as possible so that everyone can admire my fine, giant Confederate flag" or "If I cut off as many people as possible, I WIN!" or "I'm sure no one will mind if I delay traffic so that I can stop and spit out my window."

In my apartment complex, all the tenants are assigned parking spaces, though the assignments are completely disregarded by the majority of my neighbors, who apparently park by the following mottos: "Some people color outside of the lines. I park outside of the lines," and "Who cares if this space isn't mine? First come, first served, sucker!" It's easy for my loser neighbors to steal my spot, since most of them don't seem to work for a living and are home more often than I am.

I never let them get away with it, though. I've told them repeatedly to get their cars out of my parking space. I resist the urge to key the words "I HATE YOU" into the fancy cars that their parents bought for them.

Public transportation in Chicago is not cheap, but it's still a lot cheaper than owning a car. I have to make monthly car payments, as well as pay for gas, car maintenance, insurance, and cleaning. Due to all of those expenses, I haven't had a haircut in more than three months; my shoes have holes in them, and I'm down to one pair of jeans and two pairs of dress pants.

When I walked around Chicago, I burned more calories in one day than I do in a week's worth of walking around Small Town. When I was walking or riding the bus or train, I could usually take the time to observe the people around me, enjoy the music I was listening to on my iPod, and appreciate other sights, like the view of the Chicago River from one of the downtown bridges, the street performers, and the high-rise buildings that reflected the sunlight. When I'm driving, I'm usually focused on getting from Point A to Point B without getting into an accident.

I think the biggest reason I hate driving is because it reinforces the fact that my life is here now (at least for the next year or two), and that I might never live in Chicago again. I know this move was necessary, especially because I need this job. But sometimes, when I'm telling my loser neighbors for the eighth time to get their car out of my space or I'm trying not to flip off the driver who just cut me off, I wish that I was on a crowded El full of chattering tourists, rowdy Cubs fans, and random people shrieking about politics/religion/the upcoming alien invasion.

What about you? How do you feel about driving or commuting in general? Have you ever taken a road trip?