Thursday, December 17, 2009

Learning With My Eyes Closed

Some of you may remember reading my complaints about a certain professor I affectionately nicknamed Dr. Doom in September. If you don't, you doubtless remember me going on and on about how much I hate his class every Tuesday and Thursday except for the week I ran away to Utah. Or you may have been among the few who realized how many different excuses I came up with to not go. It's amazing how often my alarm clock can not work on certain mornings.

If you're none of the above, let me provide a quick recap. Dr. Doom (or more accurately, Dr. Dube) is my professor for a class called Communities and Societies. MRU has decided this is an important class for me to take as a degree student because high schools no longer do their job and don't prepare kids to learn at a university level, so my school has taken the task upon themselves with their new General Education program, where kids get to take high school english, social, and science again. Either that or learn about the 60s, which I know is vitally important to my overall education and helped me dodge the impending disaster of what would have happened if I did not know everything that happened at Woodstock.

In Dr. Doom's class, we read books about people who are supposedly trodden upon in society, and discuss them in class. Or at least, that's the theory. Dr. Doom does most of the talking himself.

My first class I wandered in completely naive, and left thoroughly depressed. I had just sat there for an hour and a half while my professor told the class precisely what he thought of the feminist movement. Many of his opinions led me to day dreams of storming out or simply standing up and throwing my shoe at him. As a girl whose dream in life is to be at stay-at-home mom and has no problem with the term mankind being used to refer to all people, I felt like I was under attack. How could I endure this twice a week for a whole semester? I left that class and desperately looked for a way out, but unless I wanted to drop the class and not replace it, I would be stuck with Dr. Doom until December.

Naturally it did not take me long to dislike Dr. Doom. I disagreed with just about everything he said, and everything he made me read. On my midterm, I was asked to write a letter to my daughter in the future, and tell her in this letter some of the values discussed in the feminist book we were reading. All I wanted to do was write in big block, capital letters, "I WOULD NEVER WANT ME DAUGHTER TO READ THIS BOOK!" Thankfully, I did not risk my GPA over this silly question, but it made me even more sulky.

After what felt like an eternity, we moved on from the feminist book, and started another winner, The Poisonwood Bible. This book actually sounded quite interesting, it's about a Baptist family that moves to the Congo so their father, a reverend, can preach to the locals. This was in the 60s, that decade I took a whole class on.

I started the book with high hopes, but they quickly died. From my own religious perspective, I found the book frustrating because I saw exactly what this chauvinistic, close-minded reverend was doing wrong to drive away the natives and let his family fall apart. I've always liked to read to be entertained, and I did not find The Poisonwood Bible entertaining. As a result, more internal frustration was channelled at Dr. Doom.

By the third and last book, I was ready to give up. This one was called True Notebooks, and was the memoir of a writer who taught a writing class at Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles. Brilliant, I thought. Another story about somebody inspiring under priveleged kids with football, ballroom dance, tiddly winks, etc. When would this class be over?

Right after the annoucement of the third book came, I recieved some more distressing news. Since last spring my family had been planning a trip to Thailand over Christmas, and the flight was booked right in the middle of exams for me and my sister. All semester long we had been praying that our exam schedules would allow us to go on our holiday, and Janine's lined up perfectly, with her last exam the day before we were to leave. My first was that same day, followed by one a week later, and Dr. Doom's
a few hours after my flight was supposed to leave. Needless to say, I was not very happy again.

I approached Dr. Doom with trepidation. His opinions and the fact that he was a huge guy who swore frequently in his lectures made me slightly afraid of him, and I was terrified he would start cussing me out as soon as made my request to take the exam early. What he did was just as startling; he smiled.

After hearing just the first part of my carefully worded request he grinned, said he'd love to help and would check with his head of department right away. Then he preceded to ask me politely about my trip.

I was completely flabbergasted. Was this really the villainous monster I had constructed in my mind? I was surprised I actually liked this man. He arranged to move my exam, and quite suddenly, Dr. Dube was a nicer man. Or maybe it wasn't so sudden, maybe I just stopped being such a snob. Either way, I opened True Notebooks with an open mind.

To say I loved it may be an exaggeration, but I most definitely enjoyed it. I didn't even have to force myself to read it. The author's purpose was not to show how these kids (several of which were being charged with murder) could change their lives by writing poetry, it was to show the social conflict between reaching out to young, violent offenders and dehumanizing them so one doesn't have to feel pity for the lives they'll spend in prison. The writer went in with certain ideas of the kids he teaches, and the book chronicles his journey as he realizes who they really are.

No, the book is not trying to teach us to pity murderers, the author himself loves the boys he teaches but is disappointed and heart broken when he learns more about the crimes that got them where they were. He seeks to humanize them, and show people who they really are. The mission of his class is not to change the kids lives, its to give them some good memories. According to the author, everyone deserves at least a few good memories, even violent, seventeen year old gang members getting life sentences. For once, I was reading a book for the purpose of exploring new ideas, and not just to be entertained. I was surprised how much I liked it.

I felt like this book in someway reflected my outlook at the beginning of the class. I let one moment, one fact really determine how I treated Dr. Dube's class, and didn't really learn to appreciate him, or his class until the end.

So thanks to Dr. Dube. You'll likely never see this page, but thank you for helping me stop learning with my eyes closed.