kurt's nightmare

Generally, I post once a week. Topics are randomly selected and depend mostly upon whether it's baseball season or not. Other topics will include sex, politics, old girlfriends, music, and whatever else pops into my little brain. If you'd like to read, or ignore, my blog about China: http://meidabizi.blogspot.com/

Location: Dayton, OH, Heard & McDonald Islands

I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. I represent no one but myself, and barely do that. I'm here mostly by accident.

Monday, October 03, 2005

While I'm considering former students, I thought I'd share one particular story. I had a student in my Introduction to Philosophy class a few years ago--very sharp, very imaginative, very judgmental, and very combative. We can call her Ms. Cokesbury. If I said x, she'd say not x; if I said up, she'd say down. I was never too sure about this woman, and as far as I can tell, she was never too sure about me. Of course, the latter is expected and desirable; no fun being predictable. I tried to get her to take my logic class, and see if she could construct a rule for her inferential pattern; given "p," "~p" follows. Not exactly truth-preserving in a bivalent universe, but an interesting approach nonetheless.

Every now and then teachers meet students who seem mature and interesting to talk with, and whose careers we follow, or about whom we guess; if we find out later what they ended up doing, our guesses are frequently quite wrong. This is especially so in my case; I've had students who I just knew would end up working in a huge law firm, making lots of dough ripping off the righteous; I then find up they are working in the inner-city for peanuts, teaching English or math in schools that are badly funded and, generally, up against it.

So what will Ms. Cokesbury end up doing? I can't even guess in this case. She has suggested a variety of interesting opinions to me--opinions worth arguing about--such as a potential racist submotif in the term "film noir"; she also insists when talking with me that we only discuss things on the basis of "former student-former teacher." I'm pretty sure she's wrong about film noir, although I'm tempted to consider any movie with Reece Witherspoon in it film blanc. So the quandry: she is fun to talk with, but seems suspicious and only willing to talk in these bizarre two line e-mail exchanges.

The more general issue, which is why I'm even thinking aloud about this stuff, is the whole student-teacher relationship. There is, of course, a given distance between the two groups, and generally that is probably a good thing; how many of your friends would really sit and listen as you bloviate about the mind-body problem, or show how a sentence is a theorem if it can be derived from the empty set? On the other hand, at what point is it appropriate to cross that line separating instructor from student? At graduation?

Anecdotally, I tend to agree with Ms. Cokesbury's hesitation. I knew a teacher at a former school who had to hold office hours in the cafeteria, due to repeated complaints (and possibly formal charges) for sexual harrassment. He was, to be precise, a complete sleazebag; had I been in position to do so, I would have fired his ass on the spot. On the other hand, I used to hang out at the same time with three older female students--it didn't really hurt that they were loaded--and after class we would often go out to eat, or drink; I was in their houses, they once paid my rent, and we were all pretty good friends. Had one of them issued a formal complaint against me--say if I'd given them a bad grade--I would probably have been in some trouble, and the kind of trouble that may well have prevented me from pursuing an academic career.

Perhaps the solution would be to have no interaction of any kind with any student? That seems to impoverish the whole idea of what can be gained from listening to students, and talking with students (and even what they also can gain from such conversations); indeed, one of my professors in college was--is--a brilliant man, who introduced me to all sorts of interesting things about Africa, art, and the general joys of intellectual curiosity. He was also gay, and out, and introduced me to what all that meant, at a time when I was remarkably naïve about such issues. I learned quickly when his partner died of AIDS what was involved, both in the politics of such a situation and the pain involved in being the "other" and, in an important sense, not accepted as a full member of one's community. (Fortunately, he didn't give much of a fuck about any of that, and he was so good at what he did, and was so smart, he could get away with that attitude. Some of us aren't that gifted.) Yet had I followed Ms. Cokesbury's approach, I would have never been exposed to all that my friend showed me; while I was his student--and in awe of him--we ended up good friends, and he even came all the way from Texas to Chicago to go to my wedding.

Perhaps the lesson is that life presents certain challenges--wow, what a bold statement!--and the easiest and most clear-cut solution provides a seductive response that fails to solve anything, yet all other solutions are messy and complicated. Perhaps, also, we often grasp the easy solution, simply because it clears up any potential problems, but by doing so we miss out on what makes life the interesting set of complexities it is. A trade-off; but what is the right way to resolve the choice here?

This entry is more stream of consciousness than most. I should get back to something I know about, like baseball. Quickly (more later in the week):

Cards over Padres (in 4)
Astros over Braves (in 4)

White Sox over Red Sox (in 5)
Angels over Yankees (in 4)


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Blogger kmosser said...

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Just a guess, of course.

11:16 AM  
Blogger JRaunick said...

Well, I had an entire page to add to the blog but some ass at work came along and got on my computer when I left the monitor room and poof it was gone. Probably an intern or resident trying to find a patient that isn't even on that floor. So now that it is another day and I am in a foul mood after working two 12 hour shifts which somehow seem worse than the 3 12's I usually work Fri, Sat, and Sun I am going to retype my thoughts on the former student/former instructor issue. Maybe I've forgotten what I was going to say. Something about how the only issue in continuing a relationship between the two is if it is an opposite sex relationship. Boy/Girl thing. We all know there are no issues when the former student is the same sex as the former instructor. The problem is that people have their own issues with what the original intent is in pursuing a relationship, our own and the other's. The word 'networking' is what we say when we are maintaining contact with a person who would eventually be a mentor, a letter of recommendationer, a person who helps us in the 'real world'. When two men or two women relate on a personal and professional basis and help one another it is 'OK'. Let a man and a woman relate for these purposes and suddenly 'something's going on'. It's all bullcockey. This stems from the fact that men and women alike could all be called 'harassers' if we could read the minds of other people. Really, women think about men the same way men think about women, and just as often. Women do not admit it because we are taught not to be honest about sexuality. Not out loud and not in the presence of other people. Not really even to ourselves. It is just something unleashed at 'proper' times, like when you are in the dark and married. Men on the other hand are encouraged to be the opposite. So, if a former student who is the opposite sex has an issue with maintaining only the former student/former instructor relationship then I suppose he or she does not want their own secret desires to be found out. We all know what we're doing. Although, we can be confused and question our motives. And MAYBE we are concerned about our position or that of the other person involved. And MAYBE we have experienced something like the story you told of the sleaze bag instructor holding office hours in the lunch room. But beware the lunch room is not a safe place because I myself have 'been there'. So my thoughts are that there is not a problem in maintaining or having contact with former students, male or female. And no contact as you asked is absurdity. I think the meaning of society entails interaction of all kind between all people. I work in a very fast paced cardiac unit with atleast 40 interns, God knows how many residents, the attending doctors, transporters, upper management, nurses, phlebots, environmental, nurse students, blah blah, all of us. We have a thousand personalities interacting all day, and some of them can change in a NY minute. I've been told that I'm 'flirting' and so what, does that mean I'm a bad person? No. Because, well the person who says that to me is the first to quickly disappear down the hall when they realize they've said this in ear shot of the person I am 'flirting' with. Not me, not 'the one' I'm flirting with. We are just laughing. Am I anymore friendly with the men than I am with the women? No. I laugh at all of them because they get so flustered and if they don't laugh they will explode. And I have enough crap to keep organized and under control than a bunch of pissed off people who throw charts when they are missing something, or can not find a computer or a chair or a script pad. So I laugh and I joke and I try to enjoy my job and people tend to respond to me differently when I smile as opposed to when I am complaining. We all learn from one another about many things. We talk about things outside of work. We go to lunch together. Atleast I do at times, and yes I catch crap if it is a he and he is married or if not, but quess what? I've not a guiltly action to be worried about. A thought, possibly, but not an action. And my thoughts are my own and I know that they are not wrong or unusual, just evolution and hormones. So, if anyone is frightened of maintaining a relationship maybe we could enlighten ourselves and remember that we have the will to choose action. If our actions are not stepping over anyone's fences then why shouldn't we rely on one another for answers, suggestions, recommendations, companionship, insider secrets (and not the illegal ones)....and life is so complicated as it is....do we really have to play those 8th grade boy/girl games? We've been in the frying pan together for how many thousands of years now? Could we all just simmer and try to keep from burning bridges that we might need to cross over one day?

1:30 PM  
Blogger kmosser said...

Interesting remarks, jraunick. And a lot of them. I wonder if the good Ms. Cokesbury will read them, and, if so, what she thinks?

12:47 PM  
Blogger JRaunick said...

Sorry, I monopolized your blog. Maybe I need my own. And I was thinking Ms. Cokesbury sounds a little like one of my children. If he says blue and I say 'Yes, blue', he says 'No it is not blue'!! If I say 'Let's go.' He says, 'I don't want to go!' just after putting on his shoes, standing at the door. A battle of words and blasted underware, shorts, shirts, shoes, anything! I've no battles to choose, looks like Ms. Cokesbury will not offer any either. Or perhaps she is not listening, again not unlike my children!

11:07 PM  
Blogger kmosser said...

Ms. Cokesbury is a very interesting woman; she knows this is up, but chooses to respond personally via e-mail, which is too bad.

You'd like her. Assuming you like your children, then I guess she's like them in that respect, as well.

10:14 AM  
Blogger JRaunick said...

Of course I'd like her. I love my children. I like my children. And I love them because they are different than I am. Even at 6 and just 3 they are amazing little creatures that I carried in my body and pushed out into the world with the most pain I've ever physically felt. They are each unique and have gigantic thoughts of their own. So many, so complex for their years. And Ms. Cokesbury must be interesting if she receives that description from Kurt Mosser. So even as she chooses her own method of discussion, privately, she is standing her ground, like a child, like we all should, like the mighty willow. Our children are as different from us as night is day. And our children are as much like we are, as we are to ourselves in front a mirror. And I can see how perplexing it is to you that she does not move beyond the one line emails and that you say black and she says white. You, I recall, were very much the same when I knew you. Controversy. Debates. Questioning. Socratic Method. Prove your logic. She is winning. And she avoided the Symbolic Logic Class. Congratulations to her. Talking around her, about her is not even tempting her to lose grip on the method to her thinking, which you wanted her to put a formula or if, then to. Maybe she'll be known someday as the ubiquitous (I'm nooooot going to get the dictionary even if you still carry yours in your pocket)...ubiquitous Ms. Cokesbury not unlike the Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove. What was it? Film Noir? And you said I was famous.

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