Monday, September 13, 2010

Last night, Pay It Forward was on television. I own the DVD, and show three scenes of it in foundations class to illustrate Level 4, "the action approach" multiculturalism, but we watched it anyway. It's a tear jerker, but the cast is fabulous and it is a nice, heartfelt movie. It also doesn't assault your eardrums - something that I find to be particularly important as time goes by. Damaged my hearing enough when I was in my 20s, thank you. (So happy I wasn't part of the ear bud generation, they will be hearing impaired long before they hit my age.)

Watching the entire movie reminded me of a student who was in class a few years ago. The student I am remembering was in both of my classes. I appreciate it when students take one class with me and then later take another, but I try to discourage them from taking both of my classes at the same time. Sometimes they go ahead anyway. This is especially true for working students, who have to take night classes, since I teach two.

Without going into too many details, this guy was a bit older than traditional college-aged, and was something of an extremist politically. This was even more true of his beliefs several years ago than it is now - at this point some of the positions are more common. He had stickers all over his notebook and laptop, attesting to his various attitudes and affiliations. He also wrote for the college newspaper, espousing much the same message. But his beliefs were not what made him unusual - it was his aura.

In the two group activities he had to complete with peers, he created a lot of dysfunction. Not because of his viewpoints, it was just his rigid personality, I think. He was generally attentive and respectful, but not very vocal in the class, which is something that surprised me. On the first day I was sure he would have a lot to say, and that class was going to be lively. When he did weigh in, sometimes what he said conflicted with the proclamations of the stickers, and the things he wrote for the college newspaper. The guy was an enigma.

I'd say he was labeling me as the stereotypical stifling of dissent professor who relatiates when grading, so was just trying to spout the company line and spit back what he thought I wanted to hear, but that isn't me at all, and this guy did not strike me as the type to exhibit that sort of brown-nosing behavior.

Anyway, as I was preparing to show the clips from Pay It Forward, I asked whether anyone had seen it. Usually a few students have, since it is occasionally shown on TV, as it was yesterday. But often the majority of students have not seen it before. To students for the past several years, it is an "old" movie. (I think this is something faculty, even those younger than me, forget - when you are 20 years old, a cultural reference from more than 5 years ago is ancient.)

So this fringey guy yells out "It was the worst movie I've ever seen!" He did not raise his hand (out of character) and he did not seem to be joking. But I had a hard time reading him, his demeanor was never what I would characterize as open. I couldn't tell if he was hostile or having fun. He did not elaborate, so I just smiled at him, said lightheartedly, "the worst movie you've ever seen?," and moved on.

Later in the semester, other students confided to me how scandalized they were. Not that I think it is wrong to find a movie too sappy for your liking, but I think the students were upset that someone could be so rude and cynical. They found him strange and scary. Since he didn't elaborate, maybe the saccharine nature isn't what offended him. Maybe he thought the acting sucked. Or the direction and sound track were bad. Or he wanted the ending to be happy. Who knows.

Never can predict what is going to happen in the classroom!

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