- people everywhere, women especially, actually have their lives improved when they are more educated--more economic power, more familial power, etc.
- the signifier of the college degree still matters--it confers cultural capital, gets people in the door for their first jobs, gets them pay raises, etc.
- a place in the capitalist world that isn't, at least not for the very moment, about making money, that is about creating what might be called a "life of the mind," is valuable.
- education changes--can change--how you look at things, analyze problems, act in the world, for the better. Can change.
And yet . . . as the historian and I tried to engage with students on the basis of three texts we were all supposed to have prepared to discuss--the Preface to the original edition of Our Bodies, Our Selves, a piece from Susan Brownmiller's "The Enemy Within," and a piece by Frances M. Beal, “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female”--the miasma of uselessness set in. It's so easy to believe that no one gives a rat's ass about any of it when the students appear to be waiting you out, waiting for the time to be up. To be fair: they're preparing writing portfolios, they're writing a midterm essay, they work, they have lives, they have other classes . . . and yet the life of the mind seemed like a happy happy dream in that classroom yesterday. Although, and again to be fair, they had spent a noisy and productive half hour prior to that conversation developing the ideas for their collaborative proposals.
A possibly soul-sapping non-discussion like that can make you extrapolate that sense of uselessness to all your other academic endeavors. That piece you're writing with a colleague that you'd like to transform into a webtext and submit to KAIROS? Why bother? Who will read it anyway, and what will it matter? The ways you know you'd like to improve your online courses? Are those students even bothering to click on the links? Who can tell? The policy committees (note the plural! how did this happen? HOW?) you're on, the labor you've expended in writing stuff like that, policies and procedures that are just going to turn into more bureaucratic practices that everyone's going to hate--why did you choose to spend your precious breath on that?
In class yesterday, I asked why the women's movements in America all included a substantial amount of advocacy for women's health issues. One student, a cosmetology student, raised her hand and said, "Because taking care of your health makes you feel more confident." She seemed a little sheepish, but she had in fact read, and had, in fact, understood a major point that the Boston Women's Health Collective made:
For us, body education is core education. Our bodies are the physical bases from which we move out into the world; ignorance, uncertainty — even, at worst, shame — about our physical selves create in us an alienation from ourselves that keeps us from being the whole people that we could be. . . . Learning to understand, accept, and be responsible for our physical selves, we are freed of some of these preoccupations and can start to use our untapped energies. Our image of ourselves is on a firmer base, we can be better friends and better lovers, better people, more self-confident, more autonomous, stronger and more whole.
It's what I'm holding onto today--that students don't always reveal what they're thinking or learning, that talking or trying to talk about whatever--how writing works in the world, what Our Bodies, Our Selves meant to me when I was a young woman, what is the radical potential of texts--might actually mean something to someone. Might make a difference. How I do my job might possibly make a difference to someone.