Tuesday, April 09, 2013

personal questions

It has been a long time since a student has asked me whether I believe in God (here capitalized because that's what she meant). I'm sure many faculty reject every personal question, and maintain strict boundary lines between their work and their personal lives, their own thoughts, histories, identities -- and also, of course, politics, faith, and sex.

This may be a bias due to teaching in humanities, but I think those faculty are doing it wrong. But that means I have to second-guess myself continuously about whether I'm crossing a line I shouldn't, when I am not sure where the line is, and I'm not fully convinced I believe in the line. Plus, if I don't behave as if there is a clear and obvious line, it's difficult -- maybe I should say embarrassing -- to have to come up with an ad hoc reason for drawing it.

Religious ideas come up in philosophy class. It may be fairly natural, in the minds of many undergraduates, to extend that philosophical discussion into a specific and direct question about my own beliefs. Political ideas come up too. So does identity. And sex. If we pretend they don't, we're disserving one another. If we pretend they aren't hypercharged and exciting, we're fooling ourselves.

Sometimes I want to interrupt class and bring all these questions to the forefront, have at them, deal with them in something like a genuine way, regardless of how obnoxious or terrifying any of my students might find the questions, their own beliefs, the beliefs of others, and regardless of the institutional demand to keep the private private.

I don't know to what extent I hold back because I could lose my job so quickly for having offended or harassed a student. I don't know if tenure would make a difference.

I recognize the danger of this kind of openness or confrontation or whatever-it-is. That's what's so thrilling. Am I in the right business, with the wrong approach? Or the wrong business, with the right approach? Or the right business, with the right approach, with the wrong status? Or the right status, but the wrong business? Or the right wrongness, with the wrong status, in the wrong approach to the right business with the status rightness wrong business approachness? Or yogurt?

(Can't be yogurt. I hate yogurt.)

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