Sunday, June 26, 2011

Default Views

As you know, I spent a good portion of last week helping Alan Murray edit and comment on a series of assignments he gave to his students at his session of the Columbia Scholastic Press Association's summer workshops. He had about 14 students (some filtered in and out of the group, so I lost count) from various places throughout the east and midwest.

Interesting group. Young, bright, eager, and any other cliched adjective one might wish to applyto the rising (there's that word again) generation.

What I thought most interesting throughout the week, however, was not their ability or eagerness or what have you, but the difference in the default attitudes and assumptions they have, as compared to those of us out West. And it's a bit more than Red State versus Blue State too, you know.

One of them wrote a passionate essay about the evils of farming and the joyful bliss that is an organic farm while demonstrating she'd never set foot on a farm her entire life. To her, all non-organic farms are the evil, gigantic, poorly-lit corporate farms that basically pen up every single animal in as small a space as possible until they're large enough for the slaughter, while organic farms, well, they have these things called paddocks that, well, that's where the organically-farmed animals hang out, sipping coffee in front of an unopened copy of Kerouac, until the inevitable end.

I exaggerate a bit her for comic effect, but the truth remains that they write with verve and passion on the tropes and memes that are just assumed as truth, even though they have done little to nothing to investigate whether they're true or not.

This is the kind of thinking I'm trying to steer my college students away from. For the most part, they are able to do so, not because I'm such a great teacher but because they've got a few years (and, for many of them, a mission) under their belts so they've seen a bit more of the world and experienced a few shattered tropes and memes more than Alan's students.

There's more, of course. One of Alan's students thought himself sophisticated because he could pick out the sexual humor in a Broadway play they saw as a group. If that's sophistication, well, I know a lot of sophisticated thirteen-year-olds.

Then there were all the articles on diversity. Diversity this and diversity that. She grew up in Alabama, but the town wasn't diverse. Columbia is a diverse campus, and the security guard, who got her undergraduate degree there, values its diversity. Diversity, yay!

Of course, it's diversity in skin color and nationality -- but they can't seem to get around to saying that. We're automatically supposed to know what diversity is, and automatically know that diversity=unicorns and rainbows=good. I appreciate diversity. But I know what it is. I can look out on my little dumpy town of Sugar City, Idaho, which is 99 percent white and 99 percent LDS and know that if people who really know what true diversity is, they'll find it here in spades. There's a lady from Uruguay who lives kitty corner to us. A block away is a native Frenchman. I could, of course, list off others -- but that gets to only the easily visible, superficial meaning of diversity. There is a greater diversity of thought, of feeling, that never gets talked about because for most, diversity can't see past the nationality or skin color.

I'm not bringing this up, of course, because I want to make fun of anybody. I could draw up a similar list of tropes that the locals believe without bothering to investigate them. It's just interesting to see the differences. Here, we'd get nothing but big cities are riddled with crime and strife and drugs and hookers and always smell faintly of pee from kids who haven't been to anyplace bigger than, say, Salt Lake City, or any further east than Jackson, Wyoming. 

All of this, of course, inspires me to teach my own kids to look beyond the superficial to see life as it really is, not as the tropes we pick up along the way tell them it is or should be.

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