Personal Responsibility

TW for sexual assault and mention of Dear Prudence’s awful advice

There are many things wrong with Emily Yoffe’s Dear Prudence article on how college women should stop drinking so as to prevent rapists from raping them (I’m not linking to it because it’s awful), but this is the part that really made me want to do something drastic. (Or just maybe want to write a blog post about it). The very last paragraph:

Lake [someone she quotes a bunch throughout the article] says that it is unrealistic to expect colleges will ever be great at catching and punishing sexual predators; that’s simply not their core mission. Colleges are supposed to be places where young people learn to be responsible for themselves. Lake says, “The biggest change in going to college is that you have to understand safety begins with you. For better or worse, fair or not, just or not, the consequences will fall on your head.” I’ll drink (one drink) to that.

(To put that last sentence in context, Prudie goes on a bit earlier about how she only drinks in moderation and still has lots of fun, I guess to imply that people who drink more than she does really have no excuse.)

Right. People go to college (or university, as they say in my country) to learn to be responsible for themselves. Except, I guess, for the people who actually commit any kind of sexual assault. Those people don’t need to learn any kind of responsibility. They don’t need to worry about anyone’s safety. They won’t ever have any consequences fall on their heads, or their toes, or anywhere near them, because we would all rather just blame victims of sexual assault for getting drunk.

This attitude of personal responsibility, the idea that we each need to look out for our own self, and not anyone around us, has screwed up this world so much. It lets us ignore centuries of oppression and structural inequalities. It lets us hold marginalized people responsible for getting themselves out of awful situations that they were forced into. It’s a ridiculous way of looking at the world that privileges the already privileged and screws over the already screwed over. No school should hold that as part of its core mission. We don’t need to teach people to be selfish. In fact, part of what students learn when they first start going to school, in kindergarten, is to recognize the effects that their actions have on other people in their community (at least in Ontario; I don’t know about other kindergarten curricula). It’s called empathy, and we could do with a whole lot more of it in this world. I absolutely agree that university should be one (of many) place(s) where young people learn to be responsible for themselves. But maybe they could try to build on the ideas that students learned in their kindergarten classrooms rather than contradict them.

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Living in London: Two Weeks in Schools

I really hate most things that are in any way official. I hate filling out forms. I hate complying with regulations. I hate following specific directions. I understand that these things are sometimes really important and not as arbitrary as they often seem, but I still hate them. I have a difficult time reading instructions all the way through (I generally get about half way through a recipe and then make up the rest), so I worry that I’ll misunderstand or misread something and then mess it up and somehow a ton of money or get arrested or maybe just piss people off. I usually try to ignore official things and hope they take care of themselves but so far that hasn’t worked.

So, I messed up one of the documents that I needed before I could start working in schools here, and I couldn’t actually start work until the day after my contract said I would start. Which wasn’t a big deal at all but I did feel sort of vindicated because several people told me that everything would be fine and then it turned out I actually had screwed something up. I guess I showed them.

Anyway, I’ve spent about the last two weeks in the British school system. It’s different from what I’m used to, which doesn’t surprise me. I’ve spent a large chunk of my life, both as a student and as a teacher, at one school, and I know that it’s unlike other schools in Canada or probably anywhere. I can’t draw any real conclusions about the differences between schools here and schools back home. I’ve seen some things here that I really disagree with but I feel like I would likely see similar things at more conventional Canadian schools. I want to keep an open mind, because I know that the education system I’m used to worked for me, but I also know that I arrived in that education system from a very specific set of privileged circumstances. While I did learn a lot in my first four years of teaching, I had my conceptions of what makes a good teacher or a good learning environment reaffirmed several times. I’d like to see things that challenge my assumptions.

Like I predicted a couple weeks ago, I’ve seriously considered all kinds of things for next year. I really don’t know what I want to do with my life. I know I want to teach, because that really is the best job I can imagine having, but I don’t know where I want to do it and I don’t know if I want to study it more or be entirely practical. I’m really enjoying my current job, because I get the benefit of working and connecting with students without the time suck that is prep work and marking, but I don’t know if I would want this kind of job for longer than a year. I love having time to read about problems with feminism and its lack of intersectionality, but I find that I want to then take those ideas and bring them into a classroom and hear what my students have to say about them. And I can’t really do that in the role I have right now.

So, I guess this is how I’ll feel for the next little while. In flux and unsure. I’m happy, which is good, but I wouldn’t say I’m completely comfortable, which is maybe also good for right now. And I filled out a form all by myself this weekend, so maybe I’m growing up a bit too.