A Jeanne Site
California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: March 10, 2000
Faculty on the Site.
On March 9 Default User wrote to jeanne:From: E104 Student1
Subject: what do i do for soc395,soc220l ,soc220 coclove1a
dear ms j curran i have you for 4 classes i dont understand what I have to do in all 3 of your classes.
On March 10, jeanne responds:
My first response to this message was: "Have you considered withdrawing from the 4 classes? That would solve your problem." But that is a violent response, invoking the teacher's authority, and based on the unstated assumption that the university structure would permit and support a rational solution to this problem. In fact, the structure would not permit the student to withdraw in the 6th week and replace those classes, so that withdrawal would mean university withdrawal, which would mean a semester delay in graduation. Since I'm committed to non-violence, even if I can't always manage to practice it, I have to rethink this.
- First of all, the student is not taking 4 of my classes. He/she is taking 3, which explains the logical contradiction when he/she says he/she does not know what to do in all 3 of them. One of the classes, Statistics, has a lab, which completes the explanation of why he/she called it 4 classes.
- He/she seems not to know that Love 1A is Soc. 395-03. So either he/she is only taking 2 of my classes, and is hopelessly confused, or he/she is also taking Women and Crime, which is Soc. 395-01. Love 1A was not listed in the printed schedule, so perhaps this explains some of his/her confusion.
- But now you come to the part that elicited my first response of "why don't you just drop?" He/she e-mailed me with default user. And has not given me a name or an e-mail address. There is no way that I can answer the query for help. The internet is not magic. When you send e-mail, if you expect an answer, then there must be some place for me to send that answer. But I still called my first response violent. Why?
Because my elitist unstated assumption is that simply anyone who is writing to me in any of my classes at the end of the sixth week has to know that much about a computer. "Not necessarily so, jeanne." I have more students this semester than I am willing to count. Two of my classes had room problems which it took me weeks to straighten out. During the first six weeks so much happened in our classes that Dear Habermas grew by leaps and bounds.
Oh, no! Now he/she is going to write and ask me what Dear Habermas is. Ask someone. Preferably someone who knows.
The size of the classes, the room confusion, and the rapid changes need to be considered ecologically (See Rose and McClain for examples of ecological analysis.) When I consider a student unknown to me, probably not knowing me, maybe shy and new, in a huge group and small room with not even enough chairs, moving to new rooms, getting lost in SBS, and the site, if you found it, changing, then I can see that you might actually be lost. But to see that I need to step back from the immediate transaction long enough to consider the complexity of the context in which the series of transactions here occurred. Even though my reaction is to a single instance, the e-mail with no name, no e-mail, obvious confusion about classes taken, and six weeks into the semester, that e-mail could not have occurred without the entire series of transactions I have now taken the time to consider ecologically.
It is this complexity that makes it so easy for any structure to become structurally violent. By focussing on the immediate transaction on the micro level of the actual transaction, it is easy to ignore all the prior six weeks' of interactions, what that might have felt like to a new student, and how different it is to step into a new context, even when the context means to be welcoming. This is one reason that Lyotard rejects all metanarrative, for metanarrative provides an overview, deals with the large picture, and in that process, must ignore all the local narratives that would remind us of the many unreported transactions that led to this e-mail. In that sense, we cannot be unbiased and neutral. Our roles lock us into the tasks we need to get on with to keep the world going, the tasks of teacher and student. There isn't time in the everyday world to contemplate our navels and think on every response we make seriously. It's easier and funnier to just make the cutting reply: "And which part of NO did you not understand; N or O?" But it's violent, and it hurts the other, because the other does have a real validity claim to make.
This is an instance of the student not knowing how to make the validity claim. I can be cutting and funny, and those who "get it" will laugh, and side with me. Or I can recognize the violence of laughing at and excluding one who asks for help, however ineptly. If I seek peace and non-violence, I must accept the validity of the request for help, and try to use my expertise to help understand the claim that lies behind the message I have trivialized by my violent response. Theory helps with that. My understanding of ecological analysis helps me gain enough distance from the e-mail that I can stem my frustration and begin to see what might lie behind that "I don't know what to do."
Perhaps we need for Catharine MacKinnon to remind us again that we need to grant validity to pleas for understanding of what we're feeling. From this perspective, I find it hard to believe that I could be angry with or laugh at that statement: I don't know what to do. In its own way it is courageous. Lost, the student took the chance of asking for a help in an infrastructure that does not readily offer help. And the student tried to use my medium of preference, e-mail, to ask for that help. I do harm if I refuse to hear that plea in good faith.
- Note how easy it is to be violent. Right in the middle of trying to bring myself to not respond violently I did it again! Once again, I privileged my own subjectivity by assuming that simply everyone knows or should know Dear Habermas just because I spend so much time with it. What if this is a student new to the Internet, and he/she has used the site only as access to class materials. What if the student identifies the site as just that, class materials. This is not a student well-informed on which classes he/she is taking by hardcopy standards. Confuses 4 classes with 3. Doesn't seem to know names of classes. Doesn't know what to do. Why would I resort to sarcasm, if such a student doesn't know the name of our site??? Violence at the expense of another is so easy to engage in. Even when we're trying not to. And such violence defines the other as excluded. We must bring this tendency to exclude others that don't match our expectations to awareness if we are ever to respond non-violently. Martha Minow would say that we need to be explicit about, to state, our unstated assumptions.