Thursday, June 18, 2009

What Part of STUPID Do You Not Understand?

I know I don't have to worry about calling her stupid on my blog, because I know she will never, ever read it.

This is, after all, someone who refuses to turn on a computer. Even during a college class. That meets in a COMPUTER LAB.

The old lady in the front row of class was very attentive during my PowerPoint introduction. She took notes and asked questions about library catalogs and indexes. I should have known there might be a problem when she asked about the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, an obsolete print magazine index that I have never used in six years of librarianship. (All of the indexes are online now.) But it was the first time I've ever had a student bring up the Reader's Guide and I was impressed. Wow, I thought, she really knows her library stuff!

Trying to put her at ease about the online indexes, I told her how much of an advantage she would have using our databases if she already was familiar with the Reader's Guide.

But when I passed out the worksheet for the class to acquaint themselves with library resources, she said, "No, thanks" as if I was offering her a chocolate turd. While the rest of the class got busy looking up books and articles on our online catalog and databases, she just sat there and stared at the wall. Her computer remained turned off.

After a minute I asked her, "Would you like me to help you get started?"

"No," she said. "I hate computers."

A few minutes later I came back to try again. "Um," I said, "there really is no other way to look up stuff in a library. If you want to know how to do research, you have to use a computer."

"What part of no don't you understand?" She said. Well, I guess it's the part where a student can simply refuse to participate in a class assignment.

I let her stew in her own juices while I made a pass around the room to check on the other students. They were all working diligently, filling out their worksheet. Hers lay untouched in front of her. How could she expect to pass this class, a composition class that meets IN A COMPUTER LAB, if she wouldn't even turn on a computer?

The old lady snagged me as I walked around the room. "Can I ask you something personal?" Sure. "What do you think of all this technology?" Instead of waiting for my reply, she launched into a diatribe against all things cyber. She railed against cell phones and email and twitter. You can't do anything these days without a computer. It's so unfair that kids these days don't even have the option of saying no to technology. If they don't go along with this fad, if they don't like computers, then they're left out.

I had no idea how to respond to someone who thought computers were a fad, so I said, "Well, you know, there was a time when people thought the telephone was..."

" instrument of the devil?" She said, laughing. How crazy people were back then!!

She told me I could take the worksheet back, because she wouldn't be filling it out. This is a challenge of being a guest speaker. I don't have any authority to make her do the work. The class instructor is a young lady who's kind of passive. But surely you can't just sit in class and refuse to participate?

I was dying to ask the instructor what this lady's story was, but I couldn't do that within earshot of the student.

So I asked the instructor, "Um, how many times has the class met so far?"

Instructor: "This is the fourth meeting."

Me: "And is this the first time you've used the computers?"

Instructor: "Yeah, actually, I think it is."

The instructor, however, did not pick up on my signals and did not elaborate further.

At the end of the class the old lady tried to give me the worksheet back, and I told her to keep it in case she wanted to fill it out later. "Oh, you're really persistent. You won't take 'no' for an answer. You're just like all these other people trying to get me to use cell phones and internet and email...Oh, you can send pictures to your grandchildren! I have a better way to send mail: pen and paper!!"

"Okay," I said, "just keep it as a souvenir."

After she walked out I approached the instructor, because I was dying to know what this lady's deal was. As it turns out, she was just auditing the class (not taking it for grades or credit) so she could refuse to do work she didn't want to.

It still begs the question, if she wants to audit a class, why take a composition class that focuses on academic writing and research? You can't do academic research without turning on a computer. And how is she going to complete written assignments? By hand? I don't know any college instructors who accept hand-written papers anymore.

Again, not the belabor the point, but what the hell is she doing taking a class IN A FUCKING COMPUTER LAB if she refuses to turn on a computer? That's like going to an orgy and then refusing to look at any naked people.

I don't call her stupid for being afraid of technology. A lot of people are. But the whole point of education is to learn new things, even if it means facing your fears. If you think you can participate in the academic world by refusing to engage with the most basic tool of writing, research, and communication, well then, you're stupid.

What part of that do you not understand?

1 comment:

Dan S said...

Did she use one of those newfangled horseless carriages to get to class?