Monday, September 20, 2010

Peace Studies

I'm an international studies major with "peace studies" as my concentration. In order to graduate, I have to take a course called "Introduction to Peace Studies." I was actually really excited about this course; I figured it'd be easy, but I also thought that it would help me develop a sense for what it really means to have peace studies as a concentration. The description on MyZou (the university site that students use to manage their bills and classes) was true to my expectations:
Interdisciplinary overview including theories on the nature of aggression and war, case studies of contemporary conflicts, consideration of various peace proposals, conditions making war or peace likely.  Prerequisites:  English [ENGLSH] 1000, sophomore standing.
Based on that description, I expected there to be at least occasional discussions of conflicts (just take a random sample of countries recently scarred by war: the Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Mexico, Palestine - I would LOVE to have a mention of any of these countries in class) and peace negotiations, or explanations of peace negotiation failures. Case studies of various conflicts though would have been the minimum of what I was expecting from this course.

The reality is that we never talk about any of those topics, or come close. A couple of weeks ago, the class got into a discussion of the Revolutionary War. She seemed quite peeved that we had gone so far "off topic." I know I have comrades, judging by things people have said to me after class, and also judging by the annoyance on people's faces after the prof cuts them off mid-sentence (a frequent occurrence when she doesn't like what you're saying). I chose to take the road less traveled and challenge her a little... I argued that the American elites really did have more to lose in the American Revolution than average citizens, obviously because they'd all executed for treason, but also because those elites were more cognizant of what it meant to again be dominated by the British Empire. In this case, by elites I'm referring to our founding fathers, fun characters like Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton. Not only did she cut me off before I could finish, she didn't allow me to correct her when she oversimplified my (kinda trivial) argument to "wealth is worth more than someone's life." I actually was so nervous to begin with that I just broke down into laughter. It was awful. I'm already uncomfortable with the class because of the way she approaches us (like we're completely ignorant of the topic being discussed), and because of her rules: no laptops, no multi-tasking of any kind, no food (she's eyes my Starbucks cups like they're rabid dogs), and if your cell phone rings, you not only get marked absent but you have to write a 3-page paper on classroom etiquette. If the class decides to protect the horrible class room disrupter, everyone will have to write a paper.

What we do talk about is SOCIOLOGY. Her favorite phrase is "Where's the sociology?" I groan every time I hear it. We talk about racism and sexism and ageism. Interestingly, homophobia hasn't come up, even though it's in the text, but I won't hold that against her. Speaking of the text. The first book we read was about privilege in American society. I already had the book. A sociology professor (for Social Inequalities 2200) I really enjoyed gave it to me last year. Other book topics include two books on animal rights; one on the Holocaust; one on the Vietnam War and another on American history textbooks. Except for the books on the Holocaust (which I feel, even with its huge importance, has already gotten its fair share of attention throughout my education) and the Vietnam War, I don't really understand why those books are primary readings in a Peace Studies class. And after accounting for the the group poster project creatively titled "Picturing Peace", the message that I'm getting is, "Welcome to 9th grade sociology."

So basically she's a huge bitch.

And this is what happened in class today. We were talking about mascots: college mascots, professional mascots, elementary school mascots. The Indian ones. They're offensive, or so I've been told...for pretty much my whole fucking life. This isn't news by any means. My elementary school's "team" was called the Chiefs. My friend Hannah goes to the College of William and Mary where the school used to have "Indians", but now they have "Griffins." Perhaps this matters more to people who enjoy sports? (She tried to get us to discuss reasons for displays of patriotism at NASCAR events, but no one took the bait) To me, this discussion should last 10 minutes tops. They find it offensive, so do we change it or not? Why do they find it offensive? They just do. Okay, then change the names. END OF DISCUSSION. Now we can talk about Palestine!

So, people are totally eating it up. I'm annoyed. One girl suggests to the prof that she thinks the en vogue term is "American Indian" not "Native American." My teacher devours the poor girl, and then corrects her, maintaining that "American Indian" suggests Columbus-era racism. I'm pretty fucking sure that the girl was right. ...and my teacher was a total bitch about the whole thing. I whisper "Shoot me in the face," to the pretty girl sitting next to me (she has no choice in the matter because we have a SEATING CHART) and she laughs. This is about when I work up the courage to vent my frustration. I raise my hand. She calls on me. I look around, everyone's eyes are on me. I swallow hard, my muscles prepare for fight or flight. I felt like the silence was trying to talk over me.

"While I can see how what we're discussing loosely relates to peace, I want to know if we're going to be talking more about actual conflicts. When I signed up for this course, I was expecting discussion of actual conflicts and peace negotiation. What we're discussing now - people being offended by children wearing Indian makeup and college mascots - though I can see the significance of this discussion - it seems like a luxury that we have in the United States. There is so much more we could be talking about: the Sudan, Algeria, Serbia, Afghanistan - places where there's actual conflict. We could be talking about so much more, and look, *looks at watch* we've already wasted 30 minutes on this."

I don't remember at what point she interrupted me, but I did manage to get all of that out. She was visibly annoyed by my use of the term "actual conflicts." She said something about the conflict being rooted in hundreds of years of Native American suffering, which is true of course. I replied "But people are dying today....[something something something]," but she had already walked past me up the center aisle of the auditorium. She didn't like it. God, it's all so blurry! I could feel my face turning red. Her final words to me were,"If you don't like what we talk about in this class, then leave." Intense classroom whisper action. So, she didn't tell me to leave outright, but I felt like she was disappointed that I offered her no response. Still pretty dramatic, with a few people staring at me with their mouths open. As a peace studies professor, you'd think she would at least partially validate my desire to discuss modern conflicts. Eh. She went on to read an excerpt from a book that subbed in modern cuss words/racial slurs for antiquated sports team names...this allowed her to say cunt, nigger, and kike several times, along with some other slurs I had never even heard before. It just kinda further emphasized the reasons I'm so dissatisfied with our class "discussions."

After class, a girl came up to me and said "What you did was brave! I was afraid she was going to eat you alive!" A boy high-fived me, and congratulated me on saying what he had been wanting to say. Another boy shook my hand, telling me that I had bigger balls than him. It was pretty awesome. I think most of them feel that a 1000 level class doesn't warrant much passion, but it's my major. It's supposed to be the foundation of all of the following peace studies courses I take. Sorry I couldn't remember the exact quotes! Usually I'm better about that. Ugh. Hopefully this is mildly readable and I haven't completely robbed my story of it's humor/drama.

No comments:

Post a Comment