Musings about academe in haphazard fashion.
Overheard a conversation outside my office door where one male African-American student was speaking with a female African-American student. He said, “I’m so dumb. I have to go to Developmental Math and I don’t even think I’m doing well. I just feel so stupid.” I came out into the hallway and said to him, “Excuse me, I’m sorry for listening in to your conversation, but I want you to know that I had to drop Statistical Math 3 times before I passed it (as an undergraduate), yet I have a Ph.D. in History today. Don’t ever think you are stupid!” I then proceeded to walk down the hallway to grab my mail and let them talk and ponder my statements. On the way back, the young man had left and the young woman was in the middle of the hallway, she looked up and smiled at me. I told her, “We need to concentrate on our strengths, not dwell on our weaknesses.” She just said, “Thank you so much for what you told him.”
We have to remember that, in a traditional Liberal Arts education, the goal is not to make students feel inferior or unintelligent if they are not capable of doing well in a certain class or discipline. We are to expose them to the varieties of subjects, fields, and possibilities for their future and encourage where we see the signs of success, and assist where we see difficulties. No one will have equal interest in every subject taken at the undergraduate level, nor will all subjects come equally as easily. Students just need the opportunity to see all the possible pathways open to them in an academic setting and nudge them gently towards those directions that show the most promise towards creating the “whole” student on the way to a successful career in the future, with success as defined by the student.