In the Classroom

The past few semesters, I’ve had students verbally write their argument essays via class debates. I’ve avoided the class debate for years like I’ve avoided showing the movie for the book or anything else that would make students think college was exactly like high school but without the afternoon announcements, smelly cafeteria, and locker assignments.

Today, they debated whether it is better to be emotionally closed or open to achieve professional success (this afternoon, we debate whether Disney’s animals or stepmothers are more villainous. Hard to beat Ursula.)

In some circles, it can be unpopular to believe your students to be capable, but today especially, mine seemed like such smart, insightful little conversational critters.  I had to be careful not to gush.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the debate’s progression:

Snowmachine Racing Male Student: If you are overtly emotional, you can be seen as weak, and more than anything, it takes the appearance of strength to be successful.

Certified Nursing Female Student: But people who are more emotionally open are less distracted and can, therefore, be more focused in the work place.

Female Student Who Customizes Trucks for a Living: It takes a lot of energy to suppress emotions, and we can’t avoid showing emotion even as we try desperately not to. Being emotionally open means you have to be good at communicating, and a lack of communication leads to disrespect.

Former Marine Male Student: But, we have to be careful not to confuse emotion with personality. We’re not talking about not having emotions, we’re talking about knowing when to show them. Being too emotional can lead to bad decisions. We’re all emotional but professional success requires composure.

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In general, people up here seem at ease with themselves, and consequently, quite sincere and genuine. My students are no exception.  When we first arrived in August, we kept meeting beautiful women, and I remember thinking, You’re so pretty–why are you in Alaska? I’m not sure what ridiculous prejudice this reveals, but I know my ideas about people and myself haven’t stopped shifting since the move.  We’ve met men who build houses during the day and paint landscapes on canvas at night and sculpted blond women who host Gatspyesque parties in their expansive log cabins while cursing up a snowstorm as they try to get us to down another pint of Kassiks ale. I’ve come to think of places as surrogate parents, and Alaska is a darn good one. It’s like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average except here, the women make a Carhartt look sexy, the men have read and liked Madame Bovary, and the students have plenty to say.

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