The Sociology 101 section her advisor had selected was closed. Psychology 101 was listed as an acceptable option. I sighed and mentally steeled myself for a fight, because Sociology was Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 1:30, and Psych was on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. (I won't take a Friday class! I won't take a class before noon!). I gave her the news about Sociology being closed; good news: the psych section has room for you! Yippee!!! She made a face. "Here we go," I thought. "What is it?" I asked, thinking to myself, "Freakin' stupid generation I-don't-know-what-letter with the sense of entitlement."
"Um," she said softly. "Yes?" I inquired. "What, um, what is psychology?" Of all the things I was expecting her to say, this was not one of them. And then I realized, even though I had minored in psychology in undergrad, I was hard-pressed to explain it. "It's the study of how the human mind influences behavior," remembering my dad's motto (If you can't blind 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with bullshit). I probably sounded smarter than I felt. Later, I looked it up and found out I wasn't too far off in my definition - at least not according to the geniuses over at Wikipedia. In spite of my damn good bluff, she didn't look convinced. She looked scared. "Is, is that it? I guess I don't know what that means."
Emboldened by my semi-bullshit answer, I kept going. "Oh, come on. Remember Pavlov's dog? You probably learned about that in one of your science classes, right?" She looked completely blank. "No," she said. "I've never heard of that." I started regaling her with the fascinating tale of drooling dogs and ringing bells. Speaking of bells, I said, "That probably rings a bell, right?" She shook her head again, "No. But it sounds really interesting. So is that psychology?" I have almost always been in a field that no one has ever heard of and so I am used to explaining a whole discipline in two or three sentences. But it's always my discipline, so I know what the hell I'm talking about it. This was daunting. "Um, no, well, there's more. What about Skinner? Remember Skinner and the rats? Operant conditioning, I think that's called." Another blank stare. "Or Freud!" I was grasping. "How about Freud? Oral stage? Anal stage? The father of psychoanalysis?" Frantic head shaking. "No," she said. "That doesn't sound like anyone I've heard of." I didn't know what to do. I said, "I think you'll find it interesting, and it's often a prerequisite for other courses you may need. Plus, it fits one of your general education requirements." She still wasn't convinced. "And, if it's not what you thought it would be, you can always drop it." Now that had her attention. "Okay," she said. "Sign me up."
Here's where I wonder about my unrealistic expectations. I know I knew what psychology was before I went off to college - perhaps because my high school offered a psychology class for seniors and I took it. But still - I swear we learned about Pavlov's dog and classical conditioning in eighth grade science. I know we learned about Skinner's rat boxes in tenth grade biology. And Mr. J.'s niece knew enough about psychology in high school to choose it as her major before she even left for college. After my sweet, timid advisee left, I looked at her records: She attended a decent high school in another small college town about an hour away from my big college town. Although it might not be the world's best high school, I know something about public schools in college towns: Professors' kids go there. Professors aren't the type to put up with substandard education. So what gives? Or am I just living in my fantasy land where high school graduates know what psychology is?