Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Unrealistic Expectations?

Summer session is over and I am back in the advising center. Yesterday, I met an adorable incoming freshman. She was sweet, polite, well-mannered (she didn't text message anyone once!) - all the things you hope for in an advisee. Until.

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?

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Blogger Mrs. T said...

Has this girl been living on some polygamist compound in Utah for the past 18 years? Come on! Who doesn't know what Psychology is? And furthermore, who isn't smart enough to at least figure out that given the direction of your conversation, they should at least fake it?

July 21, 2006 1:42 PM  
Blogger liberalbanana said...

That's weird... I have NEVER taken pyschology (although I'd like to!) and even know about that stuff. Well, I didn't know who did the rat thing, but I've at least heard of it.

It's kind of like (although not nearly as bad - or is it?) adults getting all the way through high school and not knowing how to read. (I swear I've heard of illiterate adults. Right?) It just blows the mind.

July 21, 2006 2:14 PM  
Blogger brid said...

I'm left wondering if she knew what Sociology was in the first place....

July 21, 2006 5:47 PM  
Blogger Fraulein N said...

That's ... kind of sad, actually. And a little bit scary. How the hell did she get into college?

July 21, 2006 8:21 PM  
Blogger Teacher lady said...

Brid, I had the SAME exact thought. How did she know what sociology was, but not psychology? You know, she probably was bluffing with the advisor on sociology. Or she was equally baffled and the advisor talked her into it.

July 21, 2006 9:43 PM  
Blogger Dori said...

Very strange, especially in this age of constant psychobabble. You'd think she'd know about depression, and Prozac, and Zoloft, and all those drugs they advertise on TV all day long. I learned about Pavlov and Skinner in high school also.

July 22, 2006 7:46 PM  
Blogger Art Nerd Lauren said...

Sometimes, when I'm nervous, I ask really really dumb questions. Like when I got pulled over, I suddenly didn't know what points on my license were. Now I know, ouch. That said, we had Psych in high school- and my high school, at the time, didn't go much further than English, Math, Sciences and Theology. And even though I didn't take Psych, I know at least some of the teachers referred to Pavlov, and probably Skinner, too.

Hey, at least you didn't have to explain Human Sexuality to her, though!

July 23, 2006 9:15 AM  
Blogger drstaceyny said...

Interesting. . . I think your references were great (c'mon, you've never heard of Freud?), though I do think it's hard to explain (in a nutshell) such a broad discipline (it's like trying to explain math or science, when it's easier to explain calculus--well, for some--or biology). Perhaps I need to get going on this, given that I just signed up to teach a Introductory Psych for the fall! ; )

Bonus points for her for be willing to get up for a Friday am class which means absolutely nothing to her at this point. . .

July 23, 2006 11:04 AM  
Blogger allrileyedup said...

I'm willing to bet she didn't know what sociology was either, and that someone else gave her a vague description of it and talked her into it.

It might have gotten her attention if you told her about Freud's analysis of dreams. She sounds like she's been living in a dream world for a loooooong time.

July 23, 2006 1:11 PM  
Anonymous Ginny said...

My God. That's astounding. And actually leaves me speechless.

by-the-by 1st time visitor, and I'm sorry I can't remember how I got here, but I like your blog already, and I love this post. :-)

July 23, 2006 1:21 PM  
Blogger Rhys said...

Ha, that reminds me of the time my classes had to write a memoir paper. I went over it for 3 weeks to prepare them. We read examples of memoirs and picked subjects for the paper and did practice writing about memoirs and all that jazz!

I was a star professor! I had prepared them soooo well. On the day before the paper was due, I asked if there were any questions. One guy raised his hand and asked timidly: "Uh...what's a memoir?"

I about died. Doh! :)

July 23, 2006 3:23 PM  
Blogger wading through recovery said...

I wouldn't be so hard on the poor girl. We all have our off days! I seem to remember feeling intimidated and tongue tied quite often in the early days of my undergrad. career.

I was a psych. major myself and remember most of the theories you talked about were in Intro. Psych. I went to a pretty small high school which only offered psych. for a quarter. I really don't remember covering anything memorable during those few short weeks (besides beastiality-many of the students seemed to wake up for that class discussion).

July 25, 2006 1:48 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

I deal with dumb nearly every day at the crap university I attend/can afford. Now most people should know what psychology is - they just should. If they don't they're dumb and have a good chance of being screwed for life unless they marry rich. I'm sure that little girl could out-shop me any day of the week.

July 27, 2006 1:24 AM  

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