Thursday, January 29, 2009

What's a Good Metaphor for this?

In class this week, one of my students said, "Being a student here feels like being a passenger in a taxi with a drunk driver." He was not referring to my class, but to the fact that he had signed up for classes in his major, arrived at said classes on the first day only to be told that the program no longer existed. This is a problem for many reasons: first, the president of our college said that "no one has lost their jobs." I had thought this was a semantic truth (at least) because the people who have, in fact, lost their jobs, would not do so until the end of the fiscal year. Not true. Some people have already lost their jobs. Second, as my student pointed out, couldn't they have given the students some warning? Like, at least called them over the break? How many of them can there be if this program is considered "expendable"? Third, he went to talk to his adviser about what he could do so that he wouldn't lose his financial aid, and she had no idea that the program had been eliminated.
Oh. Problematic on so many levels.
But after speaking to this student, who said during our class introductions that "if I wasn't in college I'd be in jail or dead," I thought, no, the passenger in the drunk taxi isn't quite right...because the student isn't just paying, he's participating. He wants to participate. He showed up on the first day! He's already figured out a school to transfer to. He's alert.
The only analogy I could think of was being on the back of a bicycle built for two, when the person in front is steering, not telling you where you're going. Then, the person in front suddenly stops, gets off, and says "I'm done. I will go no further." Sure, chances are you could maybe find a random stranger to help you out, maybe pedal home with you, but haven't they just left you in a shitty situation? What are you supposed to do with this bicycle built for two when you're only one person? Only one person who, maybe, only recently started bicycling in the first place.
I know. You can find someone to teach you how to ride this tandem bicycle alone. Only that "teacher" will be far away, and you'll need a computer and/or cell phone, and you'll actually have to do all your riding by yourself with no direct feedback from this "solo tandem bicycling" expert. Oh, you don't have a computer or a cell phone? You want an actual teacher? Sorry. We can no longer help you.


Nik said...

Is disaster a metaphor? I can't believe it's already hit you so hard this semester. All I get are emails about how bad things are going to get. I hope you were able to suck your student into the relative safety of your department. Isn't the University the place to go and hunker down while Rome burns? Where else are these students going to go? I guess to build the great fossil-fueled infrastructure.

ErinAlice said...

Wow, sounds as bad as my university. As far as a metaphor- maybe a car careening out of control down a hill with no brakes and the doors are locked so you can't get out??? And you call On-Star but they can't help you because they went out of business or it all got out sourced and you don't speak the language of the person on the other end!! Geez any metaphor that is tragic and leaves one feeling helpless would work I guess. What is sad is that it is a real situation.

Lisa B. said...

Good metaphors all around for a horrible situation. The historian brought me home an article about a book Stanley Fish's student wrote, saying that in 50 years, there will be no more jobs like ours. I hate over-staters of The Emergency, but I also feel like reality is a little uncomfortably in line with his excitable predictions. I guess we all just have to raise holy hell, and that, my friends, is not a metaphor (to quote Stephen Colbert).

susansinclair said...

I have no metphors. I'm just getting more and more pissed. Those of us who work at the institutions that will need to absorb all those folks displaced by this messed up economy--like the woman who lost her 20-year manufacturing job last summer when her employer called the 50-some workers into the cafeteria and told them the plant was closing in 30 minutes. That's in addition to all the students who struggled with the public school system, the ones looking for training and certification to take over the family business (dairy farm, or garage, or...).

We are a significant part of the recovery, and we're being treated like some sort of frivolous extra.

Yeah, I'm getting mad. And if you know me, I've got an effing slow fuse.

Aligates said...

My father tells a story about something that happened when I was 3 and a half. We moved from Colorado to California for a job (no, it was not the Depression or Dust Bowl, just coincidence). He and his wife, three daughters and dog arrived at our newly purchased home the day before he went in to start this new job. My parents had $35.00 in their bank account. When he got to "work" everyone seemed really confused about his being there asking for the man who had hired him. He was told to wait in an office. Then a man he'd never met before came in and told him the job for which he'd moved and relocated his entire family, didn't really exist anymore, and the man who hired him had been fired some time ago. They'd not been aware an offer had been extended to my dad, and that he'd accepted it. They found some other job for him, but we didn't live in California for very long, and for a large part of that time, my father was unemployed - after all that, he was fired from the job he never interviewed for in the first place. And how did he find out he was getting the axe? Christmas party, boss's wife gets drunk and tells him he's getting canned. Though not a commonly shared experience, I think this is sort of a good metaphor for what is happening to your poor student. He came to work, and there was no job.

Nik said...

Is furlough a metaphor? Because it's looking like a fact.