Your first lesson in college is to discuss issues like an adult

Jun 26 2012 - 8:35pm

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English 1010 at Weber State University is an entry-level writing course which the catalog says is "to prepare students to enter the discourse communities of the university and larger society."

In discourse communities, people talk and listen. People don't necessarily agree. Nobody has to win or lose. With luck, both sides learn.

Discourse certainly doesn't mean getting blindsided about your gay kid, but that's how Kristi Sheffield felt early in this summer semester. That's why she left the class in tears and only went back because the teacher urged her to.

Both Kristi and her teacher, Adjunct Prof. Angela Choberka, were not expecting that in a university. People yelling and ending up in tears does not exemplify the Socratic method.

I mention this kerfuffle because, even in the enlightened 2012s, too many of us are unable to talk about homosexuality in its various permutations in what would be called polite discourse.

In today's highly polarized political atmosphere, what passes for discourse is mostly yelling. For excellent examples, check out the comment sections on just about any news website, such as ours at www.standard.net.

But college is still supposed to be where things are discussed intelligently, with respect, with care.

Here's what Kristi and her teacher say happened.

English 1010 students learn to critically analyze ideas, and on the first day of class Choberka asked the 20-plus students to do that with President Obama's statement the day before that he was in favor of gay people marrying.

Kristi wrote about her 19-year-old son, who is gay.

Kristi says that when the class was done writing Choberka "said 'Would anyone like to share?' and nobody said anything, so I said I would and that started it all. I guess it just floored everyone when I said I have a son who's gay."

Students started tossing blunt statements about gays at her, even quoting the Bible.

"It just got stupid," she said. "It was so out of control I wasn't sure what would happen if I came back,"

Kristi is in her 50s and is going back to college to start her life over. Having a gay son has been a trial, not because she doesn't love him or accept him, but because of what she's seen it do to her family.

The son has a twin who quit talking to him when he came out two years ago. Her older son in the Marine Corps has had to work on acceptance.

"And of course his father's side of the family is LDS. That did not go over well."

She's frustrated that people don't see "he's a 4.0 student, he's never gotten in trouble, he's a wonderful person in every way and all they can see is he's gay? I don't ask people to agree with it or like it, just accept it. I tell my kids to be who you are.

"But it (the reaction in class) was ugly, I just felt like it was coming from all sides."

Choberka said it was mostly just two students, "some really loud people that had loud opinions," and who, after that first day, didn't return.

She declined to speculate why. The class is a summer evening class. It's usual for students to look at the syllabus, realize how much work is involved and decide their schedule can't handle it.

"They didn't come back, but I did and I'm sorry they didn't," Kristi said. "I'd like to just talk to them and say go meet some gay people. They're the nicest people in the world."

The Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. He can be reached at 801-625-4232, or ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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