Creative Nonfiction

THOSE People

Seth Godin recently quoted a woman responsible for running a community college who said this at a seminar he attended:

“Well, the bad news,” she said, “is that we have to let everyone in. And the truth is, many of these kids just can’t be the leaders you’re describing, can’t make art. We need people to do manual work, and it’s those people.”

Yikes. Here’s what Godin said:

“I couldn’t believe it. I was speechless, then heartbroken. All I could think of was these young adults, trusting this woman to lead them, teach them, inspire them and push them, and instead being turned into ‘those people.'”

students bridge ruins
Subtle metaphorical image about students, bridging gaps, and ruins. Or something. 

Maybe I’m drawn to this woman’s ignorance a little more because I’ve spent a large chunk of my last seven years teaching at a community college. I’ve taught at four colleges and universities, but my favorite experience is C.C.A.C. because of all the diversity. The faces turnover semester to semester, and each new class is filled with all kinds of people from around the world. You never know who’s who, and students from 17 to 70 years old surprise in a number of positive ways.

Yes, it’s easy to become exasperated over those who are chronically careless but putting them in the category of hopeless is cold and wrong.

Then again, I know plenty of educators and administrators who checked out long ago. They’re not in it for the love of anything noble anymore. Some of them are constantly disgusted by their academic audiences. They’re jaded.

I’m especially sensitive to cold-hearted disregard like this because for much of my life–particularly as a student at a state college–I would most definitely have been placed in the category of “those people” by the shortsighted woman who Godin ran into.

Thank God so many great teachers believed in me, valued my personhood, and showed me how to be better.

Here’s Godin’s summation because he’s smarter than me.

“When those that we’ve chosen to teach and lead write off people because of what they look like or where they live or who their parents are, it’s a tragedy. Worse, we often write people off merely because they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that they have no ability to do more than they’ve been assigned. Well, if we brainwashed them into setting limits, I know we can teach them to ignore those limits.”

By Clay Morgan

Clay Morgan is the author of Undead. Say hi on Twitter.