The task of living is can be difficult as the world in which we spin becomes smaller, time speeds up, and the distance between people and cultures shrink. Now, more than ever, we need to find ways to achieve common ground beyond ideology and narrow value sets.

Rutgers-Newark has one of the most diverse student body populations of any university in the world. In fact, Rutgers-Newark won awards in the past for several years in a row for having the most diverse student body in the nation. The great thing about teaching at Rutgers-Newark is that everyone is a minority.

No one can claim majority rule by culture or ethnicity or regional flavor. That kind of “minority rule” can teach great lessons that cross color lines and cultural obstacles unlike any other place I have previously experienced. One precious thing we are losing in current university experiences is the loss of individuality in favor of the requirement to be politically correct to the point where the world becomes grey and differences and dissent are discouraged so no one will be offended.

When I was a university student, it was assumed you would be offended by some of your campus experiences — and offended is different than being insulted because the intentions are opposite — and I love it when students are “offended” by something that happens in class because it means something inside of them was challenged or broken and their response to the offense was an internal check of values against expectation. Insults are meant to hurt feelings. Offending someone challenges the mind. Great growth blooms from seeds that offend.

I urge my students to make themselves a blank page of paper when they cross the transom of the classroom. I ask, for the period of the class, they let others to “write” on the blank page they have become and allow themselves to be filled up with ideas and thoughts and values that may be foreign to them without judging any of what is being given.

The trick, I tell them, is to allow yourself to “be written on” without trying to censor the writer. Later, after the heat of class is over, sit down in a quiet place alone and “read” what was written in you by reflecting on the imprint of others. I remind them they do not have to agree with what anyone wrote. They do not have to accept or reject their arguments.

All I ask is that they try to understand the why of what the writer needed to mark on the blank of their lives. I try to do the same here in this blog. I don’t judge where people are coming from or why they choose to post a comment. I take what they have to say here with gratitude and honor that, for a moment out of their lives, they chose to mark me with their glorious thoughts and dreams.

23 Comments

  1. Well, I’ll be the first to post again! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’ve always held the belief that we are excessively sensitive of other’s feelings, but you bring up a point I hadn’t thought about: that being offended helps us grow.
    But don’t you feel that there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed? Something that’s offensive is one thing, but what if an incident is so offensive that it’s perceived as hateful?
    It’s probably something that may not come up in your class, but it does come up in real life. Perhaps the thought is a bit off-topic from the writing angle, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

  2. Hi Carla!
    Ooo! You ask some good questions here! It’s always fun when you post a comment. ๐Ÿ™‚
    In my classes I draw clear lines between being offended and being insulted. I will make that point clearer in a future post that is kind of a “Part II” to this “Blank Page” piece.
    I don’t believe anyone INTENDS to offend someone else in the way I define it in my classes, but an insult (and something hateful as you mention) is always intended to hurt someone else.
    I am surprised how easily some students get offended by simple things other students say in a general class discussion that you would never think would bother anyone.
    Other times issues get heated and emotions start to roil and something offensive is said that reveals the person who said it in a new way that no one expected.
    The line that I never allow to be crossed is anyone directly insulting another student. I always keep our discussions positive and specific in a general, human, way so no one feels put on point in a negatively internal way.
    I don’t want them to defend themselves but I do want them to defend their arguments with clear logic.

  3. Wow, Dave! You wrote a whole lotta goodness in one big message! ๐Ÿ™‚
    1. You made me laugh with your sun reference. Harr!
    2. Thanks for these words for Martha. I don’t know if they’re shooting at her or not and I really don’t want to know that kind of detail if you know what I mean. Your point on education level is interesting and I wonder if that is generally an issue for some military folk who enter straight out of high school versus those pulled out of college who only joined the National Guard to pay for schooling their families could not afford.
    3. Right on, my man. That is precisely my point. The line between being naive and dangerous is as fine and thin as a Baby’s Breath petal.

  4. Sounds like it would have been cool to have one of your classes when I was in college! ๐Ÿ™‚
    We didn’t have such thought-provoking discussions. I did enjoy the classes, and I liked my professors. While always liked my writing, I never got good feedback on how to make it even better. Perhaps that’s why I crave critiques on what I write these days.

  5. Hey Carla —
    Thanks for the nice comments. To teach well you must prepare and make yourself available to the students. I find the best teachers are adjuncts because they teach because they love it and not because they’re in it for the money or for the hope of getting a long-term tenure position. ๐Ÿ™‚ Most full time faculty do not have enough time to dedicate to finding ways of reaching beyond the front row.
    I believe teaching is about living and dying in every class. Something must be at stake during every class. “So what?” is deadly, even for a moment, in any class.
    If you haven’t tried to change the world in some way at the conclusion of each class then why did you bother teaching? Many of my peers just “do their time” and teach from a book and test on the book and it’s over.
    I don’t teach that way. I teach how I’ve been taught and that means you give everything at all times because if you don’t, why should the students?

  6. I wish I’d had more teachers like you when I was in school, David. Most of them just didn’t care, which meant that you were out of luck if you were stuck on an assignment. The best teachers I’ve had forced me to think, participate, and learn. What subject do you teach?

  7. Deborah —
    I wish I had more teachers like me, too! Harr! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I took a few classes last year and now I understand why my students love me so much. Heh! The quality of lecture and interaction and preparation was pretty poor in my experience.
    Learning should be fun and interactive and one of the best lessons I learned about teaching, and it took me six years of teaching nine classes a year to figure out, is that students aren’t interested in what I have to say.
    They are only interested in what they have to say to each other.
    Learning that from my students changed my teaching methods.
    Now I learn to ask the right questions and the students lead each other to the resolution.
    I have taught World Literature, Playwriting, Theatre History, Forensic Speech, Movement, Acting, Directing, English Comp, Thought and Analysis, Film, Television and Public Health and and and… If you click on my picture on the main page on this blog it will take you to my CV where everything is all spelled out a bit better than I’m doing here. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Hi David, hi all,
    Once again, another stimulating article. I fully agree with Deborah, for I wish there were more teachers out there like you. Many a time I have found myself dissappointed by teachers and lecturers who have always stuck to the very boring ‘straight out of the textbook’ lessons, with the only benefit being that they have made me appreciate even more those rare teachers who actively challenge students to find new horizons.
    Students shouldn’t enter uni expecting to just learn the subject matter relating to their discipline, but rather they should be expecting to find challenge and enlightenment in areas both academic and personal. Students also get too caught up in being right, as some of the most valuable lessons are learnt from being wrong and making mistakes.
    I must say though, from the experiences I’ve had I’ve been offended too many times for the wrong reason. That is opposing perspectives haven’t offended me, but sadly what has frequently offended me is the small prejudiced minds of those who can’t and won’t listen to contrary perspectives and opinions.
    Although personal opinions may be important to yourself, they aren’t the only opinions in the world, and students, well everyone really, need to realise that and be able to accept that fact with open arms, AND more importantly open ears. It’s always best to open your mind before you open your mouth…

  9. Here am I again!
    This is just brilliant! David, Wish you were my teacher! I am a student here in USA and I am here for last one year. There are so many concepts I came accross that really challenged me – offended? I don’t know – ticked off? yes, a little – but at the same point of time I try to see where they are coming from. Life is real fun if you learn to observe and listen….
    ”No one can make you angry, jealous, vengeful, or greedy – unless you let him….”
    I truly believe it. I enjoy to be challenged, I can learn something from that…

  10. Excellent! The only problem is I am somewhat e-learning impaired – I need a human being…walking, talking in front of me as my instructor – that’s why I had to come to States from India!!! Just kidding – I am planning to write my thesis in near future and I will need your help. Thanks again!