Mid-Twentieth Century Blues. Chapter Six. The Students

Once Inspiring, Students Became a Downdraft!

Teaching was an artform for me.  Early in my career, I gave up opportunities to advance to administrative positions because I loved being in the classroom.  Student discussions were vibrant.  Cracking open a window to other cultures and beliefs for students was a satisfying experience.

It made me happy!  And they were happy too!  I guess that is the reason that I created over 30 different courses in my career. Learning was taking place in the classroom, in my office, when I visited the library, at conferences, and in conversations with students.  It was the best job on the planet!

You and Me

We started together, you and me. We were new on campus.  We found new friends and faced new challenges.  Some of us were away from our family for the first time.  We struggled together.  We listened to each other.  We even shouted at each other.

Somehow we managed to say “Good Morning” to each other.  Each day we met to discuss a new way of looking at religions.

You and me, we even grew up a little.  You and me, we made it through dull days, high days, lonely days, low days, snow days, test days, homework days, think days, and project days.  You and me….  I’m so glad that we made it to the end together!

                                                                                   Marla J. Selvidge

This poem was composed following my first semester of teaching after receiving my PhD.  at a very small private college.  Life and teaching was very different in 1981 than it is now.  In the beginning, students were more respectful and generally eager to learn. In the beginning students were dedicated. Those years were spent teaching in private colleges or universities. As the years wore on, the students wore out. They did not necessarily enroll in college to learn.

At my last college, I experienced a hostile breed of students who feared other religions.  They were shocked at each world religion we studied so they began an assault. Besides the notes and hideous cartoons placed under my door, students also taped my lectures and brought them to the president to prove that I was teaching “heresy,” whatever that meant to those students. There were flyers taped on my door and letters to the editor in the school newspaper. (I wish I had saved more of these.)  Here are a few of the notes that were placed under my door:

“Dear Dr. Selvidge, My Sunday School class decided to tell you about the Bible.  They said, “Believe in the Bible.” The reason why you need to believe in the Bible is because, “It’s True!”  You need to believe in God. You love him.  We are going to pray that you will believe in the Bible.”

Eight students signed this note.  I suppose I received it because I was teaching the history and development of the New Testament rather than using the bible as a rulebook or spiritual giode by which to live.  Another note came with an invitation to meet with “Spirit-filled Christians.”

Come and join us if you can stand being that close to the Holy Spirit.”

Another student seemed to think that I was making fun of Christians and invited me to her  church so that I would learn about “real” Christianity.  I was teaching  the history of Christianity about which she had never been exposed!

Misguided students haunted my office.  One wanted to bring his denomination on campus and teach classes in his faith.  He argued that other colleges did it.  But I argued that as a state university we have to be neutral with regard to religions. We cannot teach faith.  We can teach about the religions but not teach people to be religious.  He was very upset and complained to everyone he knew that I was discriminating against his faith.

A Muslim student did not like a cartoon that he said was posted on one of the bulletin boards outside my office.  He complained to a professor in another department and they came down to reprimand me.  Their ammunition was verbal abuse.  But, they could not find the cartoon?  Maybe the student had seen it on another bulletin board?  They were so irate I had to call security.  And the professor sent an apology to me after being counseled by security and his chair.

I received many letters from one student who claimed he was the Messiah.

I still believe that I am the Messiah, especially the David of   Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the Psalms.  And I also believe I am “The faithful and True Witness, the First-born of the Dead, and The Root and Stock of David….”

    Well, Marla, what I am trying to say throughout this whole       letter is that I am lonely for intellectual stimulation, and would like to hear from you. I would be glad to answer all of your questions.”

What did he say to me?

 Should Everyone Go to College?

Cartoon by Chan Lowe published in the KC Star on 11/8/15

Cartoon by Chan Lowe published in the KC Star on 11/8/15

Chan Lowe created a visual portrait of higher education in the United States “The American Undergrad’s Prayer.”  He drew a student by the side of a bed, in tears, praying.

O, Lord!  Please protect me from campus killing rampages so that I may earn my worthless degree and drown in student debt forever and ever,  AMEN.”  

This creative soul captured the tragic feelings of many lost undergraduates in our country but his view is very narrow.  Earning cash is not everything in life.  There are a lot of other values that propel people to attend college.

Many students don’t know what they want today.  They can’t see their own future and this is the despair that is reflected in the above cartoon.   They are so wrapped up in their phones, their games, their sport’s teams and parties, that they don’t have time to think about the importance of those wonderful classes in which they are enrolled.

I have alluded to this point earlier. Working your way through college will not harm you; in fact, I think it could improve grades because students are forced to discipline themselves.  Before the proliferation of grants and scholarships, this is the way that many people made their way through college.  When I graduated with a Ph.D., I had no debt and I had attended private, very expensive colleges.    There is no reason for a student to borrow a $100,000 for an education.

And the top officials of universities are in the same bucket.  They cannot see their own future, either.  They are wrapped up in their own careers, and salaries, and influence, to the detriment of our students. They are also lost, and so they lead the students into a bitter darkness reflected in this cartoon.

One of the colleges where I taught bragged that 95% of students had a job after college. That was a great misleading marketing strategy. The numbers game did not reveal an honest portrait for hopeful students. Most students had part-time jobs before they graduated, and those part-time jobs were counted in that 95%.

Today parents and students think everyone should go to college. This is a mistake. Many students go to college in order to win a good-paying job. Everyone needs to gain many of the basic skills students should learn in college, but not every person should be in a college classroom.  If you want to go to college to win a “job” then don’t go to college.  Find a nice technical program somewhere that gives you the skills you need to get into the job market.

If driving a white Mercedes is your only goal, it takes only a couple of semesters, not four years, to obtain a web design certificate. Students with this certificate could be hired as a designer today at a good salary.  Study one programming language that is in vogue, and you will be given offers by several companies.  But you will have missed what I think is the heart of education, which is the humanities that connects with history, people, poetry, great literature, art, music, theatre, religious studies, and more. They should be exposed to ethics and cultures and languages of other countries. Understanding the past and where the future might lead must be at the center of their curricula.

Choosing to go to college for the sole purpose of finding a job is a”fundamental” error.  In the end, this type of thinking harms the student tremendously. They become empty people who cannot deal with diversity or adversity. Their creativity may have been compromised in their quest for economic security.

Another problem with the job only/money only trajectory is that by the time students graduate, their precious career goal might have gone south like my father’s company.  The most important goals students should have when they go to college are to prepare themselves to adapt to any type of job.

Many of the practical skills of living are left out of the curriculum of colleges and universities.  Students need to learn how to manage money and invest.  They need experience in understanding and financing a home and what it will take to make a successful and happy life with or without a partner and perhaps children. And they need to learn how to do their own taxes.

It seems that today parents need somewhere to park their children who are not working or productive in any way.  They send them to state colleges or universities because the tuition is cheap. I taught primarily general education courses and students thought they ought to just sit in a classroom and receive a superior grade.  They began to question everything a professor did in the classroom. They did not like the exercises, the videos, the presentation, the lively lectures, the music, the tests, and the grading.  I wanted them to be active learners and they just wanted to sit and play with their phones. Professors were being unfair when they graded according to specific rubric or requirement.

One volatile year on campus (There were marches where students protested and damaged buildings!) students got together in one of my classes and decided that they would not study for a test. I often based test grades on the highest achiever, so they reasoned that if no one studied and the highest grade was a 30 out of 100, I would give everyone an “A.”  Nowhere in the syllabus (a legal agreement) did I announce a practice of basing grades on the highest score.  But I did adjust grades when students were very poor.  When the grading was done after the above test, almost everyone scored a D or an F.  I decided not to curve the test. They decided to study for the next test.

No degree is worthless.  If you have studied well, you have learned how to read and write and communicate with the rest of the world.  These are basic skills that undergrads lack. Many of my students could not spell, write a good sentence, reason critically, and were extremely lazy and undisciplined.  They could not understand what was being offered to them, so they threw the time in college away.

When I was younger, most everyone I knew thought that my degree was worthless.  I have a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Greek.  But, I had a tremendous career with many different job opportunities, traveled the world, and created many, many books, made friends with people all over the planet, lectured on cruise ships, gave academic papers at national conferences, and more.  You learn to turn your degree into interesting pursuits.   Skills in the humanities are always relevant and will help you to re-create your future.

Disrespect In and Outside the Classroom

Students dared me to teach them anything!

Some students protested being in class by holding up newspapers in front of their faces during the entire hour.  (Why did they enroll in the class if they did not want to study the subject matter?) At one religious college where I taught, the brothers (religious)  did not like the idea of a woman teaching them.  Grown men sat in the back row of the classroom and read the newspaper or other books or talked to each other.  They would not allow me to control the classroom.  They wanted to control me.  They were offended that a “woman” was teaching them, so they punished me.  No amount of discussion or threat was going to control them.

And younger men did not want to be controlled either.  I have a vivid memory of a biker who sat in the front row of one of my classes.  He always wore leather and had spiked gloves with snaps that went all the way up his arms.  When he wanted the class to end he would put on one glove at a time very slowly and then snap them.  The snaps were louder than any activity going on in the classroom. So he gave the signal to the rest of the class that it was over.  Sometimes he would do this with twenty minutes left in the class.  No amount of discussion with him would stop him from snapping his gloves either.

Then there was the student who did not wear underwear. During summer classes, students usually wear shorts to class. This student wore short shorts with a huge hole right where the legs were seamed together.  He did not wear them for every class but he wore them often and everything hung out. (He was naked.)  How do you deal with these issues?

Then there was the woman with a baby who nursed it during class. (I never knew that nursing a baby could echo in a room.)  I had to ask her to leave when she was nursing. She thought I was picking on her. Then there was the woman who sat in the middle of the class, wore heavy perfume and  bustiers to class. Several of my male students dropped the class because of the smell of perfume and the lack of clothing.

One Religious Studies major sat in the front row of every class and would start talking about sports with students about three minutes before it was to begin.  Every day he would get into a shouting match with someone about a team. This meant that I could never start class on time.  I talked with him and pleaded with him but the behavior continued.  What do you do?  Challenge them to a wrestling match?  You can’t throw every mischievous kid out the door; you have to keep working with them to help them to overcome their anti-social behavior.  And humor does not work!

The real problem with mischievous students is that bureaucrats don’t want to lose a single student.  That would hurt their student-credit-hours bottom-line and cash.  They won’t set standards and generally won’t support faculty in the classroom.  And, students know they are “used” and they resent every minute of it, even though they know that they can cheat!

Guns, Guns, Guns

Since many students don’t belong in college nor do they want to be in college, they become restless and abusive.  I would guess that a lot of the problem lies with their inability to read or write or even to use a computer these days.  (The phone has replaced the computer!) Toward the end of my career, students would become volatile if you required them to shut down their smart phones. They were on edge!  One student stood outside my office swearing and walking back and forth threatening me.  Eventually he was taken out of one of my classes. Another female clenched her fist in my face after she received a grade she did not like.

A low level of violence always pervaded campuses whether in student housing, in the classroom, or….  It takes many forms, but generally it does not result in the loss of life. At one institution where I worked a faculty member was acquitted after being charged with killing his partner. Fear gripped us when a student killed a faculty member. Rumors claimed the professor was killed because he twice failed a student in a class the student needed to graduate.  But I always wondered if there was something else going on? And an international student killed a local student (no rumors on that one) but was scurried back to Saudi Arabia avoiding local prosecution.

And it was not unusual for students to push or shove or cause someone to fall when they left the classroom, especially if they disagreed with certain opinions of that student.  After a lecture by a Sufi in a World Religions class, one of my students in the back of the class stood up and yelled, “In my country, we would kill you.”  That professor never guest lectured in my class again!  Yes, I was talking to the dean of students often about unruly and uncontrollable students.  Was this really “higher” education?

Bad social behavior can turn into something else.  Students also used threats and guns to get their way.  In one night course that I taugh in New York, students were happy to demonstrate the small pistols they carried in their boots and placed up their sleeves.  Until that day, I had never seen a switchblade and many of the students carried them.  I never understood the reasons as to why my students wanted to share their weapons with me. Perhaps they wanted to “chill” the professor.  And one student did exactly that.

A failing student arrived at my office wearing a long brown raincoat one afternoon. He argued with me to change his grade to a “C.”  I showed him his work and said that he knew he had not earned a “C” but he argued that he had to have his grade changed.  At that moment, he went to his pocket and took out a very large handgun and laid it on my desk.  I was beyond shock. I could not speak!  He said that if I did not give him a “C” that he was going to use it on me.  How stupid I was.   I looked straight into his eyes and told him that I would not change his grade.

He did not shoot me, thankfully! I was lucky! But, I was in shock and never told anyone about the incident until 25 years later. I buried it somewhere in my soul, and I left that job by the end of the summer.

Today, I would handle the incident differently.  I would probably have told him sure I will change the grade, and then proceed to give him the grade he deserved.  I certainly would have alerted security.

No, No, No!!!  Don’t Teach Me to Write or Think!

 One of the most shocking things for professors to discover is that many students do not want to learn anything. Early in my career I gave essay tests.  I thought students should know how to read, write, and express themselves well in a class. After my first test of 30 students in an introductory class, twenty-five of the students came to complain about my grading and their grades.  I told them exactly how I graded and even gave them a grid so they could measure their work.  This did not work.

I gave another essay test and all of the students complained.  When I had three classes of 30 students, almost all of those 90 students came to see me about their grades.  One student stood up and screamed at me in front of all 130 students, “Who the hell are you to grade my writing!”  There was not enough time or energy to continue giving essay tests.  I gave up and began giving objective tests.  Not a single student complained (ever) about the tests then. They could guess their way through the test and the class.  Content and excellence were unimportant.

In upper division classes I continued to give essay tests and the complaints were few.  But general education classes continued to attract marginal students.  To this day, in the last quarter century of my teaching, I found very few students who could write a good sentence.  More of those students could not spell.  In the end, they were sending in their assignments using their cell phones without capitalization, punctuation, and no grammar at all.

Let me address the cell phone issue here.  Most of my students came from economically challenged homes.  They had a choice to make.  They could buy a phone or a computer but not both.  Of course, they chose the toy, the phone! And while the campus sported hundreds of computers students could use, they found it difficult to find their way to the labs or the library.  And, many students commuted so the computers on campus were of no use to them.  Some colleges get it right!  They give every student a computer upon entry.

I suppose many of the students thought that my classes were ONLY general education courses so they did not have to learn anything?  We are doing a dis-service to college-bound students when we socialize them into thinking that only their major classes have merit. They are told that classes outside their major are not important.  All the classes taken in college seek to broaden the minds of students and every class will add to a person’s life.

Cheating Your Way Through College

Athletes cheat. Moms and Dads cheat. Daughters and sons cheat. Bureaucrats cheat. Friends cheat. Faculty and Staff cheat. Majors cheat. Minors cheat. He cheats.  She cheats.  They all cheat!

When students do not value their education, they cheat.  I could write a book on how students cheated in my classes over the years.  Cheating was rampant in all of my college classes.  Even in online courses, students who were failing would hire someone to do the work for them. Sometimes students would send in assignments that were marginal.  Then, all of a sudden, the student would submit a perfect paper. When I asked the student as to how she could improve her grammar and spelling so quickly, she would drop the class or confess that someone else was doing the work.

A dozen athletes would enroll in the same class online on the same day. I monitored enrollment every day. One or more of the athletes would do the work and the rest would send in the same homework.  Or a student assigned to tutor an athlete would do the work.  I had to approach coaches with these issues and the cheating stopped for a semester or two and then resumed.

One soldier, as others had done, copied and pasted answers into his online test from an outside source.  He admitted he cheated but he thought it was the thing to do to pass the class.  “I will take my punishment!”  A husband-wife military team handed in the same work for their assignments.  They could not see anything wrong with what they were doing. Probably the one instance that pierced my heart the most was when a student majoring inReligious Studies handed in a semester project that she had downloaded from the web.  That was a heart breaker.

One summer a very pregnant student handed in a research paper that followed guidelines from several semesters in the past.  The topic was not even listed as an option for the class.  When faced with the obvious cheating, she was unrepentant. And this happened over and over again when students thought that they could hand in papers written by someone else years earlier.  Did they do this in other classes?

In meetings with faculty when I brought up the issue of cheating, they claimed that it did not happen?  Huh? The real question here is:  Were these faculty grading the student papers? Did they compare papers or tests?  Maybe they did not assign papers, projects, or tests? Faculty often complained that it was not their job to grade grammar or spelling, perhaps they just checked off the papers and never read them?

I discovered that students in some of my larger classes were paying students to take their tests for them.  I had already instituted a policy that students had to bring their school identification card (with their pictures) with them in order to take a test. I looked at every card and every student and found cards that did not match the student coming to the test. What a shock! “Oh, I was just helping out my friend by taking his test!”said students.

When I taught three sections of face-to-face classes, students would share information about the test in between classes.  By the end of the last class, students in that class always achieved grades that were at least 10% higher than the other classes.  I had to create different scales for each class and ended up creating three different tests to keep down the cheating.

In the end, there are only so many questions that can be created for a test. Greek societies on campus kept huge files of tests for all the professors.  One of my students shared this with me and showed me tests in a Greek file that went back several years.  Greek societies should be banned from campuses.  Many of them teach students to circumvent rules and cheat.  These corrupt values are embraced by their members and follow them into their careers.

Greek societies can also be brutal.  We have all heard about hazing but I witnessed it often in the classroom when students could not function during rush week.  One of my African students was wearing a wool cap on his head during 90-degree heat.  After class I asked him why he had a wool hat pulled down over his head.  He lifted the hat and he had burned spots all over his head. What are these?  He said it was part of a ritual he had to go through to enter a Greek society.  I was going to go to the dean of students for him but he stopped me.  He said that if they found that he had told me what they did to him, they would harm him even more.

In one of my classes, I had two Greek students who sat together in the back of the classroom and rarely came to class.  They were always oblivious to what we were doing in class, and they missed more than 50% of the classes. Somehow they ended up achieving B’s on tests.  I had a strict rule about absences and so they failed the class.  Neither one of them ever came back to argue with me about their grade.  They were afraid that I had discovered their secret.

When we placed tests online, I kept the same policy.  But, students began copying and sending questions to others. Some honest students in one class complained about these cheating students because they saw them copying the test and emailing it to someone.  When I took the cheating students to the dean of students, with evidence, they were not punished.  In fact, no students were ever punished for cheating on any level by a bureaucrat at any university or college where I taught.  Colleges and universities consider the loss of tuition a negative and seek to keep students on campus, even if they have to override faculty and change their grades.

I took a Spanish class one year at a college.  During the first test only I and one other student stayed longer than fifteen minutes to take the test.  I could not believe it?  I asked the professor if she gave the same test every semester.  And she answered in the affirmative.  I also asked if all of the students received high grades. She told me that most of them received high grades but a few gave up and did not want to take the test.  She was unconcerned about cheating.  “It is their choice.  If they want to cheat and don’t want to learn, I can’t change them!” And this was a similar point of view voiced by one of my adjuncts. “So what if  they copy each other’s papers, at least they are learning something!”  I must have missed that lecture in graduate school when we were told to encourage cheating by our students!

Manipulating the Professor

If you don’t cheat, there are many strategies that students use in order to manipulate their professors into giving them better grades.  Some professors hang “crying towels” on their doors to attempt to stop students from pleading for grades.  It got so bad that I placed warnings in my syllabi.  If anyone tried to argue for a better grade I would consider it  cheating.  Asking for extra credit is also cheating because not everyone can participate in that extra credit.

I thought developing online courses would protect me from vicious, manipulative, and violent students.  But it did not stop them from emailing threats and calling me a “motherfu…”  Students continued to find ways to abuse me, even when we were hundreds or thousands of miles apart.  If students did not achieve the grade they wanted, they enlisted their parents to denigrate and insult me on the phone.  And, sometimes those irate parents, achieved success for their child.  Out of desperation and fear of violence, a dean would order me to give the student an opportunity to re-take a test.  Even with this opportunity, students usually failed.  Sometimes the dean would over-rule my grade for a student just to keep the peace. Is this “higher” education?

One student thought that I was going to shoot all of the students when I gave back tests.  (Obviously he had psychological problems.) He told the dean that I had a gun underneath the desk at the front of the room.  He was truly stressed to the max.  He wanted to re-take a test.  I agreed. He did not re-take the test because he told the dean that I would not give him a fair grade since he complained about me.  The dean gave him a passing grade that he did not deserve. I still can’t believe that the Dean did this.

Early in my career, when I was young and somewhat attractive, males and females would come to my office and ask me if there was anything they could do for me. At first, I wondered what was going on? Who volunteers to help a professor? But, soon I understood.  They were asking, “Is there ANYTHING (wink, wink) that I can do personally for you.”  This sex for grades strategy must have worked in other classes but it did not work in mine.

And this happened again and again with some international students from Saudi Arabia later in my career.  Not all international students were poor!  They would bring gifts to me, like plastic bracelets, and try to bribe me with money to change their grades.  I reported these activities to the International Office and they took no action against these students.  The students who brought gifts (I refused the money!) would come to me at the end of the semester with shock on their faces.  They could not believe they failed.  I had taken their gifts and they thought that would save them.  I soon learned not to take any gift!

Stalking the Professor

There are probably hundreds of reasons that someone decides to stalk another person.  But I really did not know the reasons as to why my students stalked me.  Two students, a male and a female stalked me. The male student had taken a couple of classes with me.  Occasionally he would stop by the office to hand in his work or ask about something we were studying.  I did not pay attention to it.  One day he told me that I was the most beautiful professor on campus and he wanted to date me.  I am sure he was thirty years younger than me.  I was kind but declined.

Next he started emailing me and telling me he could meet in town at a certain place.  I lived at least 60 miles away and he was willing to drive all of that way to see me. I went to the dean and asked him to help me.  He did not believe me and told me that I was just encouraging the student.  This issue was too messy for the dean and might harm his career.  This is typical behavior by a bureaucrat who will not protect faculty but always side with a student.  To this day, the male student has even tried to friend me on Facebook and Linked In.  He is still out there circling me.

The other  student who stalked me had accessibility issues.  She played the handicapped game with me.  She told me that she needed a sheet of paper to write down her thoughts during tests.  I told her that it had to be blank.  She took many classes from me and always used a blank sheet of paper.  In one of her last classes I thought I saw something written on the blank sheet of paper. She had written answers to questions and notes in invisible ink.  An eraser revealed the writing.  She was my best student and set the curves in all of the classes she took.  She cheated for herself and harmed others in the process. I was duped!

One of the most eerie things that ever happened to me while I was a professor involved the above student.  I was heading off to a national conference in another state.  Tom and I usually travel and sit in seats aisles apart. I arrived at my seat on the plane and whom do you think was sitting next to me?  It was the handicapped student.  How did she find out where I was sitting?

She thought I was traveling alone and was surprised to see my husband.  She wanted to stay with me during the entire conference.  Yes, she wanted to share my room. I helped her to the hotel and then went to the sessions where I was giving a paper. I will never know how and why she followed me to this conference.  I was afraid!

Traveling the World with Addicts

Visiting other countries is the best way to learn about life, culture, religions, politics and the world.  We always learn that what we read in books is out of date!  In real time we learn about real people!

I created several travel classes for students that took them to Australia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Ireland, and even to Alaska. On every study tour there was at least one student who was a drug addict.  In Australia one of the students ran away from the tour.  The bus driver said he thought he knew where he went and found him.  He was climbing fences high above cliffs and putting his life in harm’s way.  We were all worried.  When he returned from the trip, he was arrested and eventually sent to prison for a methamphetamine lab that he housed in his student apartment.  He had stolen all the equipment from the chemistry lab at the university.

On this same trip, I worked with a faculty member from another college who brought a few of her students.  She slept during the entire tour.  On the bus, she slept through every stop and adventure. I always wondered if she was drugged too?  I don’t remember a single conversation with her!

On another trip a student stayed in his stateroom almost all of the time. He and his friend were addicts. He had told me that the police had interviewed him because both of his parents were killed.  After their deaths he inherited a lot of money.  When we returned from the trip he tried to persuade me to give him a better grade than he deserved.

In Thailand, another student would not listen to my warnings about drinking alcohol with ice.  It made him very sick.  And we believed that he was visiting brothels.  If someone is 21, there is nothing you as a professor can do to stop him from making poor decisions. Still, another student in China began dancing with people who lived on the streets.  I saw a very “dirty” street man putting his hands through her beautiful long hair!  She did not understand how at risk she was for diseases! 

My Religion is the ONLY TRUE Religion!

Students were not the only people on campus who feared other religions.  Every time I sponsored an event there was push back from some faculty and staff.  They believed that the space on campus should be reserved for their brand of Christianity.

One of the first eye-openers for me came when we were studying Greek Orthodoxy in class. I shared a video of an Orthodox service.  We discussed the film afterwards and students were disturbed by the clothing and ornate church.  They called the priest “satanic” and could not believe that this was an example of Christianity.

Superstition exploded often in class with people fearing to touch a statue or artifact of another religion. Generally, I brought statues or icons of faiths to class and passed them around the room.  The classroom was large and students could not clearly see the statues.  Later, I created photographs of the icons and projected them on a screen for them.  But many students would withdraw from any object being passed around in class.  It was as if the would be harmed by the object.

Students also stood up and witnessed their faith.  It was difficult to control these people.  They wanted a soapbox and they thought my classes were their best shot.  Sometimes I had to ta.  Many students were offended that I did not teach that their brand of Christianity was the only acceptable and true religion.  They could not step outside themselves to understand that humans create religions. Religions do not descend from another planet.  Of course this superiority complex about their own faith hindered their achievements in class.  If they feared studying other religions, then how were they going to do the assignments and pass the tests?

I should note here that there were many students who reveled in studying other religions because it opened a door to the world.  I remember one of my minors in Religious Studies told me that until he entered college, the only time he had ever left his town was to view an Elvis tribute artist in another part of the county. (Not that there is anything wrong with enjoying Elvis tunes!)

Believe it or not, many students came to me with horror stories about how other faculty members or bureaucrats started classes and meetings with prayer, a Christian prayer, or read from the Bible and this was at a state institution.  Administrators followed the same practice.  After many complaints the vice president of student affairs stopped opening his meetings with prayer.  For one thing praying constitutes the establishment of religion and that is prohibited by the Constitution.  And, praying in a religious language that does not recognize all religions is a powerful way to control people.  If you have a hotline to heaven or a god, then who is going to argue  with you? Evoking the name of the divine gave them extra powers over people.

Kind and Gentle Students

Religious Studies was under fire from the bureaucrats for almost all of the years I worked.  Sometimes students and faculty would come to my rescue and gallantly defend me.  And, sometimes, after all the altercations, you forget that students can make you feel as if you are the most important person in the world.  Here is one such letter,

“I am very happy I had the chance to enroll in your    introductory Greek course.  I wish I could have devoted  more time to it. In one of the classes I teach, I stress the  Greek origins of many of the concepts. And then there is  the pleasure of understanding instantly the meaning of a word I have never seen before.  So it was with “thanatophobe” a combination of “thanatos” and “phobos,”  “death” and “fear.” The language has enriched my life.    Thank you!”


It is a shock when a professor discovers that students cannot read or write.  How did they make it through high school?  As I reflect back on the turmoil within my students, I think that the recession beginning in 2007 or even earlier should take part of the blame.  Where else and what else is a teen supposed to do, if they can’t find a job?  They can join the military or go to college.  Most of my students and their families could not afford to even think about volunteering! They were stuck and they did not like it!

Next time we will explore the selfish and intimidating bureaucrats!

As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge

If you would like to read the entire book, you can find it on Amazon. Click on this link:






This entry was posted in Aid to education, Disillusionment in Higher Education, Education not War, Higher Education, Hostility and Violence on Campus, Religious Beliefs destroy females careers, Religious hatred, Strategies to derail females, Stress and Professors, Students at risk, Students in the Classroom, Violence Against Women, Violence and Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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