I am currently working on a series of essays about the differences between the American style of education and the Chinese/Taiwanese style. One of the subtopics is students’ willingness to disagree with their teachers. The following story came to mind…
When I decided to return to school for my Ph.D. in the early 1980s, there were a number of innocuous reasons I chose the University of Minnesota over some other good schools. One of those reasons was that Minnesota’s Department of Recreation, Park, and Leisure Studies was going to let me teach my own classes. Assistantships at a couple of other schools actually paid better than Minnesota, but they didn’t offer the same teaching opportunities.
My first class of my first semester was Introduction to Recreation and Leisure. It was a required course of all recreation majors, but also attracted students from across campus. I overgeneralize, but recreation majors are a wholesome bunch. They are goodhearted young adults who take school seriously and are respectful of their teachers and of each other. That is why Leroy was such an anomaly. He was Goth when Goth was just starting to be popular, and he questioned aloud almost everything I said. I doubted he was a rec major. The other students found Leroy annoying, but I let him go because 1) I was inexperienced and did not know how to shut a student down, and 2) his insights were good. When he called me out, he wasn’t necessarily right, but he always offered an opposing view that had merit. Still, it was obvious he was being intentionally confrontational. I did not see a consistent point of view. He just disagreed with me whenever there was a chance to disagree.
The year was 1983. Course registration was still being done by hand, so it was about two weeks into the semester before I received my official class roster. When I finally was able to review my list of students, Leroy’s name was not on it – and at the first class meeting after I had the roster in hand, he was gone. I never saw him again. He’d just come to pester me, and as soon as I found out he wasn’t an enrolled student, he disappeared. After all of these years, I still remember Leroy’s first name, if that really was his name.