One reason I’ve done well in school in the past is that the traditional way in which students are graded – tests, term papers, presentations, etc. – is a form at which I excel. If I was graded based on my ability to compose original music or paint or sculpt I would not be as good a student.
As the archetype of normativity in American society (white, male, educated, etc.), I don’t often have to think about non-dominant forms of intellectual production in school. People conform to what I know and share their thinking in ways I can understand. I was thinking about this in my trip to Ecuador when we met with representatives of the Latin American Council of Churches and they showed up with PowerPoint presentations. I’m pretty sure PowerPoint is not a traditional Ecuadorian form of communication but they implicitly knew that if they wanted to be taken seriously by us that’s what they needed. My heart sank, as it always does when I see PowerPoint, but I was also gratified because I knew what to expect.
Anyway, I’m taking a class this term in which the form of my intellectual production is a little different. The final project, on which the entire grade depends, requires me to get involved with and learn about a local social service and/or religious agency in town. I almost didn’t take the class when I realized this. What? No term paper? You mean I can’t do well in class by spending several hours in the library and putting together my research? I have to – gasp! – get out in the world?
It’s turned out to be a really delightful project and actually led me to learn more about New Haven and get involved in some of the really neat, non-Yale things that go on in this city. I find that often happens when I stretch the bounds of what counts as normal and usual.