While I understand the importance of college for career, I think also that part of education should involve something called “personal development.” Indeed, were a gun put to my head, I am prepared to argue that personal development might in the long run be as important to a student after college as the possibility of career. Accordingly, I assign materials upon which students write that have something to do with promoting an understanding of themselves and the world they inhabit.
This time around though I may have gone too far. I assigned a fat chunk of a book by Erik Erikson called “Identity: Youth and Crisis.” I thought this book might be of some interest to young people since the word “youth” appeared in the title. Also I thought the notion of identity and crisis might be of some interest to them since they are all the time complaining about stress. But perhaps my narcissism got the best of me.
I was projecting my identity crisis upon them. I experience myself as undergoing an identity crisis but most of my students don’t seem to be undergoing an identity crisis at all. They are just stressed, is what. I guess I sensed this early on—that they were not going through an identity crisis—because I said, well, OK, I am going through an identity crisis (and I told them why—having to do with the aging process and hair falling out, etc), and that I didn’t want to feel lonely so I was going to force them to go through an identity crisis with me. Some laughed, but I am not sure all were pleased with the prospect.
In any case, after three class sessions, mulling over Erikson, having them pull quotations and write on those quotations, and having them think about and write upon issues of student identity, I feel I have made little to no headway. I have humbled and humiliated myself, I have stripped my self bare, looking for examples that might clarify. I have thrown everything at them including the kitchen sink. I have nothing left.
So I started making up stuff. I told them for example that when Carol and I married (I wrote the largely incomprehensible vows) and I had to say a word (maybe it was “yes”) that I became extremely dizzy, that my knees wobbled and that I almost passed out. Actually I was not close to passing out, my knees didn’t wobble, and while I was a little dizzy that was probably from standing out in the heat (one of the draw backs of an outdoor wedding). And, when I had paused for effect, why I asked them, why did they think I grew dizzy.
Had I been drinking a great deal? One student logically asked. No, I said, no. Had I perhaps failed to eat breakfast? Asked another. No. No. I said. No. Because—they finally forced me to say it—getting married for me was part of an identity crisis. And if that was the case, I continued in the Socratic question-answer mode, what might have been at the root of my crisis with respect to marriage.
I asked, but got no answer.