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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My School Socio-Autobiography

This was my final assignment for my Sociology class. We had to write a paper about events in our lives that influenced our school experience.What I wrote was about my previous attempts at going into college and how I ended up going to DeVry.I got an A for this assignment, though I feel that it still needed/needs a lot of work. The sociological themes I addressed are pretty much all over the place. I do include some references to what I feel are examples of entrenched sexism, and I think I have an overall "conflict theory" basis for a lot of the paper. I'm posting this here primarily as a frame of  reference for any future school-related stories that I tell.

My previous attempts at going to school were generally very brief and largely unsuccessful. Initially, I had not actually wanted to go college because I had not felt there was anything I was really interested in doing that would earn enough money to live on. My school experience up to that point had been extremely bad. I had been in special education for most of grade school and junior high, plus one year of high school. Most of my school experience involved avoiding bullies and being in high stress situations and getting in trouble at school and at home.  I did not want to have to deal with even more school, where I anticipated more of the same. I encountered a great deal of pressure from my family to go to school, even though we were a lower income family and my parents had made no attempt at *saving for college for any of us.

My first attempt at going to school was for a “Psychiatric Technician” program. The school I went to was in the process of closing down a few of its programs and also moving to a new site. It was an extremely eerie experience to be part of the only class attending the school, and extremely unpleasant. I am not sure why I chose that school, or the Psychiatric Tech program-- I did have interest in Psychology, but I wasn’t sure of it as a career of any sort.

The first reason why it was unpleasant was because of the situation the school site seemed to be in, it was a very high-stress environment and I somehow managed to annoy and alienate the teacher on the first day. I had brought a Dungeon’s and Dragon’s book to class when questioned by the teacher, made a semi-defensive joke that the teacher decided to take offense at. Also, given that the teacher was a veteran in the navy, and was a very authoritarian figure, it was a given that I would not do very well in the class since I had failed to realize that he was in fact an authority figure.  

This would be the general pattern of behavior throughout my school experience. I would do or say something and the teacher or one of my classmates would be annoyed, then I would become defensive, which would lead to an attack, which would lead to my getting more upset, and so on. 
The second reason it was unpleasant was because I have an undiagnosed learning disability that makes communication difficult. I have a very bad memory and I don’t always understand what someone is saying, even if they’ve repeated it several times, and it gets worse the more stressed out I become or the more background/environmental noises there are. It generally does not occur to me to interact with others, and when I do, my behaviors are off-putting and “inappropriate.” (I don’t know when to start or stop a conversation and I often seem angry or annoyed when I’m not). I also have a tendency to have “meltdowns” when I become overstressed, and I am a very slow learner. I was not at the time very good at finding ways to compensate for the learning disability, and my few methods did not work very well, and on occasion brought me in conflict with the teacher, such as coming to school at least a half hour early, because otherwise I might have been late.

The third reason it was unpleasant was because of a group exercise I was forced to take place in where we discussed religion. I am a mostly agnostic Pagan, and had gotten into huge trouble with my family because I was researching Wicca and other traditions. At the time, I was identifying mostly as Wiccan/Eclectic Witch with a strong thread of humanism/skepticism. I definitely did not want to talk about my beliefs to a group of mostly Christians, several of whom were much older than I was and more conservative. I tried to get out of the conversation but was forced to by the teacher and the classmates, so I mentioned that I was Pagan--as I expected, the entire group including the teacher attacked me. The class including the instructor had stereotyped preconceived ideas on what “Pagans” were and judged me based off of their ideas of what a Pagan was instead of seeing me as an individual. It was pretty clear that they had assigned me a role and there was nothing I could do about it.

My beliefs were questioned, and every time I tried to explain myself, I was jumped on verbally and then the classmate or the instructor would tell me I had just contradicted myself, or say that I was lying. I was accused of saying or doing strange things, and when I could not remember what happened, (usually because I remembered it much differently) they said I must have been blacking out. They also decided that I had been sexually abused by my family and a variety of other things. (For the record, no, I was never sexually molested by a family member.) Groups were extremely unpleasant and my grades were very poor. In this situation, I was going to be in the out-group no matter what I did or said, and almost everyone else was in the “in-group.” What should have been a warning to me about this school was that there was another woman who was also ostracized from the group due to unspecified mental illness and alleged “stalking behavior” on her part. If I had been more self-aware, I would have been able to study the group dynamics and understand the best way to avoid the situation, which would have been to offer only very neutral comments. Unfortunately, the more upset I became, the more I exacerbated the situation.

Despite realizing what an incredibly mistake I was making in attending this school and this program, I continued on. I ended up getting suspended from this school, and when I got back, I was only able to last a month or so before I was completely kicked out. Most of what I learned during this time was that I was extraordinarily bad at working in groups (which I knew already) and that a lot of my problems stems from an inability to be “social” in an expected way. I have trouble telling a pause in speech from a pause that signifies that I am supposed to interject, and even when I attempt to follow social rules, I somehow do them wrong. (As an example, I had been told by the teacher to wait to be acknowledged before speaking. When I tried to do this at work, I was told that I was “hovering” and being “creepy.”) The only thing I really learned from this experience was the various ways a group can become dysfunctional if there is already a great deal of stress in the environment.

I did attempt to take other classes at other schools, but because of my extremely bad experience, I generally backed out quickly the moment something went wrong. My second serious attempt at going to school went much better, though I picked another program based on my general interest instead of practical aptitude. The program I picked this time around was Criminal Investigation. Most if not all, Criminology jobs require that you a) know how to drive and b) have a driver’s license. I did have vague plans to pay for driving school, but the ideas never panned out. I did very well in all of my classes, much better than in the first school.

The instructors for the Criminology course were all former cops or otherwise involved in the justice system. It was very interesting to study their world views as they expressed them during class. The “cop mindset” tends to be very conservative, and I noticed a definite tendency among the male police officers to downplay or deny the existence of sexism within law enforcement. I also noticed a general tendency to engage in “victim blaming” as well as a tendency toward homophobia and transgender phobia in their words and actions. By having former police officers as teachers, this creates an environment geared toward acculturating the student to the cop subculture, which has its own rules, history and expectations of behavior. Given the blindness to feminist issues evidenced by one or two instructors, I am not entirely sure this is a good thing. The instructor would completely deny sexual harassment in the work place, while implying that anyone who “made a fuss” deserved what they had coming to them.  

The only problem was that I was still not very good at being social, and I managed to offend a classmate who decided to make it her personal mission to be as catty as humanly possible to me, and get as many of her friends as possible to join in. The offense in question was joking around with her, without actually having been introduced to her or “knowing” her. She made a special habit of making fun of me every time I misspoke and would elaborately warn me away from her stuff as if I were likely to steal something from her. One time I accidentally wore the same color and style of shirt she was wearing, and she just walked right back out of the class.

A combination of difficulties at work such as less hours and a feeling of misgiving about completing the course caused me to quit the school. I was doing very well in classes but was having trouble interacting with others and socializing. On one hand, I was unhappy I was unable to complete the program, but on the other hand, I had proven to myself that I was capable of getting good grades in a school setting. I felt it was a mixed victory, but my family most likely saw it as another failure on my part.

The most recent attempt at going to school is a result of a combination of aggravation over having been laid off from two jobs within one year and wanting to learn how to design my own webpages. I had a basic familiarity with HTML coding, Photoshop and other programs, but I wanted to learn in a class setting. I decided on DeVry, because the campus was close to where I lived and because Web Graphic Design seemed like the course that I was looking for. While I had my usual social difficulties, and one minor “meltdown” that resulted in my skipping a term to get a hold of myself, I have nearly completed the program, though I am extremely nervous about the final courses, and my final project. Mostly what school has taught me is that despite efforts to the contrary, there is not enough assistance for people who fall through the cracks due either to an unorthodox belief system or an undiagnosed learning disability.




*I think they figured we'd all go into the military and get a GI bill or something. They failed to take into consideration that I have severe allergies, lung problems and no real interest in the military.