04 April 2007

A road trip to the right side of the tracks.

Yesterday, during my really long break between classes, I took three of the students from the metafiction class that I am assistant teaching at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) over to the Williams College library in Williamstown.

MCLA costs about $12,934.00 a year, including room & board, and Williams, ranked the number one liberal arts college in the US, costs about $42,650.00, more than three times the cost of MCLA. So naturally, the three girls and I were feeling a little out of our element. The thing is, when you assign an entire class to research aspects of metafiction, it's kind of unfair not to at least try to get them access to some books. The MCLA library has not had funding for new books in years, not significant book anyway. They do seem to acquire a strange collection of new books on pop culture topics and movies on DVD, but as for the literary criticism section, well, there really isn't one.

Williams, on the other hand, has an endowment of $1,348,373,291.00. They have more money than they know what to do with. They are planning to tear down their library soon (which is significantly newer than the MCLA library) and build a new one. So when we need some real books and don't have weeks and weeks to wait for inter-library loan to do its magic, we go to Williams.

It's gorgeous. There are desks - complete with ergonomic chairs - and lockers for students so that they don't have to cart their stuff home and back, and of course, four floors full of thousands and thousands of books. I think it was the first time that these students had been to the Williams College library, and they were clearly self-conscious, the poor kids, from the poor state school visiting the top-ranked school for rich and/or smart kids. We talked about it in the car on the way back, whether the girl at the desk was intentionally condescending or just spacey. (They said rude, I said flaky.)

The other thing that was running through my mind was a reading I went to last week by J.D. Scrimgeour, a professor of English at Salem State College in Salem, MA. He recently published a book of essays reflecting the differences between public and private education. His prose was well written, but when he took answers at the end of the reading I asked him what advice he gives to his state school students when they are ready to move into the competitive world of graduate schools or the job market. His answer was pathetic. Essentially, he didn't have one. He gave some lame line about working hard and how he would do whatever he could for his students. It wasn't what I was looking for.

Partly I was expecting too much (it had been only two days since the arrival of the rejection letter from SUNY and I really wanted someone to tell me what to do, give me some brilliant insight into how to get ahead) but partly I think that despite his rhetoric to the contrary, he has bought into some of the stereotypes of state school students.

There are some really not-so-smart kids that go to my school. There are also a lot of kids who don't really know what they want.Many of them are unmotivated, uninspired, just going to college because that's what you do. But what does it really mean that they will graduate with a diploma from MCLA instead of one from Williams? Is it really about intelligence (yes, partly), or self-confidence (definitely), money (at least a little), supportive parents, motivation?

I didn't want
Scrimgeour to tell me what just any state school student should do, just me. And as for Williams, well, they let me use their library and I'm happy to treat them with respect as long as they do the same for me. I just wish I knew what was going to happen next. When I need it for something, will it really matter that my BA is from MCLA and not from Williams? Can't I use my brain and my writing and my sparkly personality to override any undue prejudice about where I went to college? I hope so.

No comments: