Saturday, December 06, 2008

On Not Seeing

We just finished talking about the "Second Nun's Tale" in my Chaucer class, a tale that spends a lot of time showing how people who've converted to Christianity can suddenly see angels, or a specific angel, anyway, and floral crowns and such. Seeing is a big metaphor in lit all over the place.

I came to see a bit of my not seeing this week. It started with a note from a deanling about a student who is having problems with [a chemical addiction]. Then I got a nice note from the student, and had a pleasant meeting with the student.

I never saw the news coming. Of course, people hide their problems really well when they can, and this student did. But, shouldn't I have noticed?

For all I know, the student came to class having used [a chemical], and I didn't recognize that anything was wrong. Shouldn't I have noticed?

I knew the student was having trouble, but I thought it was just the typical trouble that students have. And it wasn't. (This particular trouble is pretty common, common enough to be typical, perhaps, though I don't think of it that way.)

I don't know how to see well enough.


  1. I don't think you should have seen their trouble as anything more than academic challenges. The thing is, if someone has a drug problem, it more than likely started well before your class. So -- you know this person in their addict persona... sometimes they are in one mood, sometimes another -- you have no way to know that drugs prompted the change.

    Also, addicts are VERY good at concealing their addiction. They are often so good their parents, siblings, spouses etc. don't see them doing it.

    I've actually kicked two students off of my debate team for being high at practice. I could only tell because I knew them very well, so I could see that they were stoned and not just silly. It is very likely that this wasn't the first time they came to practice high -- but, I knew them well enough from spending weekends with them -- so I could see it.

  2. I'm totally clueless about such things. But I think also it goes back to something I think you said a month or so ago, about how little of our students lives we see. And unless it was very brazen, I'm not sure you would necessarily have noticed.

  3. You must be at a REALLY small school. I doubt any professor at Berkeley even knew my face, let alone my name or enough to see if something was not normal.

  4. One of my best friends was addicted to crystal meth for five years, during the entirety of which time he held down a job at a busy, high-pressure government agency. I don't think he ever missed a day or was late because of his addiction--and his coworkers saw him much more often, in much more intimate settings, than we see our students.

    So yeah. This is not something you could have been expected to see.

  5. So wonderful to see that the school is so concerned about it's students. You and the deanling, both.