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More on Price's Mad at School

An Active Mind's picture

...but what if someone’s experience with bi-polar disorder, depression, or anxiety, could illuminate academic conversations?   

In the spirit of Price’s book, I've chosen to write my blog entry not in a traditional essay-like format, but in bullet points.  Because of my own mental disability, I often feel constrained by the academic essay; it doesn’t always seem conducive to the way my mind works, which I'm sure is the case for many people. I usually find myself thinking about too many ideas—ideas that aren’t always connected and can’t always conform to the logical smoothness (and transitions between paragraphs) that the argumentative essay demands. Below I’ve highlighted some of the moments in Price’s book that I found most striking along with some of my own questions/ideas:

  • In the academy's effort to separate the emotional and intellectual, do students begin to lose instinct? In a conversation I had with a friend the other day, she told me that she feels like she's lost the emotional instinct that she had as a freshman. Now, as a senior, she claims that she’s too intellectualized.  She says that she is always trying to assume a critical/analytical, objective perspective in regards to different texts in hopes of pulling out interesting analyses.  She tells me she forgets what it's like to simply admire a line in a poem because it's beautiful, not because it has some large or significant meaning.  
  • Throughout her book, Price talks a lot about people’s ability or inability to navigate kariotic space and how this navigation determines their success within the academy. Is the academy about containment? I’ve been thinking a lot about space in relation to academia—the confines of the classroom, the campus, and even a sheet of paper. How does the structure of schooling come to refuse the leakiness to which Anne refers? Can we consider the academy a filter that denies access to some and permits access to others? How do the borders and boundaries of the academic setting become hard to crack open or slip inside? Where exactly is the point of entrance? 
  • I find myself trying to contain myself—making sure I don’t come off as too anxious, too compulsive.  I imagine how others must perceive me and make a conscious effort to refute the descriptions of my own disorder and instead strive to fit snuggly within the category of “normal”.  And despite being a mental health advocate, I’m very much invested in making sure that others know that people who have mental illnesses are “normal”.  Should I instead come to embrace the symptoms of my own illness?  Should mental health advocates focus instead on their own oddity rather than their attempts to enter the sphere of "normalcy" (or the academy)?
  • When is it an appropriate time to divulge a mental disability to a professor?  Should you still tell a professor about a mental disability even it doesn't affect your academic work in any direct or visible way? 
  • Academia is about passing, in both the literal and metaphorical sense (both passing the course and passing for normal). Does all academia operate according to a “presumption of normativity” (44), to quote David L. Wallace? The problem, Price points out, is that everyone in the academy is considered to be mentally “normal”--that they can abide by the rational and logic.   
  • Participation is often a requirement for classes, especially at a small school like Bryn Mawr where class numbers rarely rise above thirty students. For a student with social anxiety disorder or selective mutism, is it fair to judge their participation in the same way as someone else? 
  • Attending class is something that professors believe students can control (54). Price explains that we often assume disability to be “‘static, biologically originating deficit of a give individual, as opposed to a contingent phenomenon that is constituted through social structures and discourses” (77).  This statement goes back to the question of whether or not culture itself creates disabilities.  
  • Price writes, “My aim here is to show that our accounts of classroom resistance will be enriched if we recognize the role—tacit or explicit—that mental disability plays in them, and also that an accessible classroom neither forecloses emotion nor is overrun by it, but makes constructive and creative space for it” (80). How can we alter the academy to a “universal design” that comes to accommodate everyone? Is it possible to let everyone inside the academic setting—if not, who will be left behind? 
  • Is there a problem with the way that most professors reference disabilities on their syllabuses—do these statements seem to only pertain to physical disabilities, or learning disabilities—and not mental illnesses? 
  • Anne and I are interested in queer studies’ intersection with disability studies. Queer studies has recently been interested in issues of temporality—what it means to be “out of time” and reject the normative, and often hetero-normative, timeline that insists on reproduction, progress, and, posterity. Much of Price’s book talks about how the academy and its structuring of itself around schedules—placing importance on appointments, deadlines, and the completion of task—comes  to exclude those with mental disabilities. For example, if you have a 9 a.m. class, you are required to be there; it doesn't matter if you're stuck in a deep depression and can't get out of bed.  Price also references “crip time” – “a term from disability culture, refers to a flexible approach to normative time frames”. Price talks, for example, about conferences and how organizers might go about scheduling them in such a way that comes to accommodate the disabled—more breaks, a slower pace, etc. “Crip time” and “queer time” both come to undermine the timelines on which we so heavily rely. 
  • Price talks about the shootings that occurred at both Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University come to reinforce the perception that mental illness is linked to violence.  Price instead points out that the greatest risk of the mentally ill is not that they will hurt other people, but that they will hurt themselves (164).  
  • Can the academy be seen as a colonizer—indoctrinating generation upon generation with its own values and customs?
  • How does the academy fail to allow for fragmentation?  In her chapter entitled "'Her Pronouns Wax and Wane': Mental Disability, Autobiography, and Counter-Diagnosis", she discusses "counter-diagnostic" narratives that refuse linearity (and notions of the "cure") and instead opt for incoherence.  She mentions Antonetta's friend N'Lili in A Mind Apart who rejects a cohesive pronoun and assumes, instead, multiple identities (this reminds me too, of my post of Lady Gaga's rebirths--which suggest that we are not one person, but many).  Does work in the academy demand a singular voice?  How might this connect with issues concerning collaboration?  

I have just finished reading....


Anne Dalke's picture

On being present

I have found my own sense of the limitations of the academy heightened by Price's analysis, and have been struck in particular by her catalogue of academic expectations, such as (in particular) rationalism, presence, participation, and colleagiality. How much I expect each of those qualities in my students and colleagues; how provoked I am when they don't meet my expectations.

And so. And but. As we were discussing these ideas in my faculty working group on assessment last week, one of my (very rational, very present, very participatory, very collegial!) friends said, "But people need to find one another. And with the mentally ill, you often don’t find them where and as you need them. How can we create structures of schooling for and with people who can't show up?"

If presence is part of what is necessary in educational systems, are there concomitant necessities? Does presence mean we should all be there? How does one make oneself present? How much are we depending, in our expectations of regular classroom attendance and participation (for example), on the regimentation of disability, a cooperative agreement that none of us "show our disabilities"?

What would happen, if we all took off our masks (as in the story An Active Mind tells about her long conversation w/ a friend)?

What would happen, if we reconceived ourselves as a community of dependent beings, leaky, fragile, needing the care and attention of one another, rather than as independent entities?

We had an interesting conversation, during last week's faculty meeting, about our relationship with our students: How we might think of ourselves, on facebook or other on-line sites, as other than their "friends"? I've been mulling over these questions since, and want to say a couple of things that have arisen in my mind as a result.

The first comes from the work of a particle physicist and feminist scholar, Karen Barad, whom Liz McCormack and I are teaching this semester in our Gender and Technology class. Barad zeroes in on what Bohr "took to be the heart of the lesson of quantum physics: we are a part of that nature that we seek to understand... taking account of the fact that our knowledge-making practices are social-material enactments that contribute to, and are a part of, the phenomena we describe." Or: we are all entangled w/ one another, and with what we study; together we make up the phenomena of the world.

One way to work with that, on the macro-level, is to use the notion of our interdependence to guide our work with our students. One of my touchstones, since grad school, has been Emerson's 1841 essay "Friendship," which defines friends there as those who "enlarge the meaning of all my thoughts": "A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud." "Friendship requires that rare mean betwixt likeness and unlikeness.... I am equally balked by antagonism and by compliance. Let him not cease an instant to be himself.... I hate... to find a mush of concession. Better be a nettle in the side of your friend than his echo.... The condition which high friendship demands is ability to do without it.... I do then with my friends as I do with my books. I would have them where I can find them, but I seldom use them."

That's a different way to think about "presence": not needing to be there physically, because always present psychically and intellectually (yes?!).

Building on this: I used to say that, in teaching, I was "making friends," growing the sorts of young women I would like to be in touch w/ for the remainder of our lives. Now I recognize that I am friends with my students while they are my students. I treat them the way I treat my other, older friends: I praise them when they do things that please me, I call them to account when they have failed me, I speak with them honestly about matters of shared concern. Eventually, @ semester's end, they gather together a portfolio and write a self-assessment of their work, and I assign them a grade based on that report and my own impressions. For some of them I will write recommendations, for others I will tell them frankly that I don't think it's a good idea. But @ this point in my decades of teaching, "friendship" is not the least bit problematic--indeed, is the best term I know --for describing my relationship w/ my students. A way of being present.