My graduate-level class last semester was a small and intimate group of 9 students. During the course we covered a lot of social constructions (gender, race, class, etc) as well as a number of sensitive subjects such as abortion and adolescent pregnancy. The class did an amazing job of tackling these issues. They struggled with the concepts individually and as a group. Even though they came from very diverse perspectives the discussions were always balanced, fair and respectful. I was proud of their work and happy with the class as a whole.
One of my students is a doctoral candidate in a different department. She is an older student and comes from my mother's generation. She had great difficulty with the idea that gender is socially constructed and both the readings and the discussions often took her outside her comfort zone. She was very upfront in class and in her reading journals about her struggles and I really appreciated how she stayed with me in the course. I believe for many people it is easier to be dismissive of perspectives outside of your own world view.
Today she sent me an email with a story attached. She told me she was waiting for grades to be done before she sent it to me. The story was of an everyday experience that occurred while she was gardening and she used the story to illustrate her views on many of the issues we discussed in class. She ended the story by stating that she was firmly entrenched in her view of sexual and gender boundaries and she wasn't willing to venture to other locations. She then complimented me and thanked me for being so sensitive with difficult topics.
My response to her was that as a teacher I don't look to change student's world views. I just want them to know there are other perspectives out there and to be able to think critically about them. I believe her story showed that she not only could do that but, 3 weeks after class had ended, was still doing just that. It made me feel like I actually accomplished something last semester and that, as difficult as they are to have, these conversations belong in the classroom.