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That Nonconformist Student

February 1, 2010

This happens pretty much every semester: I have a nonconformist student who gives me a grouchy look and the cold shoulder. Why? Because I’m “the man,” of course. I’m an authority figure—the kind nonconformists love to hate. Plus, I’m a religious studies professor, which probably means I’ll preach the gospel all semester, right?

That is the student I want to win over. Screw the mainstream kids—I’d rather have a classroom of grouchy nonconformists. I would be like that myself if I were in her shoes.

My whole class is about questioning authority and conformity, which I hope she’ll see. I wish there were a secret code word I could use on day one—a code that says “I’m on your side; just wait and see ….”

One time I had an atheist (a rare event at my school) who basically asked on the first day of class if I discriminated against atheists. I told her no, I wouldn’t. I wanted to go on and say this: “I’m an atheist too, and we’ll approach the course material from a critical perspective; just wait and see ….” But I couldn’t, because I keep my atheism under the radar, for obvious reasons.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2010 5:20 pm

    What if the non-conformist is like, I dunno, a “radical islamist”?

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    February 1, 2010 5:25 pm

    That’s an alternate conformity, not non-conformity.

    Although it’s probably true that everyone conforms to something …

  3. February 1, 2010 5:40 pm

    It totally is, I mean what could be more true to American culture than the image of the lone non-conformist eaking it out on his own against “the man”?

  4. February 2, 2010 12:35 am

    “But I couldn’t, because I keep my atheism under the radar, for obvious reasons.”

    This is painfully the case for a lot of people I think, and it’s a shame.

    …and the funny thing is, you’re in the exact sort of position to be mostly likely the atheist. To examine it is to refute it.

    What would be the repercussions of outing yourself as an atheist? Termination? Social pariah? Something else?

    I speak from personal experience when I say that the social pariah option is really really fun! :)

  5. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    February 2, 2010 8:37 am

    There are some authoritarian figures in the administration. I doubt they could outright terminate me, but I bet they could prevent me from getting tenure. I don’t know how significant my atheism might be for them, but I don’t want to risk it.

  6. February 2, 2010 9:02 am


  7. February 3, 2010 5:28 am

    I speak from personal experience when I say that the social pariah option is really really fun! :)

    Zack nailed it. By expressing solidarity with this kid and relating to her in a position as an authority figure, you would have done her a serious injury. Her identity – for that particular semester in school at least – is constructed around being the ‘social pariah’. It’s the pleasure that comes from straddling the line of social taboos.

    It’s like that bit from the episode of the Simpsons where Homer goes to university and the Dean turns out to be a cool guy who used to play in the Pretenders, completely disarming Homer.

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