I’m writing the final exam.
It’s an absurd endeavor. I can’t test on what I want them to have learned, so I test on the obvious: vocabulary words, major concepts, facts & stats, mostly superficial, rather unedifying things.
Which puts before us the real question: what did I want them to learn?
Here’s what my course description says:
What does it mean for women’s sexuality to be “healthy”? Taking biological, psychological, and social perspectives, this course offers a comprehensive overview of the nature of human female sexuality in terms of both its development across the lifespan and its evolutionary antecedents, along with awareness of the science of sexuality. The emphasis throughout the semester is on the implications of the information on women’s sexual wellbeing, on both cultural and individual levels.
With this knowledge, students will become savvy consumers of sexual science as it is presented in mainstream media, understand how to choose and use contraceptive and STI prevention options (including behavioral, barrier, and hormonal methods), gain the working vocabulary and confidence to talk with their health care providers about their own sexual health, and participate in a new and healthier cultural discourse around women’s sexuality.
Sounds like a pretty good class, right? I think so. And I think that I gave lectures that met those needs. I definitely taught about lifespan development, evolutionary antecedents, contraception and the science of sexuality.
Savvy consumers of sex science in the media, though? Confidence to talk with health care providers? Participation in a healthier discourse around women’s sexuality? What multiple choice exam question assesses those things?
And if they have not gained these things, was it their responsibility… or did I fall short?
Are those even reasonable goals for a lecture-based class?
I started lofty, you see. And I am left, after 12 weeks, with the basic shortcomings of a gigantic lecture class. My BFFL asked me this weekend, in a casual way, “Hey, how’s teaching going?” And I burst into tears for an hour, describing the incalculable ways I felt I’d fallen short. The space wasn’t safe enough, the content wasn’t original or challenging enough, I never made it clear why it’s important s to understand who makes the science, I didn’t engage their passionate interest in the moral and ethical question, I failed – and this is the big one, but also the most absurd – to provide healing to students who brought a history of trauma into the room.
That last one isn’t possible in a classroom of 100-200 students. It isn’t possible with information alone. It isn’t possible in the kind of relationship an instructor must have with a student. It isn’t possible it isn’t possible it isn’t possible.
But god I wanted it. God I wanted them to walk out of the last class understanding and loving themselves, understanding and critiquing the science, understanding and reveling in the complexities of morality, sex, science, and culture, able to embrace who they are while creating space in their hearts for everything everyone else is.
That’s not too much to ask, is it?
Do all teachers feel this? Or is this because I’m teaching about sex?
So. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t everything everyone wanted, but it was everything, every single thing, every drop of blood, every joule of energy, every molecule of neurotransmitter that I had. Say what you like about me, I’m nothing if not a hard worker.
The best constructed stories end where they began; the hero comes home, somehow different than before. If each of my students is the hero of their own story, I wonder how they feel, coming home? What did you learn in school today, I want to ask them.
But really what I want to ask them is, “Was it enough?”
So I’m writing the final exam. To assess their learning. And as I write, all I can think is, “There’s no such thing as enough.”