My students in one of my courses kept bugging me the last two classes about the semester evaluation, and it was not until after they finished that I learned the reason for their interest. You see, I have a self-deprecating comment when I mis-speak or say something controversial that goes like this: "Make sure you put THAT on the evaluation so the dean and the provost will have a brain aneurysm."
Today they brought in a list of bizarre-sounding statements I made over the course of the semester, and in good fun they shared the list with me. Luckily for them I poke the most fun at myself, and I chuckled as I looked over the meticulous set of statements that - if taken out of context - might have me tossed from the academy or locked in an asylum.
Here, then, are some of the lowlights of a semester teaching labor history, or at least as the students remembered them:
1. "The liberal wing of the modern Democratic party are socialists." This was mentioned to remind students that Progressive-era socialists stood for policies that today would be considered more mainstream, such as an end to child labor and universal suffrage.
2. "In this day and age it is important to have a good package." This statement referred to the use of beautiful people to sell concepts, not the colloquial term for a well-stuffed pair of pants, but it was not until the students started hooting that I realized my rhetorical faux pas.
3. "Pull my finger." I must admit that I uttered this line in response to an image I found of AFL founder Samuel Gompers:
However, in my defense I should add that I initially caught myself from uttering the crude lines, telling the class: "I refrained from putting an inappropriate caption on this image when I designed this PowerPoint." But oh no: they just HAD to keep bugging and pestering me to tell them the redacted punchline, and now I am the bad guy. Sheesh.
4. "Study the Communist Manifesto so that I may convert you all to Marxists." This was a stretch, as my statement was taken from a larger discussion about how educators have to worry about being denounced as radicals for merely inspecting the historical record. Still, the words seem to be in the right order.
5. "I pal around with Marxists, but only because they pay for lunch." This was a wry comnmentary about the current mini-McCarthyism running rampant in American politics, referencing Sarah Palin's comments that Barack Obama spent time "palling around with terrorists" like Bill Ayers. And yes: I have allowed Marxists to buy me lunch on more than one occasion. Call your local chapter of the Young America's Foundation and denounce me as the Marxist pal-around type that I truly am.
6. "I can say that I am situationally dishonest." This was a moment of candor related to...I forget what. It had something to do with robbing banks, and I admitted that if there were no prison penalties for bank robbery, I would take a gym bag down to my local branch and say: "fill 'er up." At the same time I would never think of stealing an old woman's purse or some other crime where the connection was so clear between me and the victim.
But every word captured above was true, and I thank my sharp-eared class for the good-natured list, even noting how I say "but I digress" about every nine lines when I ramble off-topic.
But I digress.