Tuesday, April 10, 2007

students of IDS

In a few days I will finalize my end of year marks, and my first academic year teaching IDS in Canada will come to an end. It has been quite a year: student numbers of immensely greater magnitude than when I taught in Europe in a post-graduate school, being taught at a level that was, by definition, not as demanding of that found in a post-graduate school. However, what is interesting about my first year is the way in which the students that I have taught have made the year. They have been far more engaged, far more challenging of my views, and far more provocative than perhaps any other batch of students I have taught these past 20 or so years. They have made the year.

My students can basically be divided into 3 groups. The first group are those that are coasting through a university education because--well, that is what you do if you get the marks: it is the way in which you get away from home. Some of these students are in sports, but most are just--coasting, and this is seen in their results. The second group are those that are taking IDS courses, but as options, and who will not have, at the end of the day, an IDS degree--it will be in environmental studies (a very popular option), or women's studies, or in politics or sociology. Some of these students can be very good indeed. Finally, there are those that are opting for an IDS degree.

How is it that an 18 year old Canadian high school student in 2007 decides to do IDS from the first year of their degree (I have had several of these this year) ? Some do have international experience. Some want to do the Trent year-abroad programs, which are an unparalleled opportunity to live outside Canada. Some have a religious or politically-engaged angle to their thinking. What is striking, though, about these students is just how committed they are to international development. They have, through some process, arrived at quite an anti-globalization, anti-capitalist perspective--and this is what has brought them to Trent University. It is quite remarkable. Students will challenge you repeatedly as to how your own work has been too compromised with the powers that be, too accepting of the status quo. At the same time, though, they really appreciate the experience that the IDS staff have of 'real development'. They enjoy the ability to bring ideas down to earth, to show the importance of ideas to people's lives and livelihoods, around the world. They are hungry--hungry!--to learn more. It is quite something to see.

The students that I have taught this year, whether they are graduating or not, are going off to do interesting things. Some, of course, are doing the year-abroad programs, and are getting ready to go to Ghana or to Ecuador for almost a year. Others are going to Vietnam or South Korea or Japan to work. Some are going on to graduate schools. One is going to live in Havana--that will be an eye-opener for them, to the realities of 'real development', I am sure.

What is memorable about these students is how they are not standing still, how they are moving forward, how they are trying to live out their 'alternative' life. For many, if not most, it will be messy, and involve compromises. That is the nature of life. Yet these students, with their passion and energy empower me in a way that I had not thought possible, because they still believe in life, and all its possibilities, as well as the potential for change. It is refreshing.

Anyone who tells you that young people today are not like they were 'in my time' is right: they are better. I feel more confidence in our collective future than I have in some time.

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