Posted by: gdevi | May 28, 2012


One of the most interesting and valued experiences to me as a teacher is the opportunity that I have got over the years to get to know our young men and women who serve in the military.  Particularly, the young men.  Rich kids don’t usually go into the military (UTD, for instance, where I taught before I came to PA did not have these many enlisted students in the general demographic), and it is probably because I teach in a rural, rather economically depressed part of the country that I get to see so many of our enlisted men who come back to the university in between call of duty.  I have taught many many young men in the last fifteen years or so who have fought in our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I think about them a lot, and I am very fond of many of them. They are some of my smartest, most hard-working students. They speak to me freely about their lives and experiences in the war, some of them miniature short stories with fully developed characters, conflicts, and resolutions.  I feel very worried for many of them; one young man showed me his “dog tag” slinging on a chain right next to a photo of his three-year old daughter.

Over the years, I have become used to receiving news that so and so will miss classes for the next three weeks for training, or that so and so is withdrawing from the university because he is being deployed.  What we do at the university is to give them additional help to cope with the classwork, office hours to explain lessons they have missed, Incompletes for exams and assignments so that they do not “fail” the course due to the missed work. Unlike non-military students who might or might not fulfill the course requirements even with all the additional help we provide, my military students always meet all of their class requirements, and have never tried to manipulate or corrupt the system and the favors it provides them. They are also the only group that still address you in class as “Yes, Ma’am and No, Ma’am.”

These young men also elevate the discourse level in undergraduate classrooms.  I teach a lot of 18-23 yr olds, and many of my young male students are in the teenage frame of mind: “hey look at her”–they want the world to approve their choice of a mate–that is what they are thinking of most of the time–but the military students bring a different dynamic to the classrooms. They bring a complexity and depth that can only come from having our small lives put in the perspective of the big world. I like teaching them and talking with them.  You can tell that in their mind they have already experienced what it means to make choices on topics other than selecting their mate.

I want all of these young men and women to come back from these wars unhurt and unharmed and without having to make the choice to kill or be killed.  That is my wish for them on this memorial day.  And to all my students who are in the military now–God bless you all and keep you safe wherever you are.


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