>What do students hope to gain when they say to professors such things as, “To be perfectly honest, I’m not really interested in [your subject matter]; my main interest is [something completely different, usually very contemporary]. No offense.” Seriously, what? Am I supposed to reward them for their honesty? Would they expect an equal reward for saying, “To be perfectly honest, I think your shoes are ugly. I prefer mine”?
And what am I supposed to say? What I really, really want to say is, “It’s too bad you have such narrow tastes and a lack of curiosity about anything older than your lifetime.” But what I usually say is, “That’s OK — it’s not for everyone, and you can learn it without liking it.” True enough. And at the end of the day, if they learn how to approach older texts and their scholarship, and realize that the novel or the short story and their conventions do not define all of literary history, then I’ve done my job.
But I also want to shake them and say, “Way to win friends and influence people, bozo!” Seriously. Are they going to say something similar on a job interview (“To be honest, I just need a job, and this will do, even though your business isn’t really interesting to me”)?! I mean, I would never hold this kind of comment against a particular student when I grade their work, but some others might, consciously or not. It’s just not a particularly good life skill to insult the interests of people in a position of power over you. But as I’ve said many a time before here, students don’t seem to get that college and all its experiences teach you more than the subject matter of the courses you take. I swear, next time a students says something like that to me, I *am* going to say, “That’s really not a very politic thing to say — here’s why.” I’ll do it nicely, but they really need to get out of this habit of thinking that honesty is always going to be rewarded and commended.