Saturday, May 16, 2009

Programming Patty Checks In to Discuss The Power Dynamics of Friending.

Friendship works two ways. My boss invites me to her Christmas party every year, and I don't want to go, but she has the power to give or withhold a salary increase, so I have to pretend I'm so, so dissappointed as I tell her I have previously scheduled plans. If only I could say, "I don't want to spend my Sunday at your house; I see enough of you at the office." I can't do that; instead I must pretend that I'd love to go if not for some bothersome scheduling conflict. And my boss favors the employees who do attend her Christmas party. Why shouldn't she? They're her 'friends' and I'm not. Sure, I have the liberty to choose my own friends, but I do pay a price for it in being less well-liked by the person who controls my salary. Let's pretend my professor invited me to his home. Dare I tell him that I don't want to go? If I say this, do I know for certain that it won't affect my grade? Or perhaps it would be worse if I'm not invited to his home and other classmates are. Are they getting preferential treatment? Does that explain why their grades are higher than mine? Does Katie from Kalamazoo invite her entire class to her home, or just a select few?

A professor can be close friends with a student, but not while he or she must grade their work. And if students and professors are real peers, then why charge tuition? Don't professors have some accumulated knowledge and experience that justifies paying in order to be taught by them? "Going about the business of learning as real peers," is a giant rip-off. My professor is not my peer. He graduated college before I was born, has advanced degrees in mathematics and more than 30 years of experience in the industry, has written several notable books, and is considered an expert in his field. Isn't it a bit ridiculous to pretend we're "peers" when the very reason I'm paying tuition is to learn from people who are not my peers? If he announced that he knows nothing more about mathematics than I do, why would I bother sitting through his classes?

You can be friendly with people without inviting them to your home. I get along very well with my classmates and coworkers, yet have never been to their home or vice-versa. It's not that students and professors should never be friends, but one friend should not wield power over the other. That is not friendship, no matter how much we might want to believe that it is. Just as my boss believes the employees who attend her Christmas party are her friends, rather than employees who want to be in her good graces. If there is real potential for friendship between professors and students, surely it can wait until the semester is over so the issue of grades does not preclude actual friendship?