Linda Clark-Borre

Elephants on Parade

01/02/2019 19:51

I'd forgotten I wrote this, but here's a post from a few years back from a "teacher's blog" I used to do. Sadly, I don't think much has changed in the past couple of years in terms of serious student anxieties. But the response holds true, I think.


I had to know, so I asked the classes directly. “Where is the elephant in this room?” Once students explained what I meant to a couple of their puzzled international classmates, and after the obligatory ten seconds of awkward silence, elephants were on parade.

Here I serve as a reporter who believes the items on the list below represent beasts hiding in classrooms across the country:

1.      Adderall –  a key reason for highs and addictions

2.      The considerable profitability of drug sales on campus; resentment on part of students supporting selves with “real jobs”

3.      Fear of failing in class and everywhere else

4.      Depressed selves and friends. More student deaths on campus. Some anger; fear; feelings of vulnerability.

5.      Exhaustion – jobs, projects, classes, paying all the bills, children, family crises. Relates at times to #1 and #2, definitely linked with #3

6.      “Force-ranking” of students; competition for grades; often relates to #5;  feeling not good enough, disorganized.

In our management classes, we folded this into a discussion about leading and motivating in projects and the workplace, when we can’t know everything that is really going on. We reserved judgment as the process itself tested biases and assumptions. Many students who rarely spoke found their voice.

Social posts and pics suggest lives clear of dysfunctional habits, depression, orneed for special support.  For many around us, life is all good. Or not.  But if what I observed in my classroom is any kind of indicator, putting stuff on the public, communal table to be acknowledged and discussed can be quite the eye-opener, even for the chronically bored.

The king of beast that day was prevalent anxiety. Here's what I'd wish my students to know:

The Metrics of Personal Growth – Or, Render Unto the Professor the Capital of the Realm. 


Grades are what instructors and the university decide they are. They are not the sole determinants of personal growth. How many students/ others have developed their own criteria by which to measure personal progress in areas that matter to them personally, and if so, exactly what areas are they tracking with care? Wealth and property acquisition? Health and wellness? Civility and intelligence? Other evidence of continuous growth?  So, one way around the elephant is to decide in general, and then quite specifically, what it takes today to transform into the person we’d want to be. Today decides tomorrow, or so they say.


Foundations for Continuous Growth and the Good Life

At the heart of Aristotle’s political philosophy, and that “thing” we strive for throughout our lives, is eudemonia – personal thriving, the state of being happy and healthy and prosperous.  I use the schematic below (from the Sustainability Leadership Organization) in my "Managing for Sustainability" courses. 

One secret to having fewer worries is to replace them with ideas, and those come from the connections we make. I love the reference to the reflective  conversations that are the basis of one's personal foundation. It's a fine recipe overall for outing the elephants once and for all, even if it takes decades to perfect.