The highest compliment

One of my students paid me the highest compliment (to my mind) yesterday in a conference. She always has a lot of trouble settling down to a topic on her papers (as in, the paper is due on Monday, they’ve been working on it for two weeks already, and she came up with another new topic yesterday.)

Anyway, we’ve spent a lot of time over e-mail and in person discussing her various topics, and her new one is female genital mutilation. I asked her what she wanted to argue about genital mutilation, and she only came up with “Uh, um, I don’t know.” So I encouraged her to choose one of the frameworks in our book for thinking about it, maybe Arguing Values, which was a chapter we covered early on.

I said that one of the issues in the debate over genital mutilation is that from our Western perspective, it seems weird, and gross, and wrong – hence our use of the word “mutilation” vs. “female circumcision” – and so she might look at whether we can impose Western values on the cultures that practice this as a religious ritual. In other words, is it inherently wrong, and we can say that even though we have different values, or does it seem wrong only because we don’t share the values of those cultures?

At which point she was looking at me with a strange expression in her face. I stopped and said, “Does that make sense?” And her reply was “How do you know all of this?” I said, “Well, I read a lot.” She continued to look dumbfounded and said, “You always know everything. How do you know all this stuff?”

That is, of course, my goal. It was as if she’d found the sign in the woods “Ms. Sandler’s Vanity: This Way.” I’m pretty sure it was unconscious on her part, but she made my day.

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