I've spent the past three days at one of those workshops that universities not only organize but also pays faculty to attend. I will confess that the best thing about attending (besides the stipend) is getting to know other professors you may not interact with on a regular basis. Inevitably, I also always manage to get irritated with somebody and respond accordingly. This time was not the exception.
One thing I hate is when Americans dismiss my political opinions and experience. They were a core component of my life experience growing up, so I don't take it lightly. I can also be pretty blunt about it, but I do not apologize for it nor is something I am willing to change. As an example, I pissed off quite a few people online and offline last Fall with my skepticism re the OWS movement and their lack of clear objectives. I don't think I've been proven wrong, but some people still prefer the nice-sounding buzz of certain words (horizontal democracy, no authority, assembly, etc) than a more pragmatic approach to problems.
But I digress. This time, what managed to get me was a professor who barely knows me questioning the importance I assign to public education. It started with me making a comment about public schools that I do not even remember, but that could probably have been constructed as dismissive of public schools. This professor said out loud, with a clear tone of irony in her voice:
"Well, thanks SP, for your vote of confidence in public education. Do you even have any experience with it?"
I politely replied:
"I'm sorry if I said something that was offensive. It was not my intention. I assure you that public education is something any progressive Argentinean is devoted to, and has fought for as some point in her/his life".
To which she replied, "Yeah, of course" rolling her eyes. Besides the fact that I do not like being attack by somebody I barely know in a public setting (this was a group discussion with 10 other faculty members), the patronizing tone just got to me. I just looked at her and said calmly, with the best fake smile I could find:
"Yeah, really. The first time I was teargassed in my life was when I was 16, in Buenos Aires, in a protest against the government's attempt to privatize higher education in Argentina. We were successful, and that's the reason why until today, the best universities in my country are tuition-free."
(True story, in case you are wondering)
Finally, a professor from a country from the former Soviet Union broke the silence saying:
"Oh, me too! I got teargassed for the first time as a teenager in a demonstration against the Soviet Union in the 80s. It sucked, but those were exciting times".
I don't think I'll get challenged again in the near future. To my readers: Have you had any experience with tear gas?