Coming into the first meeting of this class, I was already furious—my ideal college experienced entailed taking cool and interesting classes at the times I wanted to take them, and here I was, at 7 o’clock at night on the first day of college, walking into an English class I should’ve passed out of with my AP credits from high school. The first week or so was shaping up to meet my expectations of a typical English class, but then we watched a video called “This Is Water,” and I was hooked.
The video is all about how we get so caught up in our normal routines and with ourselves that we miss crucial details that go beyond the superficial, but there’s a line in the video that really strikes me after having taken this class: “The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” I didn’t know it at the start of the class, but I was dying to know what I was missing.
We started with the subject of meat, which was a simple enough subject until we started reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Before long, we were discussing the horrors of factory farming, the morality of torturing animals, and the truth about whether we care enough about animals to stop the torture even if it means not eating chicken tenders when we want to. I was fascinated, and I’d begun to explore where else America was cutting corners in the food system how it was affecting our bodies. Upon doing further research, I found out that the high-fructose corn syrup in sodas is actually detrimental not only to our health, but also our evolution. Greg Gibson, author of It Takes a Genome: How a Clash Between Our Genes and Modern Life is Making Us Sick, describes the detriment in detail:
“We can talk about hyperglycemia and insulin resistance as much as we want, but the root problem in [type 2 diabetes] is that regulation of metabolism is out of control. Constantly exposed to higher sugar levels in the diet, we produce insulin at higher levels than the body evolved to tolerate. Eventually it cries wolf, shutting down its response to the hormone. The modern lifestyle has pushed an exquisitely evolved system of checks and balances to the limits of its buffering capacity.” (51)
As the course evolved, we moved from the violent factory farming system to violence in society in general. We read the book Columbine by Dave Cullen, one of the most popular and explanatory books on the Columbine High School shooting.
After describing in vivid detail how the massacre occurred, Cullen spends a significant amount of time trying to profile Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the two shooters, as a depressive and a psychopath, respectively. I decided to do research on how mental illnesses—depression, specifically—are stigmatized because of rare occurrences like Columbine, and it turns out that the stigma isn’t as rare of an occurrence:
“Hardly a month goes by that we do not read a lurid news story of ‘man goes berserk and kills neighbor’ or ‘former mental patient kills wife.’ Those headlines are remembered. We do not remember or pay attention [however]… to the fact that thousands of individuals who have undergone treatment, are undergoing counseling, or stabilized on medication are able to go about their daily lives without harming or frightening others.” (75)
The important consequence of this stigma is that people who suffer neglect seeking treatment, which causes them to suffer and their case to worsen. I interviewed one of my good friends who suffers from depression to support my argument, and I asked if she thinks she’d be worse if she wasn’t seeing a therapist.
“Yes, I would definitely be more violent, and I’d just be angrier than I already am. I would’ve hit so many more people by now [laughs].”
Each major writing assignment in this class let me push the limits of what I thought I could accept and what needed more scrutiny. There are important subjects that can be hidden on the surface, but if I dig a little further I can reach the source of the issue. If this class has taught me anything, it’s the importance of curiosity, looking at life from a different angle, and questioning everything.
Cullen, Dave. Columbine. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2009. Print.
Gibson, Greg. It Takes a Genome: How a Clash Between Our Genes and Modern Life Is Making Us Sick. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 2009. Print.