Forced Humanity

by a contributor

Hope Bordeaux

Jim from the webinar tells me to believe in shared responsibility. It’s a webinar about tutoring. The idea is that it will help me teach college students how to write. “I don’t know if the term is Communism or whatever,” he says, but “the ancient Chinese and the ancient Egyptians kept aside significant portions of each harvest for times of want.” Jim has a strong New Jersey accent and a beard like Walt Whitman. It is important that I be a non-authoritative tutor, he says. Observe others and learn from them. Be open to your peers’ ideas. Collaborate.

Not that I disagree with Jim, even though he is a self-described “neo-Luddite.” It’s just that I want someone to talk to me about the students I can’t reach. Not all of them, but some. The one whose shoulders slump as she says, “I just want this paper to be over.”  The students who say, “I hate writing.” The student who was supposed to be meeting with me every other week all semester, who emails me smiley emoticons—but never shows up. A few days later, someone calls her name and she passes me in a university office, eyes straight ahead, face purposefully blank. I have made that face before. It means don’t acknowledge that person you don’t want to see you.

I am trying to figure it out. It’s complicated.

But Jim is someplace else. He keeps talking about neuroplasticity of the brain and “remaking” the minds of students with ADHD. I don’t like the way he talks about his students. Or his assertion that “you can’t force people to be human—I mean, humane.” But wait—then why teach?

Even though he signs off with, “you take good care now,” I’m not sure Jim really means it.


Hope Bordeaux is a freelance writer, tutor, and librarian. She blogs about yoga, creativity, and other stuff at

See Hope’s list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.