Surveying power

I’m in the middle of a third iteration studying college students and thier class schedules (you can see the results of the second iteration here). There’s a marked difference this time, though.

They’re writing more on the surveys.

The format of the survey is only mildly tweaked; a few questions added about when they’re taking the survey. So it’s not a difference in what – or how – I’m asking questions.The changes seem to be external in nature. First, college enrollment in this area has jumped, straining all the systems. Secondly, this time I actually (by accident) managed to get the survey to students just as they were scheduling for the next term. There are apologies from students who scheduled easily: “I’m an honors student” or “Atheletes schedule earlier, sorry!”. There are a lot more people complaining in the margins, or underlining areas that highlight scheduling difficulties.

And there are the thanks.

Written at the end, under my boilerplate thank you for taking the survey, are the surprisingly common and heartfelt remarks. “Thank you for asking about this.” “Maybe this will help get something done.” “Thanks.”

I’m reminded – almost uncomfortably – of my letter to Barack – the other day. I do not know what influence I have with those who make the schedules. But I can feel thier discomfort, and know where that thanks comes from.

Marxists are wrong to concentrate on money (keep with me for just a second). Marx himself talked about alienation, that idea of being without respect or acclaim for yourself and your work. This is key to both why Marx’s predictions are wrong – and why I was so moved by, and why these students are so thankful for my study. It’s not money – that’s just an abstract representation of care and acclaim. But that abstraction is just that – abstract. It’s not viscerally the same. At the beginning of the 20th century, nearly as soon as workers had unions and felt heard – the rage stopped. Greenwashing (and all of the other PR efforts) play on this same idea – that it’s the idea of feeling heard and acknowledged that is key. That we are effecting as well as being effected, that we have control, that we matter.

That is the key to balanced and productive power relationships. It cannot be faked – not for very long. With that kind of relationship, change is mostly smooth. Without it, change still happens… but much more tumuluously. We do not have a choice as to whether or not change comes; we have a choice as to how it comes.

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