Said something dumb in class, should I apologize to prof?
September 21, 2014 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Prof is really young and he blushed when I said something a bit extreme.

I am in a grad program where all my courses are seminars with 11 people.

One of my profs is really young (and obviously new to teaching) and the class has a really safe, welcoming and laid back vibe which I really appreciate.

Last class we were discussing a subject which I have some (stupid) opinions on. No one else in the class was saying anything, so I just voiced my (stupid and judgmental) opinion on the text we were talking about ( I probably don't understand it correctly, but at the time there seemed to be hypocrisies in the text which I chose to point out), and this caused the prof to intensely blush. I am a formerly extremely shy person who in the past few years has stopped being shy but does not know how to be a proper extrovert yet. The prof's laid back vibe also contributes to breezy talk. But I feel bad for saying something so stupid and also for making the prof embarrassed.

I have to email him today anyways for a question about the readings. Would it be appropriate to apologize or say that I take back what I said or is this a situation where he's already forgotten what was said and drawing attention to it is being self absorbed and petty? should I just try to be better going forward or would an acknowledgement be appreciated. Normally, in a large class I wouldn't be worrying about this. But since it's a seminar class I have to be more mindful.
posted by winterportage to Human Relations (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Would you be comfortable with clarifying the type of commentary you made? It would help to know if you think the prof blushed because your comments were about something potentially embarrassing like sex, or if you think he was embarrassed that you contradicted him, or...I don't know. It's not totally clear to me and I think any advice I gave would depend on the context.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:56 AM on September 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Instead of an apology, how about a thank you? I don't think you did anything to embarrass yourself or your professor. But it sounds like this has been a valuable learning experience for you. So if you want to say something to him, why not write the professor a note saying something like, "I really like your class, and I appreciate how you encourage us to feel safe and welcome to speak up, even when our ideas aren't fully thought-out. Last week, after reading the text on my own, I thought XYZ, but after the class discussion last week, I realized that not-XYZ. That was a really great experience for me, and I wanted to thank you for helping me learn it."
posted by decathecting at 11:56 AM on September 21, 2014 [60 favorites]

Also, maybe your comments weren't as dumb as you think. It's perfectly legit to raise inconsistencies in a text if you can support your claim.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:57 AM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Honestly, I think that it's hard to know whether you should apologize without knowing what you said. If you said something blatantly racist or sexist, then yeah, you should probably address that with your prof. All of the negative self-talk in your post, though, makes me think that perhaps this is more about your perceptions of how the prof took it than it is about how he actually took it. Also consider whether the goal of apologizing would be to address his embarrassment or yours.
posted by quiet coyote at 11:58 AM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Next class: "Friends, before we begin, I would like to apologize for the stupid joke I made last time. My sense of humor got the best of me."

Then drop it, move on, and don't do it again.
posted by 4ster at 11:58 AM on September 21, 2014

Response by poster: Oh it wasn't racist or sexist, just ignorant. Basically the text was about a work of art that is intentionally incomprehensible. somewhere in the text it mentioned modernist aspirations for democracy and equality and how this artwork fits into that framework. the artwork pissed me off because it was so incomprehensible, so I accused the ideas of being hypocritical to democratic ideals and I think this extreme language is what made it embarrassing. looking back i dont know wtf i was talking about

thanks for your help keep answers coming :)
posted by winterportage at 12:01 PM on September 21, 2014

You don't need to apologize.
posted by quiet coyote at 12:02 PM on September 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

Unless the extreme language you used contained an actual racial/ethnic/ableist/etc slur then I don't think an apology is necessary.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:07 PM on September 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Honestly, as someone who has taught undergraduates, I am always grateful when someone has *something* to say, rather than everyone either sitting in bored silence, or, worse, all agreeing with me in order to try to grade-grub. I love the spark that happens in a classroom when someone has actually done the reading and passionately or playfully challenges their colleagues (including me). Any academic shouldn't take disagreement personally or he/she has no business being in this profession. The whole point of a class is not to have 15 automatons who have read your articles regurgitate to you your own arguments on the subject so they can get As; rather, it is to give different arguments (even wrong ones) a chance to compete against each other and see what light they shed on on each other through the tension they create. Lots can be learned even through a wrong argument. I wouldn't worry about what happened, as you describe it: to me, this seems like the whole point of undergraduate (and graduate!) seminars and classes.
posted by ClaireBear at 12:09 PM on September 21, 2014 [25 favorites]

Um...the prof's embarassment is not your fault and none of your business. Even if what you said was dumb, why should this embarass anyone but you? Also, the prof may have been flustered, annoyed or anything else - it's part of their job to learn to handle students with extreme or dumb opinions.
I don't get why you're making a big deal of it. Don't embarass the prof further by alluding to his discomfort. Thanking would be nice, though.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:10 PM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

You'll dig yourself a deeper hole by apologizing. I think your sentiment is righteous, but I don't think you should express it in terms of you and yourself. In the context of a class and learning, it's better to focus on the text and the ideas rather than on yourself. Stupidity and embarrassment are necessary components of learning so it's best not to dwell on these aspects, but rather to move on from them by growing and absorbing the knowledge which was initially eluding you.

I very much doubt your professor wants to dwell on your stupid comment, he's heard plenty of stupid things in his career already. However, he probably is very interested in the material and would love to hear that his students care about it too.

So, I suggest you approach your professor in person to talk about the comment you made by asking him an intelligent question. Or perhaps build off of something he said so that you can engage in a back and forth with him about the subject. He will much prefer to see you learning than to discuss how stupid you feel about it. And chances are he'll know where you're coming from and he'll understand that in a way you are apologizing.
posted by poilkj at 12:14 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

IAAP, albeit NYP, and I would suggest simply dropping it. In all likelihood, if even he hasn't forgotten it, he's very unlikely to be brooding on it or anything else untoward. This sort of thing happens all the time.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:30 PM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Let it go. You're beanplating.
posted by jbenben at 12:41 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just going by what you say in your update, it looks like you had a valid point. This is a grad program? You should be challenging the text. Maybe the professor blushed because he was embarrassed that you had an insight he hadn't had before? And it was a good one? Sometimes inexperienced teachers think they're supposed to always know the answers before their students do.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:46 PM on September 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

You perceived a change in skin tone. It could have been lighting, it could of been indigestion, it could have had nothing to do with what you said...and, it's not your problem. Believing that you caused the "blush" could easily be distorted thinking on your part. Let it go.
posted by HuronBob at 12:50 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would just let it go.
posted by J. Wilson at 12:52 PM on September 21, 2014

If he was embarrassed, which I doubt, the absolute last thing he would want would be any indication that his discomfort was apparent to the class. You really didn't do anything wrong -- don't start now!
posted by ostro at 12:52 PM on September 21, 2014

I blush extremely easily, and I'm always far more embarrassed by people pointing this out than by whatever caused me to blush in the first place. Don't bring it up and don't assume you caused him discomfort.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:00 PM on September 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

As someone who blushes for any and no reason, I beg you to please just let it go. Your comment sounds utterly expected in a class like that, so it's very unlikely that the professor was embarrassed. Blushing easily is completely sucky and it is really annoying when people draw attention to it.
posted by gatorae at 1:00 PM on September 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Thinking further, are you sure you're not just anxiously obsessing over a fairly trivial interaction? Or perhaps projecting your own embarassment on the prof? I get the impression you want to scratch the itch of that residual discomfort (OMG I spoke up and was the center of attention and I'm pretty sure Everyone hated me!) by seeking a friendly reassurance from the prof. And perhaps it was also exciting to thrust yourself forward in a way your formerly shy self would never have dared, and now you are still wanting to...chew on that experience by talking about it with the prof?

Maybe this is all bullshit but my impression is that it's not about the professor and his emotions or the quality of the seminar - it's about you trying to do something about your emotions.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:12 PM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Given the additional context an apology might actually be worse... If the professor blushed over a strongly stated opinion about art he might well feel self conscious about it. In any event, don't over think things so much, be dumb, be vehement, learn, you're at the right place and time of your life for it (wisely strokes greying beard)
posted by nanojath at 1:19 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I liked the idea of saying thanks for letting us feel comfortable in speaking up, so I did that in my short email about another subject. So thank you to decathecting!
posted by winterportage at 1:50 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't apologize. Keep participating in class a lot. Keep expressing strong opinions. Do it so much that this incident becomes a relatively minor part of your class participation, and people will be more likely to remember the things you've said more recently.
posted by John Cohen at 3:50 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're allowed to disagree with a line of argument presented in a text in what I'm guessing is a humanities oriented grad seminar.

If you insulted your professor specifically along the lines of "Anyone who would believe this hogwash knows nothing about art" or "the assholes who agree with this thing can rot in hell as far as I'm concerned," I'm still not sure I'd apologize but you may want to tone it down a bit going forward.

The only way I would specifically apologize to your professor in this situation is if you blatantly insulted him for choosing this text.
posted by Sara C. at 4:20 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Apologies cost nothing and indicate strength of character. Anytime you are not sure, just apologize.
posted by jcworth at 5:20 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

In some cases, and partially to benefit the other students, I think it can make sense to revisit the topic in class, explaining where you think the text was wrong, but where it may have been right and you off base in your interpretation or emphasis.

Often the culture of graduate school encourages arrogance in students about the supposed failings of the published scholarly literature. Shared, levelheaded evaluation of these critiques is a good idea.
posted by lathrop at 5:41 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

An apology would only remind people of what you said, and it will raise questions such as "Why is this person apologizing? Were they forced to apologize? Was there something I missed?"

No apology, but maybe shut up for a while.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:36 PM on September 21, 2014

I turn red very, very easily. When someone says "boot" and I think they said "boob," when I feel foolish, when I get distracted and am thinking about Andy Samberg instead of whatever is actually happening, when something reminds me of something embarrassing I said or did 10 years ago, when I'm trying not to laugh, when I'm trying not to cry, when I'm trying not to burp ....

It sounds like the only reason you think you said something stupid is that the prof turned red. Forget about it.
posted by bunderful at 8:31 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I relate to this a bit as a formerly and sometimes still shy person who toes the line sometimes and speaks out assertively then five minutes later thinks, "WHAT HAVE I DONE?" Anyway, the work at this point is to figure out why you want to apologize and explore that. Normally you don't need to apologize unless you have done something wrong. Your professor's reaction could have happened because of all sorts of reasons unrelated to you and people are responsible for their own emotions :-) Or that's the advice that's worked for me, so I am passing it on.
posted by mermily at 2:48 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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