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Of mice and students...and real life wonders

Thursday was interesting. First the leg fell off the big table we were to be using, and then during class a mouse ran along the top of the cupboards.

The table leg was fixed by John the jannie and only I noticed the mouse. We were engaged in a discussion of gender stereotypes and I managed not to miss a beat as I watched the mouse disappear out of sight, quiet as - well, a mouse, actually. I could, of course, have tried jumping on the table, clutching my skirts and shrieking "eeek!" as a practical demonstration of a stereotypical response but I wasn't convinced the table leg would hold.

Unaware of the drama, my class of under-18s demonstrated a healthy awareness of the folly of stereotyping and were keenly aware of how young people were represented in the media. I was impressed with their level-headedness and their confidence.

Which is why I take with a pinch of salt the panic in the media this month over young people. Variously, I read that our nine-year-olds are prancing to school in lippy and sparkly disco gear, that French girls are sporting le string to classes and that in China young students are rebelling against the reintroduction of a ban on kissing on campus. And it's not just morals that are in danger. Young people, it seems, no longer want to be train drivers or accountants - they simply want to be famous.

There is no doubt that the world our young people live in is complex, or that they inhabit dangerous freedoms. But what I see in my classes are young people who have their sights set on a specific job and are negotiating difficult times with enthusiasm and courage. And they don't give up easily. When a learner asks ,"Could I talk to you for a moment?", you never know what to expect. Sometimes it's a small problem. Usually it's not. As my friend says, life is what happens when you are making your plans and our learners are not immune. College plans are pursued sometimes in the face of extreme difficulty.

And wanting only to be famous? My pre-nursing group started this block almost paralysed with fear that they wouldn't make the grade. Confidence is growing week by week, but there is no let-up in the sheer effort they are making to get through assessments and to begin their nursing studies. They will be neither famous nor rich, but I am sure they will make terrific nurses.

Don't get me wrong. Our students aren't goody-goodies. Didn't I have to round up a group of girls chanting "Andy! Andy!" at the young roofer who has caught their eye? T`hey fled, love thwarted for the moment. But it was a nice intrusion that made me smile as I went back to my marking, a reminder that collegereal life isn't a binary opposition.

Our learners are far from stereotypes. They come to us as individuals, sometimes complicated, sometimes difficult, sometimes very young with a lot of growing up to do, and sometimes as mature adults who have had the courage to uproot their lives and make a fresh start. They all bring their real lives with them, inside our walls.

And that other intrusion? John and I searched thoroughly for the mouse but found not a trace. At the window, landscape gardeners were tearing up slabs and old bushes and probably his wee bit housie, too.

Even in mouse land, life is what happens when you are making plans. I'm sure there is a terrific poem there somewhere. I've got the title already - To a metaphor. Like it?

Carol Gow is a lecturer in media at Dundee College.

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