Television Imitating Life

Call me a sucker if you will.

While watching “Survivor” this summer I took notice of promotions for CBS’s new television show, “That’s Life,” a show about a fictional 32-year-old woman who decided to go to college after having had a series of about 58 different jobs in her life.

I’ve always admired people who decided to go to college later in life. At my old school, we called these students “non-trads,” short for “non-traditional students.”

Traditional students were, of course, those of us who went to college straight out of high school: 18 years old and wet behind the ears.

Fortunately for me, I quickly picked up on the fact that non-trads were going to be my best friends. Simply put, non-traditional students were good students. They knew how to study, and they knew why they were in school. They were more likely paying for their education themselves, so they had no interest in failing. On the other hand, many of the “traditional students” spent a lot of time partying and not worrying about student loans.

That difference was responsible for my success.

My freshman year, I took a course on the art and history of Islam — and I was failing. It was my first encounter with a difficult class, but fortunately, a non-trad also took the course. One warm Saturday afternoon, I sat down with her and went over the material for five hours, missing an important football game. They were not wasted hours, for I believe she single-handedly raised my grade from an F to a B, a dramatic improvement in that small amount of time.

I’ve had encounters with these non-trads during my entire college career, and they’ve helped me better understand my world and helped me succeed in classes. I would say they are an often underappreciated resource on college campuses, even here at IU.

So, I sat down to watch the CBS show about Lydia DeLucca on Sunday, and I was struck by a number of unrealistic moments: like when the two guys helped push Lydia’s broken down car from the street into a parking lot. Highly unrealistic for two reasons: First of all, two guys walking on any campus I’ve ever visited would never help push a car; and second, they found an empty parking space in time for her to make her first class.

They also suggested that 95 percent of students in college have cell phones. Maybe that’s true in New Jersey, the setting for this show, but thankfully it is not true here.

The most believable moment in the show came when Lydia wandered into the bookstore to buy textbooks and discovered that the highlighted used textbook cost $25 less. She then managed to ignore the helpful traditional student who tried to tell her to buy the new books since you couldn’t trust a previous owner’s highlighting. However, the show missed out on one little detail: she didn’t bother to check out the other used books to see if any had less highlighting. Sticker shock, though, was the name of the game, and I could certainly relate.

What rung true about the whole show was the number of obstacles she had to overcome to attend class: a mother who was upset that her daughter was not getting married; a father who did not understand her return to college; a police officer brother whose best friend is her ex; and friends who epitomized the saying, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?” She also had to overcome the obstacle of a car that could only go about three blocks before breaking down.

Non-trads really do have all these problems, and their experiences make them all the richer for it — something I have come to appreciate in the classroom. I’ve been the lucky beneficiary of their lives.

To them, I say thank you.

To CBS, I say, the show doesn’t work as it’s written. Conceptually the show is intriguing, but as it is implemented, with the student talking to us from her job as a bartender to some anonymous customer who never says anything, it seems hokey. I might not be watching again.

Oh well, back to the books — maybe I’ll have time to watch “That’s Life” again during Thanksgiving, if it is still on the air.

, , ,

Comments are closed.