Miles Coverdale (manos74) wrote,
Miles Coverdale

Following on from my previous post...

I guess the article I linked to strikes such a nerve in me because of my own teaching experience. Ideally and at its best, the university should be an enclave to teach students to think twice about everything around them. This means that it should get students to question their received notions about how the world works-- hell, ideally, any system of education should be like that.

Except, it's not. University now is just another extension of high school, only you can live away from home and drink beer. But academically, the same thing happens--sit quietly in neat rows, parrot back the right answers, tell the teachers what they want to hear, and you get the piece of paper that's supposedly the ticket to even being able to apply for a job that supports the idealized suburban lifestyle.

...only, it's not quite the same as high school. In high school, if a student doesn't like the teacher, all s/he can really do is bitch mightily to hir friends about it. In college, if a student doesn't like the professor, all the student has to do is mark the student evaluation sheets accordingly. These sheets then carry great, great weight with departments, and are the basis for contract renewals and such. So, in essence, if you teach college, your job depends on how well you can please teenagers. And that frightens me deeply-- more so, in light of the fact that few others seem to be as frightened about it as me.

Now, what does this have to do with politics in the classroom? Because one of the most effective ways to displease teenagers is to make them question their received notions about the way the world works. As an example, the penultimate term I taught at UNL, I taught Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as one of my texts, in order to show how you don't have to be conventional when you write a personal narrative. This book has a lot of drug use in it, treated in a very matter-of-fact way instead of being condemned. Well, I paid for that in my reviews from that semester--about half the class thought I was encouraging them to start shooting up right in the middle of discussion. My point is, all these kids knew about drugs is their received notions from sitcoms, evening dramas, PSAs, DARE classes, etc., getting their heads filled with the notions that anyone who uses drugs is subhuman scum that will have bad things happen to them. And when they get faced with a narrative where drug use isn't punished or even spoken out against.... well, there's a dissonance there, and they feel uncomfortable. And if they feel uncomfortable, they punish the professor.

(Actually, the most boggle-worthy thing that happened in that class was the day where my students assured me, with great earnestness and solemnity, that Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building because... he was a Communist. And he was a Communist because he was "against the government.")

Well. I didn't mean to ramble on so personally like that.
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