In Stephen Llanos thought provoking blog, I sort of love my job he expresses doubt that the university is living up to its promise: to provide a place to do the hard work of thinking. According to him, this has become a pipe dream for both professors and students because of the morass of requirements, temporal obligations, and financial jealousies that the university has put into the equation.
The effect of this is that classes are full of students and professors who have attitudes that aren't conducive to learning. His prognosis of the the students is that students are unwilling to embrace uncertainty and creativity. He says the reason why is because students have spent their lives in school training to do the opposite.
It is rare that professors actually get this. The problem seems obvious to me. Life can show people not to be trusting of others, that includes everybody, even our professors. I wish I could ask professors, the clueless ones, a series of questions; Do you really expect us to freely share our thoughts? We are just supposed to believe that you will be fair in your dealings with us? You expect us to believe that if and when we disagree with you everything will be okay? You really expect us to believe that when we don’t understand you won’t make us feel stupid or admonish us for it?
It’s crazy that they would expect all that because they have to know that we just endured 10 plus years of having teachers clown us for asking “stupid” questions or for offering our opinion. They have to remember what it was like in school and know that we just had years of having our fellow classmates teach us not to speak up by laughing or popping up with little sneering comments made to belittle and silence.
To all of you well meaning professors out there: I know that you want to help. I know you want to impart all of the great knowledge that has been imparted to you. I know that you need a certain atmosphere to make learning possible and that our attitude makes it difficult to create that atmosphere. I'm sure you didn’t expect to have to do the work of treating us like people and not things to disseminate information to, things that will poop out information on cue. But after living in a world where people try to put us down, a world where people assume we ain’t shit or that we aren't capable or that we don’t have anything of substance to say, we may not be capable of being that for you. It seems out of reach, a high task meant for people of greater stock. And also, a lot of times, it’s just not something that we want to do or have time to do.
The messed up thing about it all is that many students wish they could turn themselves into "things" to impress you. And because you place so much weight on it, we wish we could because you made us believe that shitting out information on cue is necessary to be successful. While, you may have never outright told us what you want, we can sense it. Your words and actions may not galvanize only a few students to taking up the task, ensuring that other, less inspired students feel left out, talked about, and put down.
At best, your actions act as a tool to silence us. At its worst, the damn near impossible task makes us feel like shit. It makes us not want to do anything. It makes us feel insecure. It has the potential to be debilitating, not just in our dealings with you but it can halt our progress in other areas of our life.
The good thing about Steve is that unlike most professors Steve is not about the bullshit. In addition, to his aversion to the thoughtlessness that has made many teachers into bad teachers, he also wants his students to see the system for what it is and hopefully “produce a recognizable opposition to the dominant discourse of work.” In scrambling to find a solution to it, he asks a series of questions. He asks, when actual mindful work appears to be invaluable, what then? Handouts? Simplistic formulas? Lots of lying saying, "that's perfectly done," when you know that all of the good research, scholarship and thought in your field all conclusively say, "it depends?” To which I was just like
The questions are all wrong. Steve knows this already. That’s why he has refused to do the very things that he suggests. It seems to me that the problems that he addressed in his blog stem from the fact that our imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy people makes people insecure and seek praise. For most of our lives we have been coerced into molding ourselves into a commodity, altering ourselves to be good women, poc, friends, or family. It makes sense that the desire to be "good" in all other areas in our life would cross over to debate. It makes sense that students would feel uncomfortable with uncertainty.
Steve is mad because he thinks that students only seek praise for being already good at something that it will take decades to master, that they may never master. He’s frustrated because he thinks that students want to go through motions to be praised, certified, or endorsed. Nobody wants uncertainty. Nobody wants to explore. Nobody wants to read. Nobody wants to do the difficult work of thinking. Nobody wants to be a "don't know" person. They would rather be comfortable.
But to Steve I say, the mindsets that students have is not a symptom to the disease. Maybe it is the disease. Perhaps it's not a problem to overcome to get people to be big thinkers. Rather, it's the reason why we are trying to find a solution. It's the reason why we get students to be big thinkers in the first place. We think so that we can take off all of that pain and be free through learning. In order to get there we have to teach students to love themselves and love others. We have to teach them that they are worthy and capable and that they they are worth listening to. We have to teach them that their classmates are too. And we have to cultivate a space where everyone knows that everyone knows this.
So to any professors who wants to change things I ask you; What are you doing that make students afraid to talk to them? Afraid to take chances? What are you not doing that makes students apathetic about perfecting their work or finding something that are passionate to learn about? If you believe that the classroom offers people a safe place to fail, to take chances, how are you affirming to your students that the main purpose of your relationship is to help them learn and do the hard work of thinking?
We don’t come to you with a clean slate. If you want us to learn, you have to figure out the baggage we are coming to you with. If you want us to read, you have to redefine reading as something fun, something incredible and life-changing. We are not taught that the university is a place where we should have a “don't know" attitude. If you want it to be, then you have to teach us why it should be and you have to teach us how to do it. If you want it to be about those things then you have to understand that many of us aren’t privileged enough to throw away the reasons we came in the first place. In teaching us all of those things you have to account for the fact that we still have to do the internships and get the grades and take on leadership roles and work to provide for ourselves. This may seem like hard work. I know teaching people to love and care for themselves and others isn’t in the job description. I know learning to care for your students in this way isn’t in the job description, but if we are serious about doing the hard work of thinking it has to be.