WHY do we have to learn this…?!

…is the question many students ask themselves and few professors answer (well).

Via Kaye Sweetser’s blog, this NYU student asks the same, and more.

I’m posting below my comment on Kaye’s blog, which turned out to be long enough for a post:

I’m a bit late to this conversation, but can’t help but jump in.

The critical theorist in me is happy this is happening. Alana’s post is an example of tearing down the Golden Wall I wrote about some time back. It’s good that students have a voice. Education is by definition a power imbalance, where students pay to subject themselves to our authority and power. In theory, I say, bring it on!

The professor in me smiles a sad smile: I was once (not very long ago) young and arrogant and thought I knew it all. I hated classes that didn’t teach me real skills for the real world.

It took me years to get over myself and understand that the best classes are not the ones that teach me skills that will be dated in 2-3 years (though you need those, too, to get a job next year) but those that teach me how to think.

Here’s critical theory again: Students expect us to train them to be good employees, servants to the Corporation. They’re lost and disappointed when we teach them how to be free thinkers, free people. That’s called hegemony, I think.

A recent opinion article at Clemson ranked liberal arts courses as the worst, most useless ones. How sadly misguided. [Really, WHY should we have to learn about hegemony?! What a “useless” concept, right?]

Where we profs fail is that we don’t help students understand WHY we do what we do and how it WILL be more useful than teaching button-pushing.

As a prof, I try to teach students not only twitter, but also skills that will be relevant 10-20 years later. They can’t appreciate that now. They need help. They’re too young to think in that time frame. So I take time to explain.

See also my comment on Alana’s post.

[Update, 9/19/2008] Interesting development of NYU story: Professor attempts to ban students from blogging & twittering about class (from MediaShift, via Simon Owens. Excellent blogger relations, Mr. Owens!)

I’m afraid neither party is approaching this problem productively. Both Alana and prof. Quigley have a lot to learn from each other. If they could get over their fears (of each other, of old stuff, of new stuff, of having their egos threatened) and cooperate, the story would have a much happier ending.

This is the comment I posted on the follow-up story [cross-posted]:

This is what I see the big picture of this story to be:

Blogging (and much of social media) bring more transparency, empower the “masses” and threaten authority by bringing down the Golden Wall.

This is happening a lot in business. It’s scary for corporations, and empowering for consumers.

Why shouldn’t it also happen in education?

I am a college prof., I require students to blog and am planning to teach them to live-twitter the class next week.

Yes, I know it’s scary – for me. For the old idea of the “powerful, know-it-all” professor who taught critical thinking and thought it was OK as long as s/he wasn’t the subject of criticism.

I sometimes teach my students critical theory by exposing my own power & authority practices in the classroom.

The world has changed. The education model we use is the same as hundreds of years ago: The professor is the “master.”

Enough is enough. We don’t have to be masters and servants. We can help each other and learn together.

Alana and prof. Quigley have a lot to learn from each other. Why don’t they?

2 thoughts on “WHY do we have to learn this…?!”

  1. Mihaela, I enjoyed reading your post and the trail of posts that led to yours. So why teach hegemony? My short answer is ethics. We must be aware of the social constructions we produce and critically evaluate them. We are responsible for the cultural meanings we create. Great topic.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I enjoy teaching practical skills, but the real joy of teaching, for me, comes from pulling back the curtain to discuss the whys of what we do, how what we do affects the larger society, and the hidden processes that influence us, our work, our organizations, and the world in which we all operate. The practical needs of the profession change (and people change professions over their lifetime), but the habit and ability of asking why will serve students forever.

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