Thursday, August 18, 2016

August 18, 2016

Foggy dim morning.

Asked for a catalpa tree at Reems Creek and was told that the tree was “out of fashion” after its heyday thirty or forty years ago.  Asked for a pawlonia and was told that I’d never find one in a nursery, because the tree is “invasive.” It is also a cloud of imperial purple, is dark wood easy to work as butter.

Giving some thought to going back to school, noting that I have been an educator now for 36 years. I can’t name another discipline that is so far off the mark and, yet somehow, doing less damage. Careering administrators and malicious legislators do their worst without, yet, actually separating the students from their source of wisdom. The people I just mention long for the profession of the professor to disappear, for then indoctrination would be swift and unchallenged. Even faculty gets into this head, wanting to replace teacher/student time with activities and online resources, vilifying the “lecture” because, they assert, it is somehow hierarchical. All education is hierarchical. Like heat pouring from a furnace into a frigid room, knowledge or experience is possessed by one person and delivered to another. That’s how it works. Some of us like to think that we maneuver the student into discovering for herself, but it is the same thing, based on the assumption–the correct assumption–that, by and large, we know better than the student does what she should learn (academically) at this point in her life. All human endeavor prized by the civilized is hierarchical. Not rigidly so, of course: one may climb the staircase up and down, but the staircase is still there. As a teacher, I know the huge contribution made by the students themselves; a good class period is one in which I learn something. But is this for the student or for me? I know students blossom when I say, “Oh My God, I never thought of that!” but is that where their “education” lies? For every hour of dazzling student discovery there is hour after hour of what would be empty if there were not someone pouring something into the void. Nor is higher education for the student. We are so close to enforcing a customer/ service provider relationship between student and university that one draws back in horror. Higher education does not serve the student, but the society, insuring that the student understand, or at least have contact with, matters that the society prizes. Of course one may critique that society (which is one of the things society does or should prize), and I myself teach things that my society does not prize very much, but it is the operation of the mind that is at issue, what we call critical thinking, which is at least as often creative thinking. What a student is buying when she matriculates is the opportunity for credentials. At the end of her course we should be able to affirm that Yes, she knows the basics of the world she lives in. Yes she can think critically when she must and creatively when she can. Yes you can hire her or vote her into office because she has done the groundwork, has made the effort to comprehend. I do not think that because she paid her money a student should necessarily enjoy, or even pass, my class. I do not think that it is profitable to wonder overmuch if I am delivering the material in the exact way the student wishes to receive it. I am the well. You come to it and drink, or you stay away. Your choice. I have never forced a student to take my class, or forced one to stay when he wanted out. But you cry, “But the class is a REQUIREMENT! He can’t graduate without it.” Yes. That’s the way the world works. Some things you can’t get around. Some things you must get through, and I, from time to time, am one of them. Every time I irritate and frustrate my student I am doing her a service. I want to say “she will thank me in time,” but even if that’s not the case, all is well. Not only is education hierarchical, it is irritating. At least at first. I love my students, and after all this time, I think I know how to show it. 

Tilly Adkins is dead, my sweet Journalism teacher and adviser for the paper I was editor in chief of until I dropped out of school to work at Goodyear. She was good and kind. I am glad to be remembering that now. 

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