on whether to challenge

I read this article this morning.

As both a precarious academic and a dreaded black pit of nihilism …

Where to begin?

Students are entitled. It is known.

I have had students (who hasn’t?) who have complained that I have no respected their strongly held beliefs (mostly those with naive conservatism mixed with normative patriarchal racism and sexism). They left negative reviews. They were few. My administration was supportive.

My theories can be edgy, controversial, abrasive, challenging, confusing, etc. But I have kept most of my personal thinking and research out of my teaching as I have only taught entry level courses. Which is not to say that I do not try to challenge my students, make them question their beliefs, and develop sustained arguments for their claims. That’s what teaching is. Critical and creative thinking skills are what I believe education should be based on and geared towards. Based on this essay though, it seems I’ve been getting off easy. I knew I was pulling punches in those classes but mostly because there is only so much that can be conveyed to kids fresh out of high school and standardized tests and I didn’t want to lose or disinterest them. But what would be the point of teaching if you can’t actually teach?

Personally, research. I am passionate about my research, about the act of research, and my eccentric research methodologies. I like teaching because it is a means of conveying my passion for knowledge and sustained inquiry. And accepting teaching as the cost of being able to have the time and means to do research is a small and often rewarding ‘burden.’

It would disappoint me if teaching falls to the wayside as universities seek to offer their customers the best experiences for their money, if classroom hours are devoted to reaffirming deeply held beliefs and widely believed facts as well as appreciating things that we all like. But as more an more students come to see college as little more than an extended credentialing process (I need this class because it is required for my degree, I need the degree to get a job, I need a job because something) and less as a place of inquiry and exploration & a means of developing into an informed and engaged citizen, perhaps such a change is inevitable. And if that is the way the winds are blowing, why not just give the people what they want? Sure, I have ideas about what is best in life (To crush your enemies …) but forcing a love of knowledge on someone isn’t going to happen when they are 18. This is a symptom of an issue that is at the root of many of the problems in American education today: what is the purpose of education? And if the purpose of American education is to train workers for jobs then the idea of challenging students’ beliefs is no longer pertinent.

Am I ok with that? It’s not ideal but there are other battles to fight. You reach the ones you can and if the rest just want to pass through on their paths to a dream job in the sky, so long as they meet the benchmarks it is what it is. I have no plans for drinking hemlock any time soon.