Monday, July 7, 2014

Sunday comics (if you think a rant is funny)

As you are well aware, I keep abreast of popular culture.  New trends, fads and whatnot are almost always a step towards the collapse of civilization so I want prepare myself for the inevitable lowering of my expectations towards students.  This requires that I learn the social cues students are receiving from popular websites.

In other words, I occasionally look at Buzzfeed.  Ugh.

At least they have a few funny things about students and faculty that I could post for Sunday's comics. I expect "47 ways to cheat on your exam" and "FAIL: 43,753,009 students who showed up to the wrong classroom on the first day of school."  Lame, slightly amusing but not really surprising.

This listicle really bothers me.

Why Your Favorite Professor Is Your Parent Away From Home 

No need for parental separation anxiety at college when you’ve got an awesome professor on your side.

WTF? as they say over at Buzzfeed.  It's not ironic.  The whole list is about how we love our precious, precious students.  The whole thing is written by Katie, I'm certain.

I accept that students think I'm an overpaid, out of touch, mean jerk.  This is too much.  If this is what my students expect in the fall, I can guaran-God damn-tee that they'll learn something in my class - I'm not their momma.


  1. A few of these seem reasonable to me. I encourage. I keep it real. I try to help students succeed. I do want my students to do well. I attend student shows and events. I geek out over things that they no doubt find weird (they're wrong, of course). I am very cool, if I do say so myself.

    A few of these make me want to throw up. I don't remember most of my students long after they graduate, and I don't love them (I like most of them, in a friendly sort of professional way, but I wouldn't call it love). I have a Ph.D., so you can call me Dr. I sure as hell don't want to be pals with my students. I have friends; I don't need to get a Ph.D. and tenure to make new ones. I don't bring treats to class, and I invite my seniors and only my seniors to one rather formal gathering at my home. I consider it part of their professionalization ("pss, you should hold a glass of white wine by the stem.").

    So, overall, mostly a terrifying list of false expectations.

    And what the heck is buzzfeed?

    1. I was told by my last department head and his flunky assistant DH that having my students address me as Dr. Vertical was--ahem--intimidating to the kiddies. It would discourage them from approaching me and, thereby, they won't learn anything. One of my tasks, apparently, was to create a "safe" learning environment and being so formal about what they called me was not part of it.

      Instead, I should have let them call me "Quarter" or "Wavy" just to make them feel comfortable. Never mind that I called them "Mr." or "Sir", or, when applicable, "Ms." or "Madame" and expected the equivalent from them.

      I never referred to my profs as anything but "Dr. Xxx" or "Prof. Xxx" or even "Sir" or "Madame". Doing so was a sign of respect not just of that person's accomplishment but also the office they held. On the other hand, I considered it an honour when they addressed me as "Mr. Vertical". That told me that they saw me as an adult and that they expected me to conduct myself accordingly.

      While I taught my students, I was not their friend. I was their instructor, their master, and I expected to be referred to in the appropriate terms.

  2. I'm with Chiltepin: there are a few laudable practices mentioned, but, overall, the list seems designed to raise expectations that are, indeed, terrifying, especially when times in the academy are as lean as they are now (I'd like to remember all of my students, but there are just too many of them, and, since I teach the same class over and over again, the sections and semesters run together).

    Also: I'm pretty sure that, if you take a class with Henry Louis Gates, he will try to convince you to share his obsessions, rather than vice versa. This is not necessarily a bad thing (and in fact is exemplified by the guy with the pterodactyl egg). I'm not gonna do a racial analysis of why Gates might be portrayed as there to serve; suffice it to say that the occupants of named chairs, whatever their race, usually got there by having plenty of not-so-secret obsessions of their own to pursue, and a willingness to shape their classes around their own research.

  3. I confess this also makes me feel the bile rising, but it isn't new. Just about every Hollywood movie about teaching has been mythologizing this for years: Stand and Deliver (1988) (although that at least had a basis in fact, although what's presented is exaggerated: no student who struggled with fractions could do calculus by the next year), Dead Poets Society (1989), Dangerous Minds (1995), Good Will Hunting (1997) (again starring Robin Williams). An exception is One Eight Seven (1997). As I keep saying, abandoning In Loco Parentis was a mistake: we are increasingly expected to become more like parents, with none of the authority.