The False Sense of Closure

So incredibly relieved that I no longer have to deal with my Modern Rhetorical Theory class which was in every sense a total failure. I thought I would feel happy about the end of the term, but the only feeling I have is relief. Relief in the sense that something you were close to is no longer suffering. I do so wish though I could go back to January and somehow "fix" things. Might be something beyond my fixing, might be that it's 90 degrees outside yesterday. 

One of my theories about the term is that students are bright and well prepared by the core classes to advocate for themselves in bureaucratic battles. They learn quickly that the language of the syllabus is there to entrap them and they learn how to use it to bend things to their favor. The other result of bad professors merely enforcing point and percentage limits on dry assignments is there's no practice in imagining or sharing opinion. They get no practice for the harder things that I might want them to do (or expect them to be able to do) at a higher level course. With the syllabus being absent the codes of numeric resistance and the texts being books for discussion, the students in this course would rather just not show up than risk saying the wrong thing.

Where I work there is a premium on making fun of and talking down about student ability. I call it the cynical pedagogy. You show someone what you are going to have the students do, they sneer, chortle, and express some trope about students being lazy or unwilling to do things. Recently I was at a meeting by a publisher who was showing us a new web suite they have designed for teaching. The professor next to me offered, in his best cynical tone, "What are we going to do about the students who just don't buy a code, don't want to log in, can't log in, blah blah blah?" The company rep was very kind and thoughtful: "We understand that many students at the start of the year have no money, so we can do a 3 week grace period where no login is required. I get how student loans are late and paychecks don't come in until the end of the month." The professor replied, "Oh I didn't think about that. I was referring to their laziness."

Yes, a faculty member assumes that poor people are lazy. Just another day on my campus, honestly.

This cynical pedagogy comes out in two ways: First, the syllabus is designed for the students who can't do anything. It's limited and asks little of them except route work. Secondly, the professor has a haughty attitude toward questions. The students are frequently made fun of or belittled for asking questions in class (I was led to believe this was the function of class). So by the time they come to this late course on Modern Rhetorical Theory, they understand it's better to be quiet and absent than invested and wrong. This is the fault of my colleagues.

But are they colleagues? The university's insistence on treating teachers like contract employees develops a sense of community and investment in the community just shy of an Uber driver's investment in the workplace community. Developing tenured or long-term 3rd way relationships with professors is the way to fix this. But that's a whole other issue. We need more people less worried about whether they will have a job in 2 years and more worried about how they will teach their subject over time for the community they are a part of. 

The term is ending sadly for me. It's a false sense of closure. The problems are still here even if the class is blissfully out of its misery. I feel like such a disappointment. I couldn't adapt to what the students needed. I spent all term reading books and taking notes just to show up to a barely full classroom who had not read much of anything. I tried to adapt by lowering the assignment burden and making them more open. The results were still not that great, as people were not reading. They were not coming to class to ask questions. When they did come to class, they were silent. 

My solution is to return to the core curriculum and teach there. This might help a few people question the limited and rather stupid position most core teachers take on the side of discipline: "They have to learn what college is about." I stand on the side of imagination: "They have to craft a valuable college experience." One provides tools, the other provides limits. I can't do anything in a course where the people were actively shamed from sharing ideas and engaging in difficult texts. I can teach a course that is supposed to activate those tastes and attitudes: Public Speaking. More on this later. 

Today I am going to work on my RSA paper, do some reading, some grading, and then I'm meeting with a couple of seniors to talk about Foucault. Not such a bad day honestly. The end of the term is not an end at all, but a mile marker.