This morning, inspired by this post by my friend Laraine Herring, I thought I’d write a little bit of a rant myself. As she said in hers, “Warning: Snarky Rant Full of Judgment and Generalizations Forthcoming.”
I echo almost everything that Laraine said in her post. I do absolutely know that administrators are essential and valuable to a college campus – their business is money, and I am not good with money, especially when it involves multiple funding and payout streams. So for this and the way they organizing our buildings and keep us functional, for these things I am grateful to them. But, like Laraine, I do not appreciate the belief that many administrators hold that if we just do things faster and in a more focused way, we will produce better students. Instead, I think we will produce – I hate the idea that we produce students; didn’t they come to us as full humans – fast, narrow-minded people who know little of the world beyond their own speciality. Somehow we think that if we encourage students to do insane things like work 40 hours a week, take 18 credits at an accelerated pace, and also raise two children, we are doing them a favor. We are not. We are teaching them that they need not do anything well, and worse, we are teaching them that efficiency and speed are always the best course of action. They are not.
I also think we’re teaching our students something else, something that seems so odd and ironic to me that I can’t believe we are saying it – we are teaching our students that they – the students – know what is best for them educationally. If that was the case, they would be educated already wouldn’t they? Now, I’m not saying that students don’t know things about themselves that are invaluable to education: they know that they learn better by seeing images or reading words; they know how much time they have in a day to study; they may even know what subjects they are best in. But the truth is most of them don’t know they know these things. We have to teach them to know themselves, and perhaps this is our ultimate goal as teachers – to help them know themselves and those around them.
This morning, one of my students wrote a class log entry where he commented on how useless he feels peer reviews are because his classmates have the same knowledge about the subject that he does. This is not a new complaint – many students hate peer review for this reason or because their partners are not necessarily very committed to the process. But each time I get these complaints, I respond the same way. “I understand how you feel, ______, but you may be wrong about this process. Your fellow students are excellent decoders of the English language, and they work with English in a natural, instinctual way. Their response is, on many levels, the more genuine response since they read only for meaning. I would highly recommend that you take their advice to heart and try to apply what they have to say. I think you’ll find, as I have in my ten years of teaching, that their comments often echo things I would have said myself.” Here, these students do not know best. They just do not. They are smart, intelligent, compassionate, and wise people, but they are not fully educated people. And they are not people who, in particular, are educated about education. That’s my job and the job of every teacher and administrator on campus.
So when another administrator says we need more classes at 7pm on a Friday night (I kid you not; this has happened), I’m going to say that’s a bad idea. I know that students – humans in general – need “down time” in order to have ‘up time.” I will point out that trying to have students finish a social work degree in two years while they work full-time may not “produce” the prepared or well-rested social workers that we need. I will make my voice heard.
But I have learned – boy, have I learned – that this is not a battle I will win. Oddly enough, faculty are not the people with powerful voices in these discussions. Where I can make a difference is in the lives of the 15 or 25 people sitting in front of me (Today, I feel this. Next week, I will forget again). I will see Andrew on campus, and he will ask me if I will read his screenplay sometime. I will light Kylie’s candle at her honor society induction. I will know that telling Daliyl about peer review may not matter now, but maybe in twenty years when he gets good advice from someone he doesn’t expect he will know how to hear it. These are my victories, and they are enough.