Domo Arigato Professor Roboto

Oh god, not “politics in the classroom” again. All I can tell you for sure after reading Paul Sracic’s essay is that the way he comes at this perennial issue is by advising professors to be boring, grey robots in the classroom, little information vendors who beep and boop and spit out narrowly constrained answers to questions when asked and otherwise go ahead with their preplanned lectures. The excluded middles here between Sracic’s tightly controlled pedagogy and some raving stream-of-consciousness political activist who punishes students for disagreements and spouts nonsense about his every whimsical thought are wider than the Grand Canyon. Teaching well requires that you be both human and humane. You have to be humble and embrace the range of students you’ll encounter–but you also need to be unafraid of yourself, as unselfconscious a performer as you can be. You have to respect what you know and what you don’t know–but also be willing to guide students to knowledge that’s beyond your own direct reach. You have to help the wisdom to use knowledge grow, and that doesn’t come from knowledge itself. Teaching is art: Sracic talks about it like it’s about filling out an Excel spreadsheet.

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4 Responses to Domo Arigato Professor Roboto

  1. Ruben J says:

    Sracic Wisdom

    Student: Good morning.

    Professor: Student, let’s keep this professional. I said nothing about greetings in my syllabus _for a reason_. I’m not qualified to judge the quality of this or any morning, and my untrained opinion would, in any event, be neither credible nor at all relevant to your instruction. Rather, consult a geologist, moral philosopher, or perhaps a scholar of Aurora, goddess of the dawn, should you wish to learn such patently extra-curricular matters. From me, you can learn nothing.

    Indeed, it is a blessing of our democratic system that you cannot guess my mind on this “good morning.” Would you rather I chilled the classroom air with my iron-fisted views on the kind of day this is? The question answers itself. In today’s universities, such indoctrination is so routine that whole course sections parrot back the professor’s “good morning” without a second thought to their silent but independent neighbors. No, no, my pupil, the time is past when such performances–all but show trials, really–pass for responsible “engagement” by an unabashed educational elite.

    Consider, moreover, that no one (not even a professor!) can truly “know” whether it is or isn’t a good morning. What if you are going through heroin withdrawal and the balmy dawn can do nothing for it? Would it be a good morning for you? I should think not. Being ignorant of such things, I hold a special responsibility as an educator to keep my “opinion” to myself. Rather, it is only “knowledge” that I have to offer. Settled forever by Plato (disclosure: I have a master’s in Greek), the distinction between groundless speculation and granite-hard truth must guide my every act. In math class, should the teacher bully you into studying algebra when you prefer geometry? Does the teacher “know” which you should study any better than you do? No, he does not. And any claims that the teacher holds his opinions in accordance with reasons that he would gladly offer up for debate are beside the point unless he is _certain_ about what you should do. So, too, must I stand intellectual guard.

    As you can see for yourself, I’d do you no favors by indulging your curiosity. Neutrality is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. Now, if you have a question about this class, “Afternoons: A Survey”, I’m all ears. If not, good day.

  2. JonathanGray says:

    Teaching with rampant bias is one thing, but teaching without being able to express opinions models the worst form of uninvolved non-citizenship out there. Shouldn’t we be encouraging students to care about things and get involved, rather than making it look like a virtue to sit on the fence and never give a damn? For all the bellyaching and fearmongering about how MTV, The Daily Show, videogames, etc. are supposedly responsible for low political interest or involvement levels in young people, perhaps we could instead direct some blame at robotic teachers who don’t model how to be thoughtful and political, and to critics who require them to be robots in the first place. When having opinions and political conviction is automatically seen as a barrier to the pursuit of knowledge, oh my god where are we at?

  3. Boy, just off the top of my head, I can think of a half dozen ways Sracic could have turned that into a brilliant teaching moment. He was teaching government for crying out loud!

    Do you know how much I want to teach government, some days?

  4. jd says:

    I was trying to think of something intelligible to say about Srasic’s essay, but you nailed it here with “excluded middles,” Tim. The comments above this one are also, each in their own way, on the money. Srasic writes as if the classroom were a refrigerator.

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