Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Disorienting University Prestige

Jerry Farber - The student as nigger
Robert Brustein - The Case for Professionalism

How to be a successful student:
1. Write what they want, not what you think. - That was thanks to philosophy
2. The amount of time that I spend on a paper and how well it is researched doesn’t matter.  The professor who marks it matters.  - this was thanks to Canadian studies
3. There are some classes that you just don’t have to do the reading for.  So don’t.  I typically work hard on 2 classes.  The other three I study before the exams.  I guess the thing is make sure that the work you do counts, and if it doesn’t don’t do it.  

What I have learned about how I am taught the most successfully. Ie. how I have learned the most.  

Type 1:
The first type of teacher presents knowledge that I must know.

Type 2:
The second type of teacher finds out where I am at with my thinking and helps me progress to different stages.  

Obviously I think the second kind is better.  The system is even setup to allow for this to happen.  The teachers have been through what I am going through.  Teachers are essentially old students (or they should be).  The distinction between the two is much the same as between an extrovert and an introvert.  An extrovert explains all the steps to get to a conclusion.  The introvert thinks through the process and describes just the conclusion.  Just the conclusion won’t help me to figure out how things work, but the process will.  

Another little rant is that I think smart people shouldn’t be teachers; really stupid people should be teachers.  I think this because the really stupid people have to struggle with a concept and once they get it will be able to explain it in so many more ways because they had to go through a longer process to get it.  I am better than my sister at math and I tried to explain it to her and I couldn’t understand how come she couldn’t get it.  It was so clear to me.  If the person explaining it has gone through the fog and seen the light so to speak then he are in a much

Brustein has a worry that the “university is in danger of becoming the instrument of community hopes and aspirations rather than the repository of an already achieved culture.”  I think this is a real danger and I hope it comes to fruition.  I think a university, like a government, arises out of the people and should be for the benefit of the people.  It is only people who enjoy the distinction and respect that comes from being separate from the community that argue for “professionalism.”  This doesn’t mean that experts are non-existent, it just means that we should drop the positions of power and recognize knowledge for what it is.  Climate change is being documented in the North because of the Inuit hunter’s connection to the land and understanding of the ice.  This knowledge is more useful than satellite images.  So who is the expert?  Research and learning is about knowledge creation.  Knowledge has no value if it isn’t shared.  This supports the idea that knowledge is subjective.  My knowledge can grow and in that way it is created and new in me.  But that is a bit of a digression.  

As one of my professors rants, this is the problem with the social sciences. Social scientists have become irrelevant because their work is just for a small community of academics (it is shared within a small community so it has a small value).  If it were expanded to benefit all of society then the social sciences would have a better public perception.  

On the topic of inquiry Reason and Bradbury wrote, “Given the condition of our times, a primary purpose of human inquiry is not so much to search for truth but to heal, and above all to heal the alienation, the split that characterizes modern experience …To heal means to make whole: we can only understand our world as a whole if we are part of it; as soon as we attempt to stand outside, we divide and separate. In contrast, making whole necessarily implies participation: one characteristic of a participative worldview is that the individual person is restored to the circle of community and the human community to the context of the wider natural world. To make whole also means to make holy: another characteristic of a participatory worldview is that meaning and mystery are restored to human experience, so that the world is once again experienced as a sacred place.” (1994)

Research and learning are about healing and becoming part of the world.  We can’t stand outside of the world and categorize all the parts that we learn about.  These parts exist in relationship to each other and to learn about those relationships we have to be a part of the experience of living because it is a dynamic process.  

What if professors taught by becoming part of the class and the class became an environment of inquiry?  Would it heal the split that has formed and created the student and teacher as nigger?  Would we be able to be free of the alienation?  

My first experience with a class that was free was ironically African Studies 500.  The professor facilitated discussion, and helped us to grow.  He became a part of the class and it was the most exhilarating experience of my educational career.  GNST 500 has taken it to a new level, it is trying to even change to format to one that heals the alienation between Dr. Glasberg and the class.  Brustein would be horrified by the corruption of the university.  My challenge to Brustein would be to apply his standards to this class.  I think he would be surprised to find that we have learned more and can do better at any exam he threw at us than a more traditional class.  I know this format has made me learn a lot more about the material and do a lot more work than any other class I have.  

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