Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Build me up

Today the focus in 479 was on bell hook's Teaching Community, the current read. Three students delivered presentations relating the reading to some aspect of their lives; one spoke on the portrayal of American Indians in film and another gave a crash course on feminism while their friend talked about the ways in which community theater can help to build a democratic community. In her follow-up discussion, this last student led the class in a round of communal singing (The Foundations' "Build Me Up, Buttercup"), citing studies showing the sense of community such a simple act can help to build.

Liberal arts education, folks. Isn't it awesome?

One of the HON 179 students visiting the classroom (today was the last class meeting for which I've got such students signed up! sadness...) asked "so, why exactly does bell hooks not capitalize her name?" My students posited several potential answers, most of which came back to one core hypothesis: she's making an intentional move to diminish her authoritarian status. "There are a lot of professors who are really laid back and don't go by 'Dr.' or 'Professor,'" one student remarked.

Yet still there are those who are keenly interested in maintaining a remarkable distance between their students and themselves. I dealt with several such colleagues last week when I took part in a round-table discussion on career opportunities for students in the traditional "humanities" fields. Of the eight panelists, I was the only one from outside of such a field, and four were first- or second-year faculty, fresh out of grad school and a few of them still very clearly vested in making sure their students knew just how smart they (the faculty) are.

After twenty minutes of hearing my colleagues pontificate about how graduate school is the most arduous and intellectually challenging undertaking and how only the most intelligent, the most assiduous, the most dedicated, devoted, and perspicacious survive (the unsaid unsaid: those of us on the panel are not only survivors but thrivers), I had had enough and I finally spoke up. "You know, grad school is hard and it will challenge you," I said, "but honestly I had a ton of fun and enjoyed it immensely. It was a rich time of my life, socially as well as academically. It's not all hard work."

In the end, you have a choice. What'll it be?: build a better community and live in it, or build a taller tower and live above it?

No comments: