Monday, January 23, 2006

Rotten apple for the teacher

Warning: Rant

Gawd help me, I cannot stand it a moment longer. And I just can't stand that I just can't stand it! What has happened to me? I used to be all dewy-eyed an' shit about ed-yew-katin' the young 'uns.

The dew, dear friends, has fled. Burnt off in the ferocious sun of actual students. I have a nauseating suspicion that this is because it takes me longer than any other idealist on the face of the planet to have their ideals shattered. When I got into this thing, I had a starry-eyed view of what I would actually be teaching. Sure. So far, so normal. But it has taken me this long to realise that it is impossible that all of the students I've seen in the last three years can be exceptions. They are actually (choke) representative of what I do, as a rule. In strange and exceptional circumstances, I do what I thought I'd be doing most of the time, viz: talking about how brilliant philosophical arguments work.

What I in fact teach is:

1. What plagiarism is
2. What plagiarism is, again
3. How an opinion is not an argument
4. How my opinion that an opinion is not an argument is not "just my opinion"
5. That being a skeptic does not mean you think we are in the Matrix

OK, I'm overstating it. There's also some really scary stuff like having to explain in great detail how modern relativist and social constructivist theories do not mean that you get to believe whatever cockamamie undergraduate thing you believe right now with no fear of challenge. And lots, lots more. I know they're learning something, truly I do. But the trouble is that I know lots of things about the way that I ought to support that learning, and I'm not doing them. And the reason I'm not doing them is because right at the moment, I feel like they're not coming to the party. They're not reading anything, they're not thinking for themselves except to conclude that philosophy is an excuse to brand anyone a complete idiot (including Hume, Descartes, and any number of DWMs with huge brains) who argues for conclusions which conflict with their tiny little unplumbed intuitions. It just completely chaps my ass to bust my chops (pardon my metaphor trainwreck) coming up with a 2-minute potted exegesis of Duhem's views about underdetermination, with, you know, helpful and ed-yew-kational questions and investigations upon student contained therein, with a view to ever-so-slightly offsetting woeful misunderstanding evidenced by student's paper, only to be told in snippy tones by said undergraduate that sure, she understands everything I just said, but Duhem's view is "just so logically weak".

Let's just say that I don't hold pencils, because they'd all die short, snappy deaths. As it is, I have to grit my teeth to stop my head from splitting in half from the sheer brass of this sort of thing. Student (i) has not read Duhem (ii) does not know what "logic" is (iii) is using "logically weak" as a synonym for "has a conclusion I don't like". Sometimes I make the mistake of attempting to unpack their intuitions about conclusions they don't like. Then I get treated as though I tried to get into their underwear drawer -- shocked, wide eyes as they brandish their unopened library copy of the text in question like a talisman. What do you mean, WHY don't I like it? What kind of question is that? It just ... [earnest, philosophical tones]... seems wrong to me.

Oh, yeah. Deep.

Now kindly fuck off. I need to retrieve my idealism.


Heidi the Hick said...

wanna hear my theory? I think a lot of people in their early 20's have been raised to believe strongly in their own brilliance, whether they actually have it or not. You're so good, you're so smart, you're so capable. Look at you acting so grown up, watching grown up movies and listening to the same intelligent music your parents listen to. YOu're not wrong, dear, you just have a differing opinion. You didn't lose, it's more that today you were non-winning. Sadly, I have no solution to this problem. Hopefully someday they will find out the big World has less patience for their infallibility. But sadly I am not the person for this discussion; I had a hard time sitting through my own ed-ya-cashion.

Xtin said...

Heidi, I think you might have something there. As a matter of fact, I don't really mind them being convinced of their brilliance. I'm all for being confident and stepping boldly into the grown-up intellectual breach. What gets me frosted is their belief that they can think whatever they want with impunity -- that their do not need to be informed or reasoned or developed in even the vaguest way. I'm not interested in proving that they're wrong, but I am interested in proving that it's not enough to be right, you have to be able to say WHY. Indeed, I'd rather the student who has good reasons for the wrong conclusion every day of the week over the student who believes all the right conclusions for no reason at all.

No more ranting from me ...