Greetings colleagues! I am writing this post from Albuquerque, NM, where I’ve been up to my elbows at the Southwest Popular American Culture Association conference this week. I presented my paper yesterday, and that’s the only excuse I can come up with for missing the Friday deadline for this blog post. It’s 0634 in the morning, and I’ve been up since 0430 catching up on overdue grading, but hunting makes me an early riser, so I don’t mind. The sun is just starting to grumble its way up the Albuquerque skyline, and the sky is pale grayish-blue. I grew up in this state, so coming to SWPACA always makes me nostalgic, particularly when it comes to polishing off a bowl of green chile stew.
Sorry: I just had to share.
I concur heartily with our adamsden, who spoke of how easy it is, at some point in the term, to backslide into some and even all of the bad habits mentioned St. Germain’s article. But then again, screwing stuff up is the price of going off the map, and taking chances is what makes teaching exciting. After doing this for 16 years (and I know some of you have been doing it far longer), that’s one thing I can say for certain. Anyone who teaches something the same way for decades is doing something wrong. The recipe can always be improved.
Of the five pitfalls St. Germain wags her pedagogical finger at, I found myself most smitten with Pitfall #5: Ignore the ways students learn from each other. Over the years, in every class I teach, I have always been impressed (and even spiritually clubbed over the head) by how thirsty our students are to relate to each other on a personal level. Some of this thirst may be impelled by the harsh realities of attempting to teach meta-lecture classes in excess of 150+ students, where participants feel like so many faceless faces in a crowd.
Maybe it’s the fact that, since birth, millennials have been trained and nurtured to work in pods, like orcas, and there is a certain reassurance in sticking with the herd.
But I think the answer is far different. I think our students are thirsty to work with each other because it is stimulating, plain and simple. While they might, in a best case scenario, honor and cherish their educational relationships with us old teacherly types (I speak for myself, obviously), they find own interpersonal relationships incredibly exciting, as they agree, disagree, admire and/or square off with each other in the Arena of the Intellect.
And can I fault them? Look at where I am right now: at a conference in Albuquerque, arguing and reveling in adaptation theory with my colleagues, finding inspiration and motivation to bring back home to my classrooms. Making new connections and eating green chile cheeseburgers for lunch.
So reflecting on St. Germain’s nice, punchy article (I love it when pedagogical theory gets to, and sticks with, the point), I solemnly pledge to stay alert, to not remain content with mere discussion board exchanges, but to bust my hump to figure out more interactive ways my students can make contact with–and gain inspiration from–each other. There are untapped wells of energy in that process, and it is my aim in the coming terms to tap this wellspring of energy and channel it to make a more exciting classroom. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt the students learn as much (even more) from each other than they would if I try to cram my agenda of “knowledge” into their heads.
One of the most inspirational texts I have stumbled on in my career is titled “The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation,” by the French political theorist, Jacques Ranciere. I will close this missive with one of my favorite quotes, in which Ranciere critiques the megalomaniacal master-driven style of learning:
“The master always keeps a piece of learning–that is to say, a piece of the student’s ignorance–up his sleeve. I understood that, says the satisfied student. You think so, corrects the master. in fact, there’s a difficulty here that I’ve been sparing you until now. We will explain it when we get to the corresponding lesson. What does this mean? asks the curious student. I could tell you, responds the master, but it would be premature: you wouldn’t understand at all. It will be explained to you next year. The master is always a length ahead of the student, who always feels that in order to go farther he must have another master, supplementary explications. Thus does the triumphant Achilles drag Hector’s corpse, attached to his chariot, around the city of Troy.”