Fun at Skool

John Sutherland has redeemed himself. I took issue with him a few weeks ago when he wrote a column recommending the UK imitate the US in using athletic scholarships to increase minority access to higher education. I think there are some serious drawbacks to that way of doing things, so I said as much. But I think he’s right on the money here. I’ve nattered about this issue of students as consumers several times on B & W. I’m glad to know other people are noticing. One would think it would be self-evident that 18-22 year olds might possibly want qualities in their teachers other than scholarship or the ability to inspire, and that hence their evaluations would be of limited utility, for the same sort of reason that one doesn’t ask a five-year-old to plan the dinner menu.

It is instructive to note what students rate highly and what royally pisses them off. They like younger professors, generally…Above all, the younger instructors do not “condescend”. Students dislike boring instructors; they avoid waffling instructors who don’t know their stuff; but they loathe, with homicidal intensity, instructors who talk down to them…On the whole, professors know more than a first year undergraduate. How can wisdom and learning “not” condescend when confronted with vacant ignorance? Should you flatter a know-nothing student…?

Exactly so. That is, one would think, what the whole enterprise is about. But of course the idea that a teacher might know more than a student is an awfully ‘elitist’, hierarchical, hegemonic, kind of like colonialist idea, so we’d probably better get rid of it.

The UCLA system demonstrably encourages crowd-pleasing. I have trawled through a few hundred of the review pages and the one criticism which is never made is: “This professor is just an entertainer – there is no substance in his/her class”. Students will happily put up with bad teaching if it is “fun” bad teaching. “Amuse me!”, orders Demos…

Neil Postman wrote an interesting book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. I think he was on to something.

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