Friday, October 21, 2011

So you say you wanna revolution?

This weeks “class” goes down in history alongside the long list of failed Marxist revolutions. Since Marxism has been such an abject failure as a social or political philosophy I don’t know why anyone would assume it would work as an educational approach.   Here are some problems with the approach.  First, the teacher/student relationship is not oppressive but liberating.  It is fallacious to impose a sense of equality on to an unequal relationship.  Ignorance is oppressive.  When a student admits to himself that he is ignorant, he takes the first step in learning, the first step toward his liberation. An oppressive relationship would be a teacher trapping a student in ignorance by refusing to share knowledge. 

Ah but what about original thought?  Here, again, knowledge empowers the student.  A student with a full understanding of a subject is better equipped to expand, redirect, or rebel against convention.  If you gave me some numbers and let me work with them for several decades, I might be able to come up with some of the rudimentary aspects of algebra, or you could teach me algebra and I could start working on calculus.  Better yet, teach me calculus and I can start working on quantum physics.  Successful revolutions, the American revolution or Gandhi’s revolution in India, were not uprisings of the ignorant against those in power, rather the oppressed were led to freedom by leaders who understood the system well enough to reorder it.

This concept is accepted in most disciplines.  A math teacher does not just give their students numbers and questions and let them stumble around hoping they will come up with theories and systems to solve them.  A welding instructor does not just give the students torches and let them loose on the metal.  There is innovation in mathematics and in welding, but it comes from the highly educated, not from ignorant flailing.  
            The reason Marxist philosophy can survive in the English department is because we fear absolutes.  The graduate students in this class spent the first half of the semester reading articles that obscure conventional knowledge, “There is not set form for a paragraph” ect. Teachers doubt they know how to write, so they cover themselves by asking the student to come up with the answers on their own. In lecture, the professor does not teach but facilitates lengthy, often digressing, discussions that provide nothing, Then, as assignments, the teacher asks the students to read articles and simply write a summary and reaction.  This removes all responsibility from the professor. The student is given nothing of value since their reactions are already based on previous experience.  They simply reiterate their own pre-held, often misguided, opinions.  When it comes to grading, the professors either revert back to the conventions and punish the student for not knowing them, or they approve anything.  “If that’s how you see it then you are correct.”  
This attitude over took the arts departments a century ago.  Art teachers do not teach value, balance, line, or form. They simply bring models and paints and let the students go nuts.  As a result, artists produce cans of crap that are put into museums.  In the art department it is easy to mask the failure of the system by claiming that the cans of crap are revolutionary and beautiful according to a relative scale, but do you really want a plumber that plums like Picasso paints?  Do we want students who write essays the way Gertrude Stein writes poetry?     


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