Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A liberal education, indeed

Yesterday was my first Philosophy of Education class (okay, so it turns out that the class is actually called A History of Educational Ideas and therefore you'd suppose it would be considered a History class, right? Nope, its a Philosophy class. The real Philosophy of Education class doesn't count as credit towards an Education degree. Go figure. Just one more of the wonderful incongruities of academia); it promises to be the easiest class I'll have ever taken. The prof will never win any awards for his public speaking abilities - instead of saying more with less, he says less with more. Much more. He's hung up on using philosophical turns of phrase instead sacrificing those for nicer things like clarity and conciseness. However, he does seem like a genuinely kind and nice prof who is really interested in being helpful and in making things easy for his students.

Almost too easy, in fact.

We have no essays or research papers or book reviews to write for this class. In fact, from what I can tell, no research of any kind will be needed whatsoever. All we'll have to do is read the assigned texts and come to class (but there's no mark for attendance or class participation). The grades will be determined based on a couple of take home tests and a final exam. The test questions - including those for the final exam - will be given to us weeks in advance so that we can muse them over and formulate answers ahead of time so that we are full prepared (a.k.a. ask our friends/Google?).

Wow. Now, keep in mind that I'm someone who will drop a class if I think the work load is too much for me to handle or if I feel like the prof has gone on a bit of a power trip and that the class doesn't warrant so many assignments. (For example, I dropped the class that Elliot and I had signed up for over the summer because I felt like for a 3 credit, 2nd year class that would only span about a 6 week period the work load was ridiculously heavy; on the other hand, the not-as-lazy-and-complainy-Elliot continued with the class and loved it and had a lot of fun with the assignments.) Anyways, the point being that I won't usually complain about having less work. However, this is a second year Philosophy class and I guess I was just expecting it to be... well, harder.

Oh, and I was also expecting my fellow classmates to grow in sophistication and maturity as I proceeded further into the university curriculum. I'm being disappointed in that respect as well. Last night I arrived a couple of minutes late and ended up sitting wedged between two other people at the back of a large theatre-style classroom. The prof was standing way up at the front talking us through the syllabus. As I've mentioned, his speaking style could be improved upon and it seems that the guy sitting directly behind me agreed with upon this rather strongly. Over the next hour and half we got to listen to him mutter in varying volumes his opinions on the prof, the syllabus, and the class itself: "What a f---ing waste of time this is!" or "Oh geez, shut the f--- up your moron, won't you!" etc, etc. interspersed with loud clattering noises as he "dropped" his pen on the table for the trillionth time.

After a while of this I was getting pretty annoyed and started going through my options. I could turn around and punch the guy in the noise? Nah, violence seemed a little extreme given the situation. I could turn around and hiss "Shut up!" - but that might have provoked an outburst from the guy and I didn't want to disturb the class or be rude in turn. I could go with ultra civilized option and say "Excuse me, but could you please stop talking?" Or I could turn around and say, "If you don't like the class, why don't you leave?"

I decided this last option was the best one. But then I never used it. I ended up wasting too much time trying to figure out whether it would be hypocritical to blast someone for complaining about something that I was actually mostly in agreement with them about. On the other hand, I did strongly disagree with his disturbing myself and others in such a juvenile way and in being disrespectful towards a professor (who couldn't hear the insults and so couldn't even defend himself). Mix that in with the fact that I'd just come from work and was really tired and not feeling particularly bold. It was a quandary. I thought I'd left lumpheads like him behind and that I'd never have to deal with that kind of thing in university.

Now you might think that this kind of thinking is naive on my part, but I've been in university for over 4 years now (taking classes on and off part-time) and before this I'd never encountered a rude student. Yes, I'm serious. Not one. (There have been varying degrees of arrogant students but that's another thing entirely.) Most of my random interactions or forced, group-work interactions with classmates have actually really impressed me.

But above all, what started to really disturb me as I sat there was the thought: "What if lots of the students in the faculty of Education are like this?" After all, where do we get the snarky science teachers? The mean math teachers? The nasty, grumpy gym teachers who won't let you sit out even when you tell them your stomach hurts (okay, so I faked that a lot of the time, but still)? Those awful teachers had to come from somewhere... And isn't there a kind of stigma or stereotype about the kind of people who go into Education? About how they just want an easy job that pays well and where they'll have the summers off (okay, again, in my case that does happen to be true but I also genuinely LOVE the prospect of always being in a school environment and being paid to teach to talk about novels and history)?

All of a sudden I had the sinking feeling that I was going to end up in classes with a lot of idiots. And that feeling hasn't quite gone away.

P.S. Maybe I'm being too hard on my prof and his speaking style will be more enjoyable the next time when I'm not so tired. Let us hope for the best!


Yônâ said...

I too wonder where we get the mean teachers. I'm thinking of the ones who actually enjoy seeing students fail their exams, or those who use their position to belittle others.It seems you and I both love the idea of being in a classroom environment, but what about the teachers that don't?

Nice blog, by the way.

Elliot said...

Hmm. I've encountered some rudies.

And it seems like the 3rd year classes have more mature students in 'em. Well, mostly.

Anactoria said...

Yona - Thanks! :)

That's what I don't get! Why do so many people who hate school, studying, academia, etc. ever *become* teachers? Do they realize at the time that they won't enjoy it but just go into it for the perks...? Or do they think that they'll develop a love for it with time...?

I hope that if I ever start becoming a bitter, grumpy teacher that I'll recognize it (or that *someone* will tell me!) so that I can reassess and decide whether I want to stay in the profession.

Right now, I'm honestly not sure if I'm going to be very good at teaching but I'm going to try it and see how it goes and if I hate it or feel like I'm just not good enough at it then I'll probably go back to school and go for a Masters/PhD in... something. Something good. :)

Anactoria said...

"I'm thinking of the ones who actually enjoy seeing students fail their exams, or those who use their position to belittle others"

Yeah, I remember teachers who were like that. Not many, fortunately, but there were definitely some. I don't understand it - we tell kids not to bully each other and yet it seems like some teachers do exactly that - bully their students just because they feel they *can.*

Clemens said...

Most academics don't really intend to BE teachers. They specialize in a discipline, then discover that they have to communicate their knowledge to students in order to be paid for practicing the discipline. They are not trained to be teachers in any way. I certainly wasn't, except what I picked up being a TA for my major professors. It took years of teaching for me to understand, or admit, that I got something out of teaching (it was my students who pointed it out). It is an odd system.

So in my field we recruit history nerds, most of whom are unsocialized because they spend all their time with books (no offense anyone), then we flagellate their egos for 6 to 12 yrs in grad school, then turn them loose with absolute power (they think) over a bunch of 18 year olds who don't know any better. It's guaranteed to produce some fairly exotic personality.

Or so I hear.