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December 15, 2006


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Morgan Lopez

"only bad teachers complain about their students or there is no teaching, there is only learning."

Utter crap, in my opinion. Some minds aren't cut out for certain types of thinking. If that sounds like a generalisation, let me just say that as a student I've talked to enough people like myself who chose their major subjects not on simple preference but on what they themselves felt capable of; that is, there are many people I know who have taken English Literature (like me) because they tend to perform better at what have been termed "right brain" functions just as there are students who have favoured subjects associated with subjects that favour "left brain" functions, such as maths or science.

In my experience, regardless of the quality of the teaching, it would be exceedingly difficult for anybody to explain calculus to me (for example) just as it would be damn hard to explain the theory of "the tyranny of the author" (again just an example) to a friend of mine taking medicine. Our minds simply are not cut out for each other's subjects (that and I am rather squeemish).

Scott W.

Hey Jodi,

A world without correct communications and translations would be a chaotic resultant. I believe in the authority of the instructor(s) to issue what he or she believes is the reflection of a students effort for the prescribed course outline. If the instructor fails in this endeavor, the whole world suffers, as this is the foundation of education. In that, what a student learns in the classroom must be stored for reference. If a student doesn't communicate what they have learned to present, then that student will not have the ability to later reference their educated memory. Education is the counter-ingnorant. What I don't know makes me ignorant. What I do know, not properly communicated, makes me ineffective.


There are a lot of lousy students out there. If you can imagine (or remember) yourself being a lousy student, you should be able to admit this.

I guess maybe there are some teachers who can imagine themselves being lousy students but still can't admit that a lot of their students are lousy; this is a double standard, according to which the teacher says something like, "there are expectations which pertain to me, criteria I can fail to satisfy, commitments I can fail to live up to, but what can one expect of these poor babies?" Another example of the tolerance that infantilises.


I recently got in a kerkuffle with one of our composition professors when I got irate over the writing of some students. Apparently he took my comments as an indictment of the English professors, blaming them for poor student writing, and he went on a long tirade about how it is the responsibility of everyone in the humanities to teach writing and how it's morally wrong to expect students to be capable of doing something when you don't teach them that skill. I'm really not sure what to say about this. I teach philosophy and the focus of the class is on philosophers. I do discuss writing in class, and go into a good deal of detail discussing critical thinking, how to organize essays, etc. What am I to do when I get students that write "daycarts" for "Descartes", or who write sentences that are so tortured as to either be Joycean strokes of genius or thrown together word salads? Or what do you do in the case of those students that seem unable to distinguish between a summary-- ("Descartes wanted to demonstrate the existence of god") and an explanation (Descartes proves the existence of God by showing x, y, and z which support the conclusion by...)? Students should minimally have the capacity to put together a sentence and an essay by the time they reach college. This is one of the prerequisites of the course. I simply don't think that all students are cut out for college level work, and I'm unsure why educators should feel uncomfortable saying that. I'm certain that educators at all times have complained about the quality of their students, but I cannot help but believe that the "Every Child Left Behind Act" has been a blight on American education, rendering students nearly incable of critical thought, unable to read texts, and unable to recognize and produce arguments. Of course, I'm talking about a select group of students. There are many good ones as well.


Sinthome, I don't think ECLBA is exclusively to blame - students are not substantially better in jurisdictions without such legislation (for instance, Canada). It's not uncommon - in a country where French is an official language - to have students write an essay on "Fuco" (they mean "Foucault"). Or, again, to write something like, "Everyone knows that the ethnicals live at South Keys [a mall in the south end of Ottawa - in the parking lot?]." The problem, if it is one, is the increasing expansion (although also at disproportionately increasing cost resulting in increased debt, of course) of enrollments. Most universities in my province (Ontario) have a high school entrance average of over eighty percent (calculated on the basis of the best six courses in their final year of high school - or it was when I was in high school - and eighty percent is the usual cut-off for guaranteed "recruitment scholarships"). It is quite certain that it is the marks at the high school level that have increased and not the quality of students. Part of it is, no doubt, a belief on the part of the high school teachers that it is in some sense their duty to assist students to get into university however they can because, as we all know, you're screwed in the water if you don't have a B.A..

It seems to me - and this isn't a slight directed at any student at all - that many students are pursuing B.A.s or commerce or engineering degrees who should be getting a vocational education in plumbing, electrical work, construction, or what have you. (The world will always need skilled trades; other occupations not so much.) Part of the problem (and this is most evidenced in the areas of "criminal justice" and "criminology") that previous vocational training is being elevated to the university level because that's where the money is - criminology is presently the most popular undergraduate program in Canada. (Worse: they all think they will be "profilers." They're not all going to be cops or crown attorneys or even prison guards - we are failing students who enroll in these programs.)



If she started off saying she deserved "at least" a B-, you should recommend she take a course in negotiation.

McKenzie Wark

I had a student write on observational piece once about the gym instructor who must be gay because he has long hair.

But rather than attack the narrow mindedness of the student, its always better to see it as the place from which teaching begins.

The paradox is, if we weren't all stupid, there's be no reason to teach, or for there to be teachers.

There's a lot you can do with this 'gay' gym teacher in a class.

Yes, some people signal their sexuality through their appearances. Do straight people do it too? Do we always read the signs right? No, not everyone signals their sexuality through their appearance. Some folks are gay and you just can't tell, etc. Maybe long hair means other things. Maybe nothing, Why do we read things into appearances? And so on.

Even the grade chisellers, the system workers -- they're all people with whom one teaches. Sometimes people don't get it until 10 years later. If at all, but as a teacher i think i try to create events that might encourage reflection later. Even if nobody gets it now.

Teaching on its own can't heal the injuries of class. But, every now and then, it works.


PE Bird--it's because I gave her a D (she had earned an F).

Ken--you mention the substance or topic of a paper. I was thinking, first, of the basic writing ability (as Sinthome also mentions). I was also thinking of the poor, completely unsupported reading of Aristotle. And, I'm talking about all of this in the context of final exams. I can't connect your teaching moment to any of this. For me at least, it makes more sense to accept responsibility for letting a student know that they are not meeting the requirements.

DJ Joshie Juice

All about me-ness and the classroom: Larry Rickels has a great line in _The Vampire Lectures_ about teaching as "stylin' the transference." If you think about it, getting students to think about your personal interest in them is at least one of the major ways we "reach" them. My experience in college was different than yours: I wanted my profs. (or at least the ones I respected, trusted, and, well . . . loved) to show some interest in me as a person (usually via the avenue of work). Not all, of course. I do think, though, that many models of teaching promise the "more in me than me" than I can possible give, that I am the "subject supposed to know," that I have a present (even when I know darn well I don't). It's not about the present, of course--it's that feeling: is there something in or under there for me?

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