May 2008

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It’s the end of the semester. Kysa and I discussed and recorded grades for the large course in Cultural Pluralism this morning. It is now mid-afternoon, and I am somewhat fragile, fragmented, and frustrated.

Playing the violin just now, trying to pay attention especially to intonation – playing pretty much in tune – I feel the need to express thoughts, to reconcile the fragility with the sense that it is time to move ahead. No longer needing to get up early in the morning with the idea of having to teach always and persistently wandering in my mind, I am free. Or sort of…free.

I review the course, fleetingly, with certain moments of contention and towering success (Ha!) vying with my remaining in the present. Wondering what I, what they could have done more or better, or with an energy which might translate into long-terms of growth and grandness for them…and for me. I review…and wonder.

I wander. My mind floats to the other course – Teaching as a Dialogue – which was for more advanced students, people, thinkers, wanting (would-have, should-have thought) to be teachers, themselves, to the worlds of their futures, and to the future of the world. We never reconciled, nor much discussed with much direction, the question of authority. Dialogue, thought an older student, is somehow between equals, or between all people. I tried to state, with some authority of my own, that dialogue between equals might lead somewhere, but might drown into the “Lord of the Flies” in which apparent equality degenerates/develops into tyranny. Without any sense of authority, and some accompanying sense of directedness, there isn’t much left…a nililism, a cynicism, some cunning whose cunning turns where it will, and where it can because everyone else is denying what’s happening.

Back to the fiddle, fiddling with the ideas and with Bach who wants to be played with somewhat more attention than I think I have on the day I am coming off teaching.

Response: Michael Wesch – “Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance”

Michael Wesch is playing; at play with the idea that his form(s) of teaching are actually “anti-teaching.” As he studies and interviews his students, he is pondering the fact that many of them are “struggling to find meaning and significance” in their education.

While they “take” courses, and successfully “complete” them, the information or knowledge that they are given does not much penetrate their thinking. Much of the course material is not very relevant to their lives. “For many (students and teachers alike) education has become a relatively meaningless game of grades and telling rather than an important and meaningful exploration of the world in which we live and co-create.”

I agree. As someone who teaches and shares Michael’s background as an Anthropologist, I also meditate on the varied situations of teaching in the modern university (U. of Minnesota). I find the teaching situation that he describes to be accurate – and unnerving. I have been trying – over my long career – to explore various modes of teaching. Teaching as Dialogue is my attempt to reach students, meaningfully for them and for me.

First, a few questions about context – when we are: about these times. A student from the unconnected 1950’s, I wonder if what is currently going on has much to do with the “times we are in.” We 50’s students were also pretty remote from the happenings of our times, just looking for how to “make it” in the world. I didn’t “wake up” intellectually until I was taking the medical school course in anatomy, dissecting the hand, and “discovered” my own hands and body – with a “wow” that has driven my ideas ever since. But – other than a few still memorable courses – school was fairly boring, and something to do to get work, have a career, vocation…success.

photo by billerickson

Our current students were born and have been raised in a money bubble. As Jane Smiley so poignantly describes in her ethnographic novel, “Moo,” education has become (merely) necessary to gain a credential. School and success have shifted from K-12 to K-16, and is something “everyone who-is-anyone” needs to do. But the actual “doing” of learning, studying, thinking is quite a distance from the experience of putting in time to gain that credential which earns the right to be successful in the world. Read the rest of this entry »