31. In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic – Professor X
In addition to being a librarian, I also happen to occasionally teach college classes – usually English. Reading this book was very comforting. It’s hard to explain to someone why you truly do not feel that college is for everyone (sometimes students need to wait to go to college and sometimes they should play to their real strengths) or how it actually is virtually impossible to teach certain students certain concepts and how exhausting it is to truly try your best…only to be met with the brick wall that is students who do not have (or pretend not to have, it’s up to them) critical thinking skills. As Stephen King mentions in On Writing, if you start off as a bad writer, you will never be a great writer. It’s not the sunny-everyone is a special snowflake b.s. that people want to hear about their children these days, but it’s the truth. I prefer knowing the truth.
People tend to argue with these simple truths constantly – even in the reviews for this book on Amazon there were arguments about how Professor X (who remains anonymous, reasonably) must not be a good teacher if his students were failing so much or he felt that he could not improve their grasp of writing (he also teaches English). Nothing could be further from the truth. The problem with that idea is that it gives zero personal responsibility to the students. Students have to want to learn to get something out of a class. Some want to learn, put in the work, improve ever so slightly, and still fail. Well, that’s okay. Some people do not realize that hard work does not always pay off in a passing grade. You’d think that with the way the country’s going and the success of several reality stars who we know have a seriously off talent to money ratio that people would start to understand that you can work your ass off and still not get anywhere if the complete reverse is true. It’s happening everywhere. And it’s okay to improve ever so slightly. I have many students who work very hard, but focus on the wrong thing. Like, they write a paper, but it doesn’t cover three quarters of what it needed to for the assignment. That fails. They get testy and whine at me and I explain that if you don’t write something that indicates that you read the assignment description, you’re going to fail. Working hard is not the same as reading and succeeding. Collegiate English is about demonstrating that you can follow directions, write coherently using a formal version of the English language that doesn’t make everything about you and your opinions, and that you can interpret what you read. And you do have to actually read the story/poem/novel/article in order to interpret. Looking really hard at Wikipedia doesn’t count. Teachers do what they can to translate the importance of communication and critical thinking skills to their students, and in many cases they ignore them. That doesn’t make them bad teachers. I’m pretty sure I could repeat certain things until I died of exhaustion and they still wouldn’t get through to someone, especially if that someone has a smart phone.
Recently, a student who just started community college came into the library with this little remote control and explained to us that this was her main school supply. She would be taking tests using this, she wouldn’t need to bring pen and paper to class, this little $96 tool was going to be the main thing she needed. No papers, no critical thinking, just multiple choice. Ew. To me that’s evidence that the entire concept of critical thinking is disintegrating. I know many people who glided their way through college on a wing and some Red Bull, but, seriously, hello degree inflation. It’s worse out there than I thought. I like teaching, I like being a librarian, but the more technology advances the worse it gets…less and less people have the patience to attempt to work out a problem of any kind on their own. They just stare blankly at you when you provide them with options as though if it’s not right in front of them waiting to be grabbed a solution is beyond their reach. Researching is hard, writing is hard, college is supposed to be hard. And I’m not researching or writing for anybody, regardless of how much they whine. I will always help my students and I will always help patrons. But I refuse to give up on the idea that they can help themselves once I give them the push they need. The clicker is just one more straw though, I sincerely hope that the college I occasionally work for does not institute clickers. Ridiculousness.