Modernity and a Teacher's Answer from the Cave of Antiquity and Irrelevance
My own efforts to convey to these specialists a few of the issues surrounding the use of e-mail as an integral part of courses has fallen for the most part on deaf ears. For example, not one of these computer "experts"such as what passes for an expert on the budget of a public institution of higher learninghas even the slightest clue that there might be an issue with handing a suspect behemoth like Google wholesale access to faculty-student communications. For another example, the folks in ITS seem put out by suggestions that professors are genuinely and legitimately concerned with the possibility that ITS technical people are encroaching on the absolutely sacred ground that is the academic freedom a professor has in his or her own classroom.
In the continuing effort to harp on the theme of teachers at the college getting with the program, the chief of ITS late last week sent out a mass e-mail to every faculty member; the subject line of the message was, "Worth a Look," and the body of the message was nothing but a link to a YouTube video, which is herewith presented below.
Readers are encouraged to watch the video in the entirety of its four minutes and forty-four seconds before proceeding to the remainder of this article, which resumes with the e-mail message I sent out this afternoon as a "Reply All," meaning that everyone who had been sent the original e-mail message with the link to the YouTube video has now received my response to it.
Enjoy the show.
Now, this is the message I sent to every faculty member. It also went to several deans and the director of education, those being people to whom I did not realize I was broadcasting until about two seconds after I had hit the "Send" button.
I am deeply unimpressed by the latest in centuries of calls for a "new" way for a "new" age. Until such time as we can effectively teach students the fundamentals of coherent, rational thought processes conveyable through constructively coherent writing, the digital age can find its acolytes and promoters in another teacher's classroom. Google is not part of the solution; neither is Wikipedia; neither are any of the legion of online and other innovative ways to "connect" and "collaborate." To the extent that they are treated as other than convenient tools of modernity, they are all part of the problem, and that problem has persisted from age to age. (Here's a hint: the problem, for lack of a more diplomatic wording, is called ignorance with a side of cultural sloth.)
To represent that those signs the students in that act were displaying were shocking messages from the post-modern world of the young is to deny that students have been bemoaning their teachers, their assignments, and their very lots in life since the beginning of time... or, at the very least, since the first professor held up a stone tablet and called it "Neolithic PowerPoint."
Nothing is new. The only differences from one generation to the next are the particulars of the "solutions" that avoid the hard-core duty of teachers to teach well, test rigorously, and show compassion while awaiting their students' slow, uncertain decision about whether to find an individuating reason to succeed or a tired excuse to fail.
Forgive me my bluntness. I'm a teacher. (I'm also a blogger.)
Having sent the above e-mail message to everyone, I awaited what I expected to be the brutal backlash against my Luddite-oriented lifestyle. I was quite surprised at first to find that the messages to me were uniformly favorable, some even glowing. Words such as "erudite" were used. One commenter wrote to me, "I was beginning to think I was alone."
Another faculty member wrote, "Hurrah! I have been meaning to reply to the video but wasn't sure how to put my thoughts into words with sounding like something out of the stone age. I found your response on the money. I'm sorry to think the next generation cares more about the internet and text-messaging than reading a book or actually researching a paper without the benefit of the internet."
I was most happy that my thoughts had resonated with so many of my peers. How uniformly favorable were the comments I was receiving!
It then occurred to me that I had become the academic equivalent of toast.
In higher education, praise is readily at hand, generally conveyed in unabashedly kind words, friendly banter, and the occasional, stale doughnuts left over from meetings among important people. Praise comes quickly and generously.
Retribution, on the other hand, comes slowly, in its own time, in its own way. Almost always, it comes from behind, and its effect is as a blade of unforgiving certitude. Revenge in academia has both patience and stealth.
How do I know I am going to face the wrath of a few who matter? That's easy: I received compliments from many who do not.
I shan't concern myself with that eventuality, though. The worst that can happen to me is the punishment which has already occurred, perhaps the greatest curse and the highest reward a teacher could anticipate. For the sin of speaking my mindindeed, for the far worse error of doing so in such a manner and tone that I was for a moment actually heardI shall remain in obscurity.
Economic poverty and bouts of self-condemnation are just the gravy on the banquet meal of hierarchical intolerance at once so vigorously enforced and so roundly denied by the practitioners of group-think in higher education.
Here at The Dark Wraith Forums, of course, I can speak my mind without much concern; and that is the most delicious of ironies for one who cannot countenance this "Information Age" that is inexorably separating me from relevance in my own profession. It is, in fact, irony of the highest order, irony worthy of a good belly laugh.
The Dark Wraith will try to muster that laugh once the smell of toast has dissipated.