The past few years have been psychologically difficult ones to be teaching in higher education. Large scale economic doom has affected the average American’s personal wealth. Public disinvestment in civic infrastructure including higher education, combined with skyrocketing costs for things like healthcare, have pushed tuition prices ever higher. Employment worries. Debt.
Some articles say the liberal arts are dead, while others say they a even more important than ever in a global economy. Is the university being corporatized? Is it a business that sees students as “customers” and faculty as “the labor”?
Usually when the “big issues” get to be too much, I return to the classroom where I remember what it is that I love about my job. Despite what right-wingers might have you believe, being a professor is a noble profession and working at a university like Hamline is an honor. I think that is why the end of this semester has surprised me so much.
I never imagined that this week would end with the scent of a revolution. I’m talking about a serious mass defection—an in-your-face rebellion the likes of which I have never seen. People doing things that I have never seen them do. People acting out of turn to make a point about the importance of education.
I’m talking about a mass movement—a majority of people united to make a point to the head authority. Seriously, in my ten years at Hamline, I have never seen such a blatant display. It is very un-Minnesotian.
You see I’m a professor and I have students. I stand in front of the classroom and teach—that’s my job. My students’ job is to sit there and learn. I do my job and they do theirs, we don’t tell each other what to do.
Now I like to think of myself as a nice guy—a man of the people, if you will. Because of this, I have very few rules in the classroom. For example, I’m fine with students eating during lecture. I mean, seriously, students have busy lives—so it really is too much to expect that they might have time before or after my 90 minute class to eat. God forbid a student starve to death in my classroom.
I do, however, have one rule: No French fries.
French fries just smell too damn good, and in an afternoon class the scent is too disrupting. So, students can eat their hoagie, their pizza or their burrito. Let them eat cake. No fries.
Of course, this semester we have been reading some interesting social theory in my Pilgrims, Travelers and Tourists class. We have talked about education and learning and how often people think they are “off the beaten track” when they are really on a tour. We read a great chapter in a book by Georges Van Den Abbeele that suggested education can be like that. To learn we might need to stretch the rules a bit—going into uncharted territory. (Of course, even pretending to do that can be misunderstood and get you busted!) This is the difference between the world and “the-world-as-exhibition,” or one might suggest an education and something that just looks like one. And dammit if they didn’t learn. Today it all went to hell.
When I walked into class today, the students rose up and revolted against my authority. They decisively organized and asserted that they know what an education is. They schooled me. Rather than scold them like a schoolteacher might, I enjoyed their rebellion as a sign they were committed. Rather than get angry and talk down to them, I told them how impressed I was that they took what we do here seriously. I didn’t show weakness, however, or they would crush me.
You see, when I walked into the classroom, I was unexpectedly assaulted by the savory scent of luscious French fries. Every student in class had a plate of French fries in front of them. On the chalkboard was a revolutionary statement that I couldn’t ignore.
Damn them for rising up against me. Of course, because we are a university, they are protected. After all, we are all here for the students.
Thanks to everyone in this semester’s Pilgrims, Travelers, and Tourists class. It was a fun class, and I wish you all the best of luck! It will be a long time before I forget the french fries!
You are all very lucky, however, that it is the end of the year or there would be some serious payback!