By Kyle Hayden, Columnist

The first week of classes I addressed one of my professors: “I think everyone in class hates me.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, I just feel obnoxious talking all the time.”

My professor then said something that has been on my mind since that moment:

“About 15 years ago we entered a period in the university where the cool thing became not thinking.”

Teaching courses has become a battle against silence, especially when the course demands close reading of texts (and not just formulaic analysis). Students not completing the readings, not contributing to discussion have plagued countless courses
I’ve sat in.

When my peers contribute, at best they can summarize the text, or exert about the intellectual effort required for the
use of an ATM.

Throughout college, even in some introductory philosophy classes (Dr. Elaine Miller’s “Theories of Human Nature”) students would not speak. We did not share papers. We only (rigidly) completed required “peer review” exercises.

Everyone experiences these creeping urges to escape their tired-boredom in class.

It seems also that the university cares more about our ability to produce quantity more than it values learning, thinking and contemplation.

This is the mark of a dreafully “efficient” institution.

Who doesn’t love or
want efficiency?

In this age, it seems to be all we are concerned with.

Shortening attention spans (this is admitted and observed, not alleged) combine with increasing demands for completion of homework to make for meaningless work.

Consistently, University Herald and the folks at Inside Higher Ed write casually about how students cannot finish books!

Some have suggested that professors need to simply “make it not an option to not read.”

But it’s clear that many students, due to increased class size, very well can get away with it all semester.

Because we are force-fed assignments, which are mostly trivial “busy work” as it’s called, this leads the students into a space of learned-helplessness.

Where they neither want to be assigned work and can’t generate ideas of their own.

They don’t know how to be free when they finally get the chance to think, to suggest a project, to imagine a new thing without being told what they want.

This is all good for business as it lets the professor off easy without having to look at students’ work closely and increases class sizes.

Who could honestly read 120 400-word papers twice a week, consider them and provide
meaningful feedback?

Multiply this threefold or fourfold and you have clearly an impossible set of expectations and workload for a single professor.

Typically this is where graduate students step in — and never have I ever received meaningful feedback from a graduate student who is simply a GA for this class to get the cash and credit.

“Great job on the reading response, 2/2.”

After 10 straight assignments returned like this I have to wonder: did they even read it?

Fill in the blanks. You get an A, graduate, here’s your cubicle.

Do I even matter as a student or a thinker? Or am I simply a customer? I don’t think of myself as a customer (most students might object when something upsets them: “This isn’t what I’m paying you for!”)

But I don’t subscribe to the “consumer model” of education because this implies that students who are here on tuition waivers, full-ride scholarships or on loan have less of a standing to make claims about quality in the classroom.

It seems as though the deep shift in the model of education occurred before I even arrived.

Dr. Flint of the Sociology department said to me: “The whole society is so addicted to consumption that it tries to make something like education a consumption activity.”

Just sit back and eat it. Work is absolutely to be avoided.

Education should “ideally” be a “production” activity, where a student enrolls in the school, arriving with ideas of what they want to learn and they find their place.

We know this as “Liberal Arts” but it’s been flipped on its head: now becoming requirements to be fulfilled!

Instead, most of us act like we don’t even want to be here.

No longer do we have to complete the stressful task of discovering what we want to learn,
Miami is all ready to tell you what
you want to learn!

Additonally, this is the primary problem with “Science” as it is undertaken today.

Students therefore proceed  in uncritically accepting current methods and beliefs (e.g. “progress is good,” “technology improves our lives,”) are unable to conceive anything new, so we continue to produce more deadly weapons, agro-chemicals, iterations of the growth economy and rote or trivial analysis of Melville, Chaucer, whatever.

It seems students love the courses where the education is a product to be consumed: for example, courses that teach skills. We have some in the Geography department. Students can learn GIS (Geographic Information System), this is a “hard skill.”

I can feel the energy in the lab when I walk in: “Finally, no reading, I can learn this skill and go out and use it!” No thinking required.

Professors might say in protest to my suggestion, “There is problem solving and thinking involved.” But I think not.

You don’t have to read, you don’t have to (rather, you should not) challenge the technological apparatus that seeks to mathematize and standardize human experience and the “resources” of the natural world through the creation of digital maps.

We aren’t pushed to wonder what “bid data” agglomeration and processing does socially or spiritually. Maybe there are courses for this but that knowledge certainly isn’t being integrated here.

Alternately, in classes where reading, thought and discussion are the main components of the course, my classmates continue
to founder.

The silence is deafening.

haydenka@miamioh.edu

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