14 August 2008

The New Job--Meet the Old Job

Today I was thinking about the job I'm about to start next week. To tell you the truth, I was feeling angry about it. For one thing, I was essentially told by the Provost of the college that I was going to take the job. I really and truly hate being dictated to--even when the thing that's being dictated to me may well be "good for me." Even my mother never said things like that when she tried to get me to eat spinach or lima beans or other such green things. Then again, she never had to persuade me to eat them.

Well, all right... I'm in a very different situation now. Yes, the vegetables are good for me. But I'm not always sure that teaching--or being in school in any way or form--is. Of all the things I've ever done, I feel that teaching is the least honest and that being in school is the surest sign that I've failed. You know what they say: "Those who can, do."

Which is exactly the reason why people who bemoan the fact that school "doesn't teach you how to think" are barking up the wrong tree. That's exactly what school, at any level, isn't supposed to do. People who can actually think never, ever become teachers. Or, if a teacher starts to think, he or she can't remain a teacher for very long unless he or she essentially lives a life of mendacity or simply numbs him or her self.

School--from pre-K to post-doc--is always about maintaining the status quo. All you have to do is watch the Olympics to see that. Most spectators, whether they're in the "Bird's Nest" or in front of a TV screen, are not celebrating the athletes for their artistic or technical perfection, or even (in some instances) their good looks. Rather, they are applauding the triumphs of their countrymen (and women). Where do people learn such mindless xenophobia and learn to call it patriotism? Nearly always, in school.

Some say that may be true in subjects like History, but I think that the curricula of the so-called objective sciences are just as skewed toward the status quo. Students are inculcated with just as many unverifiable ideas and beliefs in a physics class as they would be in a seminary. And, of course, everything a student experiences reinforces the gender binary system and lots of unconsciously held beliefs about the inferiority of one gender, race, nationality or whatever, to another. Not to mention the idea that if one is born into anything, he or she should stay in his or her "place.

The last fistfight I got into was with a graduate school classmate who expressed disbelief that I had any Italian heritage in me because, essentially, I'm too literate. I've had professors tell me that I could always go into construction or some such thing. And, I've had colleagues who were professors who pretended to be allies of mine and stabbed me in the back. Not to mention my supervisor on my last job.

How can I get in front of students with a straight face after some of the things I--and they--have been through at the hands of educators? Or knowing that most of the time that I have taught, I have simply mouthed other people's words?

Every time I've questioned the notion that I should teach, someone coos (as if talking to a baby), "But you do it soo well" Well, just because you can do something well, that doesn't mean you should do it. What if you were good at killing people--should you do that?

And, honestly, almost any time someone says I'm a good teacher and that's what I "should" do, it's a taunt. The person saying it is almost always someone who's doing something that pays much better than what I do, and wouldn't be caught dead or allow their kids to follow a career in teaching or scholarship.

Oh well. One more year of it. Then the surgery, and whatever comes after it.