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Teaching As An Act Of Resistance

December 17, 2008

Teaching and Learning as an Act of Resistance

This essay is inspired by some of the people who have shaped my intellect and my sense of compassion to a precision that I could never have imagined. It is also informed by a sense of injustice. In the four years I spent at a small liberal arts college, no less than three of my beloved professors were denied tenure and summarily dismissed. The reasons for this may be complex, but we as students felt that no adequate explanation could replace the guidance and support of these professors. If academia is disconnected from the daily lives and experiences of its students then what does it accomplish? It is only a small jump from there to an academy which does not critically engage with society. 

One of those teachers was a man who considered himself an eternal student. His insight into the struggles and inner worlds of his students made him an effective counselor and a trusted friend. His dismissal sparked an outcry among the students who held a community meeting to inquire into the matter. Some explanations were offered but ultimately, nothing was done. It is this sense of propriety, this sense of politeness that I abhor. I would rather the honest authoritarian nature of these people to be made plain instead of cloaked in administrative civility. 

Another one of my teachers knew better than to let the tension in the room get too high. She often diffused the situation with a joke, sometimes at her own expense, sometimes at the expense of the most dense and frustrating material. There is a feeling between laughter and crying, it is called vertigo and it works by destabilizing your senses and your reaction time. Once, I had an inner ear infection that made me feel like I was lying down when I was standing up and vice versa. My doctor told me that this feeling is related to the one where you are lying down to sleep and all of the sudden sit up with a jolt feeling as though you had just tripped into a bottomless pit. I take vertigo here as a metaphor for disenchantment, the kind we so desperately need. 

The third professor that I have mentioned was a radical with a distinguished pedigree. He did not hesitate to call a fish a fish or imperialism just that. In the few months since I graduated from the aforementioned college, I have met other students struggling with the same dichotomy between the ideals imparted in their education and the day to day world in which they find themselves struggling to earn a living. It might be easy to assume that there is no place for bold gestures, no room for the kind of inspired “examined life” of the liberal arts. This kind of education is a luxury, still it is only a drop in the bucket of the long road towards a self-knowledge and knowledge of the world that will allow us to craft real, enduring solutions to its problems.

If this is so, the rage that I feel can only form itself into that of the anarchist’s gutting a Starbucks. The renowned sociologist David Graeber was denied tenure at Harvard when his connection to the anarchist Black Bloc was discovered. I am not an angry or a violent person. I only object to the double standard in teaching our children the best of human nature when we do not allow those ideals to be practiced in the “business” world. Is there anyone out there who can tell me that the nightmare I have woken into can be salvaged? 

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One Response to “Teaching As An Act Of Resistance”

  1. jay Says:

    A superbly crafted rant!

    (Graeber calls himself an anthropologist, and he was at Yale, not Harvard. I love the fucker too.)


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