Educators and Education

Modern Imposters and Gargoyles

What the the role and calling of a teacher?  One Trent Kays deigns to give us ordinary mortals the answer.  Trent describes himself as a “writer, teacher, provocateur, activist, consultant, and rhetoric & writing studies PhD student” so we know we are waist deep in the good oil here.  

For some reason Trent’s answer to the question on the role and calling of a teacher has appeared in the NZ Herald.  Why?  No idea.  Maybe the paper thought that his opinions on the matter were of significance.  There is probably some warrant to this notion.  His own promotional page at the University of Minnesota website claims, “He often writes about society, technology, culture, and higher education issues, and he is in the process of founding a new venture dedicated to practical and progressive ideas for changing education.”

Great stuff.  So what progressive pedagogical revolution is about to descend upon us?  Same old, same old.  The same tired old cliches that progressive and post-modern liberals have been prattling on about since Michel Foucault first said, “Well, I’ll be darned!”

Here is Trent in full cliched flight:

Every semester, I enter my classroom with almost zero knowledge of my students’ interests. So as a rhetoric and writing teacher, I ask them to employ that which is most beneficial to them in their lives: discourse.  I want to know what they think, why they think it, and how they see themselves in the elegant mess we call the world. Indeed, it becomes partly my charge to help students understand how their perspectives are relevant to my course.

Discourse.  The most beneficial thing in the lives of students.  Discourse.  What on earth is that?   It’s just the opinions and ideas you happen to have about the world.  So the role of the teacher is to create an environment where people are liberated to express freely what they really think.  Trent again:

The worst thing a teacher can do is tell students what and how to think. According to Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire, this type of teaching borders on intellectual violence upon another, and where teaching is meant to be a liberating affair, it becomes one of systemic oppression.  In many circumstances, I tell my students the classroom is a space for learning. It is a space to explore and discover ideas without fear of being dismissed or lambasted.

Great. Diversity.  Freedom.  So we can reasonably expect that some poor student in Trent Kays’s class might feel emboldened to say, “I think that Osama bin Laden was the greatest revolutionary hero of our generation.”  Some of the students would hiss (at least inside), but Trent would be at his encouraging best.  “Great.  Thanks for sharing.  What makes you say that?  Good.  Good.  What you think is important.  Go on–tell us more.”  This is a high class, state-of-the-art, post-modern teacher at work.  

You can imagine how the students feel affirmed and encouraged.  This is the essence of true education, according to our high flying expert:

I tell them their perspectives, life experiences and ideas are equally important to mine and the subject material at hand.  After hearing this, many sit astonished at the idea their opinions are actually going to be heard. Unfortunately, I hear from students all too often that their opinions, perspectives and ideas are secondary to their teachers’ or even not valued. I find this preposterous. Education is about enlightenment and not the subjugation of one idea for another.

Whoops.  Problem!  Old Trent has slipped into a bit of old fashioned Marxian stereotypical pablum.  Folks like Jacques Derrida have been complaining for ages that if a teacher puts his ideas and beliefs upon a student it is hegemonic–it is a tyranny of one mind over another.  It is subjugation. It is exploitation.  But that is only just your opinion, Trent.  Great that you can express your ideas and perspectives.  Good on you.  But it’s preposterous to think that your (teacher) idea is more important than mine, right.  Your Marxist opinions about teaching are themselves a form of subjugation and exploitation because you are trying to impose them upon your students, and upon us (via your article).

But this is nonsense from another perspective as well.  What would happen in Trent’s classroom do you think if a poor student were to have the temerity to opine that homosexuals were perversely immoral?   One imagines that pretty quickly Trent’s classroom would become a place of “systemic oppression” on the unfortunate holder of such an outrageous opinion.

Trent would then be directly contradicting his own professed position.  For he goes on to tell us most definitely that

There is no objective truth because objectivity does not exist; there are only degrees of subjectivity. An opinion without evidence can be truth as much as fact with evidence can be a falsehood.  Facts are socially constructed, and they only exist because humans are willing to define and name them. This act of naming almost always positions one thing as the opposite to another. The bizarre form of dialectic at work here doesn’t negate the issue that humans construct, name and set these things in opposition.

Once again Trent thinks he has escaped the Cretan paradox.  He has not.  Is the assertion, “There is no objective truth” objectively true, or not?  Clearly Trent acts and speaks as though he believes it to be objectively and universally true–he even attempts to offer a rationale for it.  But alas he fails.  He is hoist on his own petard.

Or, again,

But to say that a student isn’t entitled to their opinion is to devalue the student. It is to suggest that the teacher’s way is the right way, and the student is less than the teacher. These are hardly correct.

Trent is oh-so-politely saying that the opinion that “the teacher’s way is the right way, and the student is less than the teacher” is wrong!  That’s precisely what he is also arguing that a superior and enlightened teacher cannot and must not do.  Trent clearly believes his “opinions” are objectively true and must be systemically and violently imposed upon his students.  Ah, yes, as Orwell pointed out, “all the animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” 

We acknowledge that Trent’s views are wildly popular in most modern education circles–which is to say that most pedagogy now resembles a grotesque post-modern, Marxist gargoyle.  It is, so internally contradictory that it will end not with a bang, but a whimper. 

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