[iDC] A Modest Proposal: Let's get rid of the teachers

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Wed Feb 18 14:35:53 UTC 2009

What an interesting thing to think about, Mark.

And, to a certain extent, I think you might be more right on than you know.
I've always thought about my role at the university in those terms.  I mean,
there are two distinct things that I do:  One is a form of labor: showing
up, taking attendance, assigning crap, grading it, and then following some
ridiculous grading rubric that assigns a point value to some mundane task
that the student is forced to carry out.  In exchange, they get a grade and
I get money.  In my opinion, this is all just a cover for what professors,
students, and universities really do.

The other thing, and this is what I really do in class, beneath this bizarre
theatrical labor, is share thought processes.  I mean, I spend so much of my
time writing things and sharing them with students, that I have a hard time
imagining that anyone could adequately compensate me for it.  So much of my
writing is done with my heart and mind on my own three children, that I
cannot really imagine someone really paying me an appropriate amount of
money for it.  But I share it with my students because I like them.  And the
students who really want to explore these ideas, well, they get invited to
dinner at my house to talk further about these things.  Or we go out to
coffee and read extra books together.  I really don't imagine that anyone is
paying for this or that I am getting money for it.

Then, there are other things that I teach my students, which cannot really
be assessed, like: the importance of helping each other out, treating people
as ends in themselves, seeking out the pivot points of power and putting
your hands on them, learning to develop structured approaches to
problem-solving, learning to see structured approaches to problem-solving as
a problem, etc.  None of these things can really be measured or assessed,
and they don't bear fruit for years.  And I don't expect them to pay me for
it.  Either they participate or they don't.

But, I do need some sort of formal arrangement that lets my kids eat food,
sleep in a house, and go to the doctor.  And, I need some material support
in the way of access to information and a workspace....  So, the job
provides cover for the "real" stuff that I do.  It keeps parents happy to
know that their kids are in college.  It keeps some of the less imaginative
students happy to know that I am going to drill them in some sort of thing
that they can learn through rote memorization.  It keeps employers happy to
know that this student or that student got a degree in such and such.  But
this is all an elaborate cover for what the University really does...  which
is to teach a away of being built on reflection, self-education and oriented
towards the creation of community.

A lot of this philosophy is formed from my own experience as a first
generation college student, who is teaching at a college in Michigan, filled
with other working-class, first generation students.  So many of these
students just don't come prepared with the same expectations and plans as
the wealthier students do.  They need something that their parents will
support (which is usually a path to a specific job with a clearly defined
salary and benefits), but in the meantime, I also need to teach them about
the value of thinking beyond these terms--because they can do so much more
than follow orders.  They could make things.  They could build
institutions.  They could reinvent society.  And, to be quite frank, I would
much rather see the future ranks of leadership filled with kids from modest
backgrounds.  So, I tend to lavish attention on my students, the ones who
really want it...  and there is no way I could be paid for that.

So, yeah, I'd do one of those jobs.  (But I'd need some kind of
institutional cover, so my kids could eat.)

Davin Heckman
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