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

Lucia Sommer sommerlucia at gmail.com
Wed Feb 18 16:52:42 UTC 2009

Dear Davin,

Thanks for this, so well described. Just curious how you would imagine a
teacher doing all of these things as a "feed jockey"? It seems to me that so
much of what you describe below -- the "what I really do in class" -- can
only happen in an emergent, participatory, and yes (here I anticipate the
techno-utopians jumping down my throat) less-mediated, if not even embodied,



On Wed, Feb 18, 2009 at 9:35 AM, davin heckman <davinheckman at gmail.com>wrote:

> 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.)
> Peace!
> Davin Heckman
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Lucia Sommer
60 College Street
Buffalo, NY 14201
(716) 359-3061
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