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Online Teaching: End of Week 3

June 21, 2008

The only real change for this week is the onslaught of panic-ridden emails from enrolled students who have suddenly figured out that they are really going to fail if they don’t actually do some work.  And what can we draw from this?

An online class does not occupy real, concrete space in the universe;  but a failing grade does.

One of the more interesting and distracting thoughts that has been rolling around in the ol’ noggin this week has to do with my WAC class.  Their first essay assignment, as I have mentioned before, was to narrate an educational experience and use it to describe what they see as the purpose for education.  Basically, the assignment called for them to write about themselves and their direct, and generally, more recent life experiences.  I know I am not the only college instructor to assign this topic;  there’s no real genius involved in the design, and, to be honest, I borrowed the idea from s much better teacher than I could ever hope to be.  But whenever I do assign this topic, I always end up thinking about it as it relates to my life and my experience.  Education has always and only meant one thing to me: freedom.  And before you assume that I’m going to go off on some political rant, (I will, but not here. I’ll save that for another time) let state quite clearly that I don’t see freedom as something can be given, bestowed, or protected by a political machine. Freedom is a state of being that every individual must strive for every moment of every day.  Political parties come and go, as do politicians and governments.  Being free begins when an individual recognizes that he or she is responsible for determining his or her own destiny; it begins with the realization that there is no institution or no system that is stronger than the people who comprise its inner parts.  Being free begins with the recognition that it is not a birthright; it is something that must be rediscovered and reachieved for every individual who seeks it.

And, for me, the process of becoming free is rooted in education.  In order to be free, people must be educated — and in this particular thread, to be educated means developing the critical thinking skills necessary to interpret, critique, and ultimately change the world.

Education is not rote memorization, or test scores.  It is not a piece of paper with bad calligraphy script stating that we are educated.  Education is not the sole responsibility of the public schools or of colleges or universities.  Education is not the same thing as job training.  But these are the things that most people associate with the term education.  Education, in a public sense, has become an obstacle course whose end is the entrance to the American middle class. Once the piece of paper is earned, then the education is achieved and learning ceases.

I guess I’ve never felt like I’ve plateaued;  I still feel like I’m learning, because I still feel like true freedom is somehow just beyond my fingertips. I am not free just because I have nice television, or a decent car.  I am not free because I can afford to go the bar a few times a week.  I am not free because of increased buying power.  Yet these are the things that pass for freedom to the public at large; and these things pass for freedom because that’s the version of freedom that our American version of Capitalistic Democracy teaches, encourages, and rewards.

The difficult thing for me is that while I acknowledge that the journey is an individual one, I am frustrated by the fact people continually choose the shorter, easier one.  I am further frustrated by my own cynicism regarding higher education — a cynicism that time does nothing to soothe.  The things that drew me into this field — my association of education and freedom — is also probably going to be the thing that ultimately causes me to leave the profession.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Stephanie permalink
    June 23, 2008 3:10 am

    I find that teaching is much more demanding than anyone ever told me or taught me that it would be. I find that much of my day is spent educating my students about life and being human rather than their latin roots. I tell myself this one thing: Keep the main thing the main thing. If this stops being about the kids (teens), then I am out. And this has worked for me. Freedom has to be wanted. Cumpulsory education ensures many social norms, but not freedom. I think it can be a door to it, but only the beginning. I am looking forward to the day when some student looks me up and says, “Hey, you don’t remember me (and I won’t). I am free now. Finally. Thanks for helping with that.”

    Stick with it, Mick. You are a good teacher because you struggle to be a good teacher, thinker and writer. Think of higher ed as mission control. The astronauts are your dear students. They get all the attention and glory. They get to go to the moon. However, they would die on the dark side of it if it weren’ t for Houston.

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