Anschluß

Now I am going to give back one of those exams, on which once again every one has made, essentially, either an A or an F. It is depressing. People with F’s will, as usual, have a great deal to say about how it is the fault of the textbook or other materials, or my fault. Their “learning styles,” which are sacrosanct, have prevented them from being able to absorb this particular material.

Since I cannot imagine being in school and not studying at all, and trying to get away with it by being disingenuous, I am willing to entertain the idea that they are disabled, need help, and so on, and that I am just so educationally privileged that I cannot understand their problems. Earnestly I try to give as much latitude as I can, recommend tutors, insist they actually get tested for their disabilities and be placed in programs which will help them learn how to learn. Finally I discover that it is simply that they do not study. I think that once again I am allowing myself to be abused.

It is odd to me how, rather than admit they do not study, these students are willing to make speeches which come down in essence to saying, “I am very deeply learning disabled and perhaps also mentally retarded – seriously enough so that I should really be in a training program for a routine trade requiring no analysis or thought of any kind.” These people by their own admission would not be competent to run, say, a lawn care service, since this does involve some planning and thought. I have described them to my neighbor the Marine.

He has a small trucking business on the side and he says many of the people he employs are similar to these students: dependent. They do not read, so they cannot read maps or directions, so they can only be sent to places they have been before. They do not do arithmetic, so they cannot figure out whether the cash they have is enough to buy the amount of gasoline they need.

The man in the paint store says he has found he needs college graduates to work as clerks because college students do not have the requisite arithmetical skills. So I am not alone in this problem, but I feel very lonely in it since this is supposed to be a university. One can extrapolate from this situation, however, why the country is as it is and why it reproduces what it does.

Axé.

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “Anschluß

  1. Believe me, people have been saying this for years, and nothing changes.

    As a perhaps funny aside: my prison students had no problems with the metric system. Guess why.

    Yes, it’s a matter of interest. Your F students are not interested in the subject matter.

  2. Not interested, correct, but also not capable. They have also failed Algebra as many as six times.

    Even without interest one can pass a course. I will write a post about the general unpreparedness for college – it is not only academic, it is cultural. You’ll see what I mean.

  3. I don’t think that most Australian students are in as bad a condition as you describe the American students to be in. That said, what is most lacking in this culture — and it is something that it taught in third world cultures but not here — is a sense of moral autonomy. If something is going wrong anywhere, you will hard-pressed to find anyone who is able to take moral responsibility and stand up for what is right as against what is obviously wrong. This tendency to turn a blind eye to “something that doesn’t affect me directly” is not so much a feature of individualism, I feel, as there is very little individualistic about the bird burying its head in the sand. I think it may have more to do with the passivity that is taught as a feature of being in a classroom where operant conditioning is used for behavioural management. Students simply do not become self aware when morality is something that is done TO them, rather than being something that they choose to do.

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  5. I agree that you do not necessarily have to be interested in the course material to be able to pass a course. Thankfully, I have an insatiable curiosity that allows me to derive some sort of satisfaction out of learning about even the most uninteresting things…

    If I were in your position, with the students you describe, I think the thing that would bother me the MOST, beyond the academics and the capacity for learning, and my own personal feelings, etc. would be the fact that these young people have ascribed such a disempowering script to their lives. When one is convinced that the consequences of the world lie solely on an external locus of control, they are essentially abdicating their power. This makes me very sad.

  6. “This tendency to turn a blind eye to “something that doesn’t affect me directly” is not so much a feature of individualism, I feel, as there is very little individualistic about the bird burying its head in the sand.”

    Yes indeed, and important, and people do not realize this, and that is a serious problem.

    Not all American students are as weak as mine – this is not an elite university. Here two types of undergraduates fully understand instructions: the Honors students, and the soldiers. These two groups realize that if instructions are given, it may be to help them achieve an objective. They also *believe it* when they are told that on some aspects of a project, they are to use their own judgment and use it well. That is, they understand that the point of being on training wheels is to get trained – in the end they are to ride the bicycle on their own. Others refuse to comprehend this and that is why they want to be on training wheels *and* to have one holding their back at all times, forever.

    “the fact that these young people have ascribed such a disempowering script to their lives.”

    This is indeed the most shocking aspect of the whole thing.

    ***

    Where I was an undergraduate professors were supposed by some to be mean and distant but I did not find this. It took me years to realize why: they were actually glad to see me because I would go and ask them real questions, i.e. “Hey, I’m not in your class but I found this book by you and since you’re here, I thought I would come and ask before I cite it in my paper, do you still agree with it?” Duh, of course they were nice, that was a pleasant and also flattering type of question, although at the time I did not realize this, I just wanted to know the answer. And of course they were nice because of what I was *not* doing, i.e. coming in to whine about something.

  7. And of course they were nice because of what I was *not* doing, i.e. coming in to whine about something.

    But this is surely another aspect that from my own point of view is an issue of cultural difference. Somehow I have acquired a notion of “losing face” — and indeed I suspect I have always had this feeling about certain kinds of behaviour. How westerners are acculturated generally is to feel that when they are complaining they are in a position of power. From the gut level of my being, I do not feel that somebody who negotiates by complaining has any …well, integrity. There are other ways to negotiate which express more power — like reasoning with somebody, or negotiating for a compromise.

  8. The problem is that reasoning and negotiation have gone out of vogue. You may as well do handstands whilst singing all the Disney songs on record. Nobody will know what it is you are doing…..

  9. That is interesting. Now people are only interested in power.

    Do you think the culture of complaining is Western generally? I thought it was something that came in with the Reagan administration. My neighbor the Marine says it is an American thing.

  10. I think the culture of complaining is western generally. Australians are also very quick to do so. It’s their immediate reflex when they discover that something in the world is not 100 per cent perfect. Japanese people do not complain as a rule. Those who originally came from my culture avoid complaining because it comes across as thinskinned and weak. But there is a loss of skills in etiquette, in being thick-skinned and in having a worldview wherein things are allowed to be less than perfect without the chance of pure heaven being sucked out of our brains and hope itself falling apart. In Australia, the tendency to panic when things go even the slightest bit in a way not predicted and not hoped for will usually be enough to produce the shrill “complaint”. There are few people here who have the maturity to accept that life is rarely perfect — never mind that it is even “sometimes” not so. This must be why I am only ever attracted to the social subsectors of this society where people can accept that things go wrong, and that one does one’s best to avoid this, but it is still no guarantee. I found my ideal spiritual mates in skydivers — who train for all kinds of eventualities, whilst accepting that it is only the individual him- or herself who can forestall disaster. There’s a different kind of thickskinned attitude in martial arts — which is why I stick around with these folk. The higher up the ranks you go, generally the less likely you are to try to exert power by complaining. It’s generally not looked upon well, despite the fact that it is actually counterproductive to whine rather than to figure out how to do it better. In any case, whining people do not represent power to me, as they think they do. It’s an admission that they do not have coping resources to even handle a little road bump as they make their way in life. I am truly horrified that it is considered key to good administrative practices (in education and elsewhere) to smooth out all the possible roadbumps in life before anyone can encounter them. Words cannot express my horror in this attitude of “service”. I am particularly terrified of the Westeners and their propensity to easily complain, because they tend to complain not so much against what is necessarily wrong with something, but against something that happens which they had not predicted. This means that they are MUCH more likely to complain against the foreigner who acts in ways not conditioned by acceptance of much of the “logic” of this culture, than they would complain against one of their own.

    But, be assured, even though they can do immense damage by their complaining, I still recognise that intellectually and emotionally, they’re weak.

  11. I must say, as an australian born person, that I do quite a bit of whinging. I guess it’s a habit I’ve got into. I don’t feel like it puts me into a position of power but you’re right, people here don’t tend to want solutions to the things they’re whinging about. For example, a guy who used to work here complained that the company wasn’t putting him on enough training courses. When they started putting him on training courses, he quit anyway. The good thing about it for the rest of us was that they put us all on lots of training courses.

  12. Undergrad Dropout: Hope to re-enter soon but here is what I have seen: Most students want to be spoonfed.

    They expect that the material will be suitably bland, pre-masticated, devoid of controversy and not more difficult than 6th to 8th grade reading comprehension.

    I have made bad grades on subjects before. However those have been times when I was ill {once I caught pnuemonia while pregnant during midterms} and once I took a Humanities Class that used Ullyses by James Joyce as a text book/assignment.

    I sucked at it. I didnt make any excuses for not *getting it, and I told my professor as much. That for whatever reason, this concept was consistently flying wide of the mark. And then I did the unthinkable. I actually rented “The Movie” and bought Cliff’s Notes {to my everlasting shame}.

    Sometimes shit just doesn’t stick. So it was up to me to make the best of a bad situation. Who could I blame? James Joyce? My professor? Sun Spots?

    I wrote a paper. It was not great. And I didnt expect a ribbon or even a pat on the back. It was considerably less than brilliant. But I did it, and then I moved onto other subjects in that same class and excelled. I took tests and made good grades. It was one small part of a goal that didnt go as hoped for but it was not the end of the world.

    To me, that is the key. In American Culture, so much emphasis is put upon being Perfect that to admit error, ignorance, or a lack of skill at anything is used against you in a court of your peers.

    Its about the dumbest thing I have ever had to deal with, but there it is.

    And this is intellectual dishonesty at its zenith. Because if you are not good at some things, if you don’t always have the answers or even the question, then you are put under tremendous pressure to pretend you do and essentially lie about the state of your affairs, or loose your position to some whining syncophant who is a more accomplished liar than you are.

    This practice sets us up for dangerous social dynamics that seriously comprimise our abilities {collectively} to effectively solve problems, or offer anything that looks like sound leadership AT ALL LEVELS OF SOCIETY.

    I would rather admit wrong or ignorance etc., and be considered third rate, then lie and find myself consisitently swimming in waters too deep and choppy peopled only with leeches and sharks.

    As for complaining. The Fairness issue is legitimate when its a gap in an entity’s execution of internal regulations, laws, or policy. OR when you can prove that these practices are somehow violating established law, human dignity, or common sense.

  13. “This practice sets us up for dangerous social dynamics that seriously compromise our abilities {collectively} to effectively solve problems, or offer anything that looks like sound leadership AT ALL LEVELS OF SOCIETY.”

    Yes. And it seems to me that it is new. When I was in school it was not expected that one would be good at everything – or even that one would always succeed in the things one was in fact good at. Now we demand excellence everywhere, but also know (but cannot say) that much so-called excellence, isn’t. It is disconcerting.

    “people here don’t tend to want solutions to the things they’re whining about”

    It took me years to understand this. When I complain about something or ask for advice, I do want a solution. And if I only want to vent, I say so. But it seems the majority are not even venting – they are complaining so as to paint themselves into a corner in which solutions are impossible.

  14. Worse can happen. With each complaint about bureaucratic procedures not being accurate or precise enough, the bureaucratic noose is tightened.

  15. I must say, as an australian born person, that I do quite a bit of whinging. I guess it’s a habit I’ve got into.

    I don’t think whinging is a problem. Perhaps this whole blog is a blog of whinging. What is a problem is when somebody could lose their job just because you’re having a bad day. This is the kind of thing I find inexcusable.

  16. And this is intellectual dishonesty at its zenith. Because if you are not good at some things, if you don’t always have the answers or even the question, then you are put under tremendous pressure to pretend you do and essentially lie about the state of your affairs, or loose your position to some whining syncophant who is a more accomplished liar than you are.

    This is a lot of why I do not play the game I am expected to. Because to be false now, in order to get ahead, is to set myself up with the necessity of being false indefinitely. So, if people don’t like the various spontaneously authentic aspects of my character, then it is much better for me to know now.

    Unfortunately, though, so many people do play the game of being inauthentic that nobody really knows how to digest authenticity except as a kind of madness.

  17. “nobody really knows how to digest authenticity except as a kind of madness”

    Yes and this is a major problem.

  18. On that note, I’ve been reading Nietzsche gain. Not in a metaphysical vein this time, and not with the previous religious indoctrination that I’d had. He seems eminently reasonable for the most part — not fascistic at all. I would say he needs to be read as a kind of “organicist”, describing society in terms of organic nature. To read him as a formula for domination or success is profoundly wrong. To read him in a partisan way — taking sides with regard to the strong versus the weak — is also wrong. He’s not so much giving “the strong” a recipe for success as pointing out the lay of the land as he sees it. One is free to disagree, but only with the same amounts of reason and passion that N. brings to the fray — and not on the basis of being more poorly equiped than the writer is, himself.

    He is obviously weak regarding feminism and his interpretation thereof, however. Perhaps the problem is that he sees it as an ideological movement, rather than a truthseeking movement, for whatever reason. It should be obvious to a present day thinker of his ilk that to enslave women is a recipe for general societal illness as well as unnecessary unhappiness. For present day thinkers calling themselves “Nietzschean” and rejecting feminism according to a reading of the works of N. which turn his observations into a formula, I say: You are still stuck in a religious mindset and have not really progressed intellectually beyond that, yet.

  19. “…a reading of the works of N. which turn his observations into a formula, I say: You are still stuck in a religious mindset and have not really progressed intellectually beyond that, yet.”

    Good point.

    On a gossipy note: in an effort to ask the Internet whether it were true Nietzsche died a virgin, I discovered this book, which in a glance of a few seconds looks promising:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=ma1zUXYyTF0C&pg=PA5&lpg=PA5&dq=nietzsche+virginity&source=web&ots=hRWQQaFU7q&sig=TPImZC1HBvB61aFEEUDPYihYu_8#PPA4,M1

    It’s called “Reading Nietzsche” and it appears to be about misreading in service of formulae and the problems which attend such exercises.

  20. Yes. I read a few pages. I don’t know about scholarly interpretations of Nietzsche. Like the author said, he speaks “viscerally”. So he is on a different wavelength from cerebral work — scholarly work. Should the one form of things really be translated into the other? Is is worthwhile — if so in what sense?

    The other problem is the one the author pinpointed about the young student with their special feelings for Nietzsche. This is a REAL problem with Nietzsche. The feeling that the student has for Nietzsche is a religious feeling, which has been exacerbated rather than cured by this writer. The student feels that he (and apparently, less frequently “she”) has become enlightened in a metaphysical sense. For shame. The best cure for this (as one is necessary) is a plunge into Bataille’s “immanence” for a duration. This should sobre up the student for a better approach to learning.

  21. If I remember right, Nietzsche did not get tenure because he was not “scholarly” enough. Should they be translated (as per comment above) into one another – perhaps, perhaps not, but they should communicate with one another, otherwise scholarly work has no meaning.

    Does the battlefield count as Bataillean immanence?
    Does swimming at the beach?

  22. Perhaps Nietzsche gave us his best from his perspective as a man. Wouldn’t it seem unfair to expect him to be able to bridge that foggy gap that exists between the two officially recognized genders? Why not entertain the possibility that an equally profound feminine counterpart may exist out there, perhaps more?

    If anything, independent works that echo his observations would be validating and provide more intense fodder for discussion and debate.

  23. If I remember right, Nietzsche did not get tenure because he was not “scholarly” enough.

    I hadn’t heard that. Actually he became recurrently ill because of the condition he contracted on the battlefield and was pensioned off. He did make full professor before then — so presumably he made tenure.

    Immanence? That is, for example, the ability to think in terms of the present; not to move beyond the sense of contingency. I don’t think there is any objective recipe for how to achieve this. Just at the zen buddhists have no exact recipe for achieving enlightenment. It happens when and how it does.

  24. If anything, independent works that echo his observations would be validating and provide more intense fodder for discussion and debate.

    Let us hope it is a mass debate!

  25. Aha – it is then just that the Birth of Tragedy was so poorly reviewed.

  26. Aha – it is then just that the Birth of Tragedy was so poorly reviewed.

    Probably. In any case I wouldn’t trust a critique that smelled too much like a faction fight between the upstanding members of academia and those whom it chooses to consider as outsiders.

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