On College Teaching, and on Paulo Freire

People say professors lecture from ancient, yellowing notes, but mine lectured from drafts of their newest book manuscripts and invited their famous friends from other institutions to do the same. This is why, when I became a professor, the institutions I worked for seemed to me to be behind the times in terms of research news.

These professors did not really teach basic skills, since you were unlikely to get them for a lower division course unless they had a T.A. to deal with basic skills issues. There was a whole other group of faculty who taught basic skills, and they were not necessarily research faculty — although they did tend to be current.

I am not saying these things are good or bad, only that they are what I experienced. I think perhaps it was university teaching and that what I have always needed to know how to do was college teaching. I divine that college teaching means, you bring some of your research expertise into your lower division courses, and you do a lot more skills building than I was used to seeing in your upper division courses.

I do not necessarily like this idea, but I suspect it is an accurate assessment and that if you do it, you have a lot more control over your life, and creativity in it, even if you are not one of those people who love teaching (which I am definitely not, at least not in the usual way or for the usual reasons).

Meanwhile, for a person who does not like teaching (but does like learning), I seem to think about it rather a lot. Paulo Freire has a book I was not aware of, Professora Sim Tia Não, which says the common reduction of professors to aunts is a falsely innocent ideological trap. I have been told I should be an aunt, not a professor or a colleague, more times than I can count.

The first time I was told this I could not believe it, so I lost my job. I do not regret this. I do regret not having realized my vulnerability had been my willingness to fulfill (and not merely seem to fulfill) some aunt-like functions in the first place.  I also regret having internalized some related events enough to still be making some aunt-like sacrifices now.

The point of an aunt-like sacrifice is to stay wounded and so to remain safe. There are more errors in this strategy than I can count, and it is not a good use of a wound.




Filed under Banes, Bibliography, News, Resources, Theories, What Is A Scholar?

29 responses to “On College Teaching, and on Paulo Freire

  1. And: the only way to hold the line against depression about teaching and erosion of one’s research personality is to take control of all one’s classes as college classes (in the definition given here) as opposed to try to pretend one has a university situation (which is what I have always been pressured to do on the theory that it would “protect research time” — which it does not!).

    [Now, in Reeducation “taking control” is not supposed to be good, but I really believe in it. Reeducation, I note, also claims to believe in looking at the reality of a situation.]

  2. human

    I guess I’m not clear on the difference. (Sorry.) But interested in what you’re saying…

  3. I’m only now just formulating it (the difference). I never studied anywhere but the University of California and these similarly elite public institutions like the University of S. Paulo, where you could assume the students would have a whole lot of basic skills and general knowledge. There were some basic classes, like beginning Russian for those who didn’t know Russian and wanted to, and they were taught by TAs and instructors not famous people.

    In those situations, the Word on how to get ahead is: present your research in your advanced classes, and follow the program in your beginning classes (because a good program would be in place, probably, and if not, the quality of the students would make up for it).

    In the situations where I’ve actually worked, however, people needed basic skills at all levels, and I didn’t know how to teach them. And there is no way students would be interested in the kind of lectures that fascinated us at that level. And there was usually no “program” to speak of at the beginning levels, just some amorphous chaotic thing, so you can’t just follow it — you have to read up on how to impart those skills in a modern way and be a leader with that.

    So, that’s college teaching — you have to really be undergraduate-focused, and on a different kind of undergraduate than I ever was or met. It’s a challenge.

    • human

      Ohhh, I think I see what you mean. My issue this semester was that I had some of both kinds in my class: people who had basic skills and could do quite advanced work, and people who did not have the basic skills. I’m new and all; I just assumed that was “normal.” Ha. It wasn’t the mix itself that frustrated me, but the fact that about half the students who lacked basic skills had nevertheless somehow been convinced that they had in fact mastered them. The ones who were aware of their deficiency worked hard. But these others who thought their skills were fine, they refused to go to the writing center or come to office hours or really put in any work at all on their writing, despite the fact that the organization of their papers was so poor and their word choices often so bizarre that I could barely understand what they were saying.

      Uh.. yeah anyway, sorry 🙂

      • OMG YES this is the problem: “the fact that about half the students who lacked basic skills had nevertheless somehow been convinced that they had in fact mastered them” … YES.

        At your university, like a couple of the better ones I’ve taught at, there are some people with fewer skills than one could have at the place I studied, and yes, that mix is normal there and in many places.

        But these people, the ones who think their skills are fine, are really really difficult.

        Also I just got e-mail from some random student asking some really uninformed questions and demanding answers; she ended by saying “thanks for your cooperation” … !!!

  4. Also — obliquely related; I’d make a separate post but it would take time and I want to go swimming —

    1. I was horrified at my first job because one was expected to be an aunt. However I internalized that and never stopped feeling guilty about not wanting to be one, or in other words fearful of getting killed if I didn’t function that way primarily. That is one of the things this blog is designed to get me over.

    2. Then came Reeducation and that book contract, which were both about betraying oneself and becoming other oriented. I didn’t understand that, though, and just felt guilty about not fitting into Reeducation or the book contract.

    3. Then came all the “just write it” advice — which in the circumstances didn’t apply, although I didn’t give myself the authority to say that.

    Those are the things this blog is about getting over.

    I see now clearly that not only WAS there no way I could have written that book at that time, but there was not an easy way I could have refused the contract — at one level I could have, wanted to, but at another level my fear based attitude was “don’t waste what could be your one stroke of good luck.” I didn’t have enough information to not make that decision, or to rethink it soon enough. Yet I still feel guilty about it, largely because of what not doing it did to my life, and also because, it seems, I so abused myself for not being able to do it.

    I also think my refusal to write for so long was a rebellion against all my father’s threats about academia. I was so tired of obeying — and his technically well meaning threats, it is becoming clearer and clearer to me, really were outright abusive.

    I was nervous about it but I think it is good I came to Brazil and rented this house. It is nice to be by the ocean water — really nice — and nice to have a nice studio in which it really works to semi-incarcerate myself — and ties various loose ends up in various good ways.

    • The other thing that came to me today was my touch of dissociative-ness (dissociativity?). I tend not to respond instantly to aggression because I dissociate (and I guess that is what people mean by “going numb”). I don’t control it but I think I did do it on purpose during Reeducation, send myself far, far away.

      This, of course, was why I couldn’t write during that period, there was nobody here to write with.

      I’ve heard people say that it was because I was busy with something more important and necessary, Reeducation, but I don’t think that busyness was a good thing.

      That’s why I am angry about it — all that stolen time. I would like to find a way to make some sort of peace, not with that but with what I see as my complicity in it.

      I was doing my level best at the time, and my sincerity was being exploited, what can I say.

      • I was doing my level best at the time, and my sincerity was being exploited, what can I say.

        That is why decoupling is necessary: your lizard brain, brought into collusion with other people’s lizard brains, exploited the sincerity of your higher mind.

        The ultimate revenge — which is also necessary — is to decouple the two, so that you can see what is going on in future.

      • human

        Oh, I do that too, what you call dissociating. I think. My father would berate me and I would shut off and wind up coming out of the conversation with no clear memory of what he had actually said. It frustrated the heck out of a friend who was trying to help me figure out how to deal with the situation and HE would berate me for not paying attention to the conversation so that I could report it back to him and he could give advice.

        Turns out moving across the country fixed the problem, so hey.

  5. The best (and only?) use of the wound:

    Shamanism, in a nutshell, is related to a very specific use of the regressive part of the personality (ie. that part which is not entirely integrally linked to the whole, but is actually a complex device facilitating survival in terms of a mode of ‘thinking’ entirely different from the rest of consciousness). I think this regressive part of the personality is R-Complex. I think that most people are unwittingly controlled by R-Complex to some degree. (This is the part of the Unconscious that deals with power relations, and issues of authority in relation to survival.) The fundamental goal of shamanism is to make one aware of R-complex. One way of looking at this is that shamanism involves a mental decoupling of the higher mind from R-Complex, so that one may better observe R-Complex at work. One may then see how in some cases it may act as a healing mechanism — (for instance, see Sherry Salman’s Jungian work). Generally, however, becoming aware of R-Complex can enable one to better combat it in others.

  6. Well, perhaps the reason I am so frustrating is that I’ve never been unaware of it. This doesn’t mean I’m always good at the decoupling. Reeducation wanted the coupling — and would then at odd moments say it wasn’t good (and I’d say I know that, I just did it because you wanted me to!). Sherry Salman looks really interesting — REALLY interesting, and that’s interesting about becoming better able to combat the R-complex in others.

  7. It’s hard to decouple because there is so much incitement towards pleasure in cooperating with one’s lizard brain. There is the pleasure of losing one’s self, the pleasure of blowing one’s fuse, pleasure of being at one with the expectations of others, and so on. There’s a huge allure. It’s magnetic. Most people succumb to it, in one way or another. So, you cooperated, because it was pleasureful, although in the end, it cost you much more than you think it was worth.

    To decouple the higher mind from the lower mind is to be able to see immediately that to give in to such a seduction is never worth it. It only leads to pain, and to loss of identity, in the long term.

    One must know this in the inner sense, as a kind of unforgettable lesson. That way one will not be susceptible to the seduction again. But this kind of knowledge also gives one power. You get to stand above the temptation, and to run your own life.

    • Sherry Salman is interesting in some ways, but not so interesting in anothers. It is all very well to know that the lizard brain’ — or, in her terms, the Jungian ‘self’ — is oriented towards making one feel whole again, after some calamity. But the problem is that it seems to lack the material resources to do this by itself. It has the will and the need to do so, and the realisation that this is necessary, but it lacks the resources.

      To understand more of what this means, it is like how I was for many years after I came to Australia. I knew that the change in cultural situation had damaged me. I felt incomplete, as a result. It felt to me as if I had been pushed down into an infantile position in relation to those whose identities had never been so damaged in this particular way. If one of them were to acknowledge me and my troubles, I felt that I could become healed. If they gave me part of their psyches, as it were, in recognition of my suffering, I would become whole.

      This is what Sherry Salman’s work recognises — that the regressive aspect of the personality does seek to work its way towards wholeness (and it registers the lack of wholeness), but that it requires someone else to sacrifice in order to become whole. In my case, this sacrifice would have been in the form of somebody’s empathetic recognition of my suffering. It would be a sacrifice for them because they would have to experience something of my pain, in order for me to incorporate their sense of empathy (although not their *suffering*, as such) to make myself whole again.

      Shamans can and often do become these “empaths” who sacrifice themselves in order to make others whole. Perhaps that is one of their quintessential roles. But it is sacrifice.

      • Yes, I get it. Although it wouldn’t have been much of a sacrifice for someone to give empathetic recognition of your situation … I mean, really.

      • One of the reasons why it is difficult to empathise with another is that it requires a certain level of sophistication, which has been sacrificed by lizard brain types, who are oriented towards the world on the basis of survival. Really, one has to see the other being as a person to be able to empathise with them. But those oriented towards the world on the basis of power do not perceive other persons as such. They perceive only “interests” in relation to power, but they do not perceive the complex colours and textures that make up a personality. Their whole orientation towards the world is based on a philosophy that we must “struggle to survive” — and so they rely upon lizard brain, which is most adept at “surviving” in an amoral sense. There is a whole internal logic to lizard brain’s way of viewing the world that is extremely faciliative of survival, especially since it hugely simplifies the personality, and does away with the question of ethics as being too burdensome to facilitate survival. Those who experience the world predominatly in this way, in any case, will not be attuned to seeing others as ‘persons’.

      • Also, on the other hand, (with regard to empathy) what is often overlooked: one ought not to empathise with lizard brain types either; just as they are simply unable to empathise with you.

        There is much that is very backwards about current therapeutic study on bullying and personality disorders. The Western dichotomised view is that those who tend to bully cannot empathise, but that those who are bullied are very empathetic. There might be some truth to that, but ultimately to remain empathetic in the company of those who have no living concept of what empathy is, is downright destructive. Empathy is for persons. But lizard brains are not functioning as persons and do not deserve our empathy.

    • “That is why decoupling is necessary: your lizard brain, brought into collusion with other people’s lizard brains, exploited the sincerity of your higher mind.

      The ultimate revenge — which is also necessary — is to decouple the two, so that you can see what is going on in future.”

      These things are true and I also suppose I really needed information on abusive relationships. Ideally I’d have come across a competent practitioner, but that’s not so easy.

      I am irritated at the cost in part for some ego type reasons: it wrought havoc with career and life and even more with just growing up in general, it seems to me, things I think I have rights and also duties to do. These ideas of mine are partly about human rights, but partly they’re just very middle class.

      • It’s the ego that is actually sacrificed to R-complex. Ego has long term views and visions, but for R-complex, everything is a short term benefit. So ego is not wrong, or evil, its just that it is easily led astray.

        Perhaps, more specifically, early ego associations are malformed, and need to be revised. But the way we revise our ego values is through developing different emotional associations and positing them as our goals. That way the old associations will drop away.

        What Nietzsche points out is that systems of morality (what you would call your middle class associations) are not designed to serve the individual. That is why, I think, they serve R-complex, and the participation mystique.

        In all, if the moral values you have are not ones that have been personally chosen by you, but are ones you have merely fallen towards, then you are probably a victim of the kind of power you don’t want to be victim to.

        I honestly don’t think that there are any shamans that can help you with this kind of Nietzschean psychology. It takes a while of working through it oneself. A lot of it, initially, is about training the conscience to think differently about a whole lot of things. But I found that this wasn’t enough — because we are living in strange times, possibly stranger than those times that Nietzsche lived in — whereby a lot of people, possibly the majority, have given in almost entirely to the lure of R-Complex. They are not even aspiring to be ethical anymore, but have given up on that project entirely. This means that the primary thing is not just to train your conscience to think differently about a lot of things, but to learn how to defend yourself against the common religion of compulsory regression.

  8. Ego as what is sacrificed to R-complex, that’s right, and I’d forgotten it: what I think of as dissociation is probably also this. And I could say more, but it’s late; I’ll come back to this.

    There’s an article by Giroux on Truthout about the Tiger Woods sex scandal. Essentially it is about “the common religion of compulsory regression.” I realized the reason people feel there has to be a God and Commandments to keep them from killing or whatever, is that they have given in entirely to their (unethical) impulses (which have then been grafted to consumerism, of course).

  9. The compulsory regression thing is certainly imposed from above, through the compulsory economics of consumerism. It is also reinforced from below, by those who demand that we show them our authenticity by becoming one with them, leaving no trace of our identity for ourselves.

  10. Human, I think what I’m still getting over is the difference between the elite urban R1s I always studied at — which weren’t nearly as un-creative as the stereotype says — and the kind of place I’ve worked. I’m still getting used to things.

    • human

      Well, you know where I’m at. I doubt it counts as “elite” but I suppose it meets the other descriptors you name. And I think, like you say, it is a very creative place. There is a lot of excitement among the grad students and faculty and a lot of talk about interesting things. It is not at all like my previous university where professors seemed bored and irritated by their students and did not like to have office hours or really talk to students at all. Except the adjuncts – they liked to talk to students.

      Anyway, the thing that I’ve been realizing that strikes me as really weird is how incredibly much work everyone is expected to do. Students, faculty, everyone. We’re all so busy that we collapse into puddles of stress at the end of the semester and every single person I’ve talked to seems to be cutting corners and doing their work kind of halfassed. I don’t understand why we, academics, in general, don’t just do less work and do it better, pay more attention to it, spend more time on it. I think that would be a better choice. If nothing else, we would know that when we gave so much of ourselves to write something, it wasn’t just going to get half-assedly skimmed by whoever winds up reading it (if anyone does). The way things are set up it all seems so pointless and futile because we never spend enough time on things, because there is “too much” that we “have” to do. Why is that, anyway?

      • I think where you are counts as elite although my friend who works there says it’s mixed in the way you describe.

        On the overwork question, I really don’t know. It is a great mystery I do not understand. I DO think I understand the overassigning of books where I studied: the professors wanted to discuss all of them, and so they ordered them so we could see them and read the ones under discussion that interested us. The whole thing about overwork, well, my dissertation director didn’t like me because I didn’t look stressed enough.
        I disagree with that attitude entirely and I’m glad you’ve brought this up — it should be a topic for Academic Mondays.

  11. Mark

    Here Mark spoke up against research and, if I understood him right, against tenure. –Z

  12. Human — yes, that’s dissociating all right!

  13. human

    Yes, one of my students told me that I grade their essays too hard. It doesn’t hurt my feelings, or anything, but it makes me twitchy to think of him getting better grades than he’s been getting for writing like what he’s been turning in.

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