Imagine for a moment that you are a kindergarten teacher. Today you are going to begin an educational assistance program for your students and they’re going to love it. (As we all know, “they’re going to love it” is the best way to judge the effectiveness of pedagogical techniques.) It’s even easier than all the hard stuff associated with memorizing and learning.
Here is the plan: you are going to shoot each student up three times with heroin. Although you know that this won’t help them developmentally, your professors told you that heroin is the best way to motivate student learning. As long as the kids’ teachers continue to give them heroin through the years, students will learn anything you give them. If you stop injecting the heroin, they won’t learn anything.
Let’s have an honest show of hands: how many of you wish school had really been like this? Sounds fun, doesn’t it? (Legal Disclaimer: don’t try this at home.)
Unfortunately, we all know that heroin does not assist learning even though withdrawal from any drug (including alcohol) can cause a person to lose knowledge or skills gained while under the influence. The same goes for the incessant boosting of the students’ self-esteem and curricular dumbing-down. It starts early, so teachers of older kids run the risk of losing their students’ cooperation if they don’t coddle them. These teachers are informed that the student audience has changed; this is coupled with demands that teachers change their methods to “adapt” to the new student shortcomings. I don’t mean to imply that everything was perfect in Education Land 75 years ago, but these demands miss the mark. To see why, let’s go back to Kindergarten:
You just gave your kindergartener a shot of vodka today and he’s a little dizzy. What’s the solution? Correct! You give him another shot of vodka.
Now he’s throwing up, but he likes the taste and wants more vodka. What do you do? You guessed it! Two more shots!
And the little boy passes out in a puddle of his own vomit. When he wakes up in the morning, you tell him that you’re proud of him because he handled the vodka very well. He asks for more, so of course you’re supposed to give it to him. You might as well hand him the whole bottle because he’s just so talented.
An hour later, his liver has decided that this isn’t funny and it’s no longer functioning. Junior is now a dazzling shade of yellow. (It makes him look so handsome!) Unfortunately, you’re out of vodka so you decide to go see a doctor to ask about Junior’s lack of hand-eye coordination. But you’re not looking for real medical help because you already know the right answer: a prescription for vodka!
And so it goes with inflating students’ grades and self-esteem while ignoring their reduced skills and ever-shortening attention spans. The solution parents demand, the one colleges demand of professors, and the one students expect is MORE VODKA! Um… I mean more dumbing down and more fueling of students’ self-esteem.
I think we can all see how that turns out. In the end, the self-esteem addicts face the same results as the heroin addicts and alcoholics: their brains are fried.
This post was inspired by a response I received to my last one. For those of you who don’t want to read it, here’s a quick summary:
I wrote a “love letter” to one of my bratty former students. She hated me then but probably loves me or my teaching now. She also thought I was attracted to her back in the day. She’s hot and would be fun to sleep with in a decade or two, but she’s obnoxious and immature now.
The response I received made me imagine that she could have been reading the piece. (And she could be you, my dear reader. She could be all of you for all I know.) And so I’m going to administer a little pop quiz, in part because I’m curious and in part because I really miss torturing students with pop quizzes.
When I implied that you don’t have the brains to back up your bragging, did you think I was talking about you? Did you recognize yourself in my description of someone who desperately needs to grow up?
You always thought I loved you. When I made jokes about wanting to receive nude photos of you and eventually sleep with you, did you view that as confirmation of your beliefs from all those years ago?
Question 1: If you recognized yourself in the criticisms I made, you are not my former student. The ability to recognize your shortcomings is something that our educational system does not encourage you to do; therefore, it is not a quality to be found in the typical immature person. You are special and unique because you know that you are not special and unique.
Question 2: Although a “yes” response may reveal your inability to recognize a joke, it’s more likely that you’re not psychologically capable of realizing how silly your earlier imaginings were. I wouldn’t complain if you sent me those nude photos anyway, but you’re deluded if you think any former teacher could focus that way on a student for so many years. And even if I could, why on earth would it be you? The fact that you think I want you is more likely a symptom of your desire for me. You were always hot for teacher and you just can’t let go. You went into a lot of debt for that degree and you think you deserve everything your teachers have to offer. You are an entitled little brat, but you are probably cute. (BTW: Don’t get your hopes up. Kittens are cute too.)
You were my student four years ago when you were in your first semester of college. You despised me and made sure that hatred was known, but you also thought I was madly in love with you. Or maybe it was lust you thought I harbored. No matter.
Through some miracle, we made it through the semester and went our separate ways; somehow, I never was able to forget about you. And I know you never forgot about me. It’s a sad fact of life that teachers remain psychologically connected to the students who created the biggest problems, not the ones who were exceptionally good. But we are not just connected through our memories of one another; we are connected through our mutual intellectualism. You like to proclaim your braininess as loudly as you can, and I can never be too far away to hear you brag. Seriously… you brag that loudly. That’s what makes you so precious and lovable.
But I can also see your pain. Your student loans are dragging you down and your boasting has become muted by people asking you how someone so smart got so far in the financial hole. In the meantime, your mind has created an idealized vision of your college experience and you have grown to love me, the teacher you once abhorred. Or: you love my teaching, but probably not me. I sure hope you don’t love me; you’re not my type. (However, please send nude photos my way if you get a chance.)
You have to love me now because it’s all you have left. College is over for you and no one has to treat you like you’re special any longer. And you have to justify to yourself why you spent so much money for a fancy school. So while I used to be annoyed by you, I now pity you. This love letter is not to the student I once taught, but to the one who will someday have grown up. And you are growing up… finally. Sooner or later, you will be someone I might enjoy sharing a coffee with, but it is saddening to know that you won’t be 25 or 30 until that happens. College has kept you and your classmates as infants for too long. I really don’t enjoy sleeping with infants.
And I do hope you decide to share that coffee with me sometime. Pour it over my grave if it takes you that long to grow up; I’d prefer the coffee to the saliva you wished for once upon a time.
May our love continue to blossom!
Among those without an extensive academic background in psychology or philosophy, a popular question concerns what kind of mind animals possess. Usually, the question is posed in reference to the beloved family pet: is Fido happy? At a slightly deeper level, one reaches what is known as “Theory of Mind,” which is an individual’s understanding that others around them have minds of their own and are capable of having thoughts and desires that differ from from one’s own. It is often assumed that this capacity is necessary for a person to be fully conscious; although that characterization falls a little short (such as among autistic people), I would like to do a little thought experiment to see if we can discover anything new. As a baseline, I will use the arachnid mind. As we all know, spider brains are comparatively small and it seems difficult to imagine that such a small organ could produce something as complex as the awareness of others’ minds. But I’d like to know about spiders and not just the big cute animals, so maybe I can come up with something similar to spiders.
So let’s talk about college students. (Caveat emptor: I am a former college instructor.) One of the most notable aspects of the college student mind is that it is regularly focused on sex, not unlike many animal species. And speaking from personal observation, it amazes me how many students imagine that the teacher is hot for them. Seriously. (Yes, yes, I know. There are some pervs out there in front of a classroom. But not that many…) These kids possess no theory of mind, only a consciousness of themselves. They’re horny, so the teacher must also be horny. And the object of the teacher’s affection must obviously be “me” and not any of the others in the classroom. The teacher, who sees these kids only a couple hours per week, is somehow supposed to be infatuated with the student. It’s almost kind of funny.
From the teacher’s perspective, things look a little different. In my experience, I often wished I could teach as though I were leading an old-fashioned Latin Mass. It would have been great to teach without having to look at the students. Facing towards the class, the woman on my left would be sitting with her legs in a most immodest position and the woman in front of me (in the loose fitting shirt) has forgotten that she is entering a professional venue where someone will be standing right over her looking down to maintain eye contact with the class. But at least she’s wearing a bra. It sure beats looking to my right (which isn’t saying much) because the guy in the blue shirt is going commando and he’s hanging out of his shorts. I think the Catholics had it right all along by having their priests face the altar instead of the congregation.
But I digress. We’ve established that college students, at least in this one respect, lack any recognition that the people around them have (literally) a different perspective. And as anyone who has ever observed a college classroom knows, college students very often lack consciousness. And much like the spider with a tiny brain, they often lack the intellectual heft you would expect of a creature that can spin such an elaborate and beautiful web.
From all of this, we can conclude that animals may not have the same mental capacities we often ascribe to them. If you are a professional psychologist or a philosopher, you probably knew that already.