After being completely consumed with various and sundry crises completely outside the normal crises that are part of the professor’s job description, I’ve finally begun to catch up on reading various things I had to put aside for later. I’m sorry to say, one of the first things I read was Mark Edmundson’s “Geek Lessons” in the New York Times Magazine (September 19, 2008).
Edmundson, a professor of English at my alma mater (the University of Virginia), has been beating the “computers are bad for education” drum for years. Whether in Harper’s Magazine, in book form, or in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Edmundson has been lobbing bombs at what he sees as the doom of education, learning, and teaching–the growing use of information technology by college instructors.
And, to be fair, he’s not entirely wrong. It is true, as he asserts in his essay in the Chronicle that many faculty members around the country feel pressured by administrators to incorporate information technology in their classes (or only have access to teaching improvement grants if they do). As I too have written, it’s bad administrative policy to pursue a technology-for-technology’s-sake approach to teaching improvement.
But when it comes to Edmundson’s real objections to what is happening in America’s college classrooms–at least as he expresses them in the Times–it seems that what distresses him the most is what he sees as attempts by some college faculty to be hip, be cool, and be loved by their students. These hipster wannabees, it seems, see technology as the key to fame and student adoration.
Just to be clear, it seems that (according to Edmundson) by letting my students use laptops in class, I’m pandering. By incorporating technology in my courses in ways that enhance certain aspects of the course, I’m trying to be cool. By creating websites for students and encouraging teachers to use those websites I’m hoping that at least one of my students will think I’m hip.
I guess the last 10 years of my career have been a tragically deluded attempt on my part to recapture my youth by sucking up to undergraduates. Wow. I sure feel like a dope.
So, having been shown the error of my ways, it’s time to get back on the true path. I want to be a good teacher, not a suck up, so let’s see what Edmundson suggests I do. I turns out I need to be much geekier:
“Why are good teachers strange, uncool, offbeat? Because really good teaching is about not seeing the world the way that everyone else does…The good teacher is sometimes willing to be a little ridiculous: he wears red or green socks so a kid will always have an excuse to start a conversation with him; she bumbles with her purse to make her more maladroit kids feel at ease.”
I can hardly believe it! All these years of studying student learning, assessing the impact of individual assignments on student work product, interviewing students about what does and doesn’t work for them when it comes to teaching and learning, and all the rest — and what I really should have been doing was wearing mismatched socks!
Think of the time I could have saved…
I’ll admit to a certain amount of incredulity when I realize that the Times actually published a piece that in the end suggests that rather than pandering to students by using technology, professors ought to pander to them by wearing odd socks.
But after thinking it all over, I’m even more incredulous that Mark Edmundson has a Facebook page…