Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Authority, Revolution, the GEO, and Halloween Candy

I’ve spent a little time this week wondering whether or not to tell my students about the GEO’s currentstruggle to protect the tuition waivers of graduate students like me. I’ve decided that I will; partly because I’ve been so adamant that they think about and tell one another (and me) what they “give a shit” about (one of our own course blogs is aptly titled “Give a Sh*t”) and I feel compelled to let them in on something I give a shit about, and partly because I want them to be prepared for the possibility that their instructor may be on strike and that they’d be left to their own devices (and my trusty syllabus—good luck! godspeed!). Having seen the way some of my students choose to use unstructured class time, the prospect of these students directing themselves through the remaining weeks of the semester is a little unsettling. In either case, partially what is at stake is my authority (and responsibility) as an instructor, my students’ authority (as learners), and our combined authority and responsibilities as this weird community that the Rhet program has produced.

Explaining the GEO’s current situation has the potential to threaten my authority in the classroom: I implied at the earlier weeks of class that I’d taught this course several times before. I never straight-out lied, but would generally say things like “Students who work on such-and-such an essay in groups, in my experience, tend to earn higher grades on those essays.” The students either don’t catch on that “my experience” in my head and informed by office chatter, or they just don’t care whether or not I’ve done this before. In the more recent weeks, I’ve been letting on a bit more about myself: I’m a student too! I write papers all the time too! Yeah, it is hard! Yeah, citing stuff does kind of suck! It’s a weird meditated position and I can’t quite describe how it affects my authority: does it make me less of an “expert” on writing because I’m kind of like them (sans the taylorsfwifophilia)? They way I’ve framed my classroom is a as a kind of crash-course on thinking like a college student: in that sense I’m (almost) totally comfortable with my authority position. Grad students are supermegadouble college students.

To make a longish blog post longisher, the connection between these thoughts and this week’s reading came in the same portion of Barrows’ essay that Calgary pointed out. What is at stake in using one’s authority as an instructor to “radicalize” one’s students? Is it somehow an abuse of power? Is it redeemed by the fact that I’m asking them to think critically about their institution and its priorities? They’re so excited to be fresh-adults and college students: are they ready to be seen as sources of revenue and to see me as a source of labor?

On the other hand, it’s close to Halloween, so I have an excuse to bring candy to class.


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