Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Teachers gotta teach

It was the sixties in our New School history class, from decolonization and the anti-war movement to the Port Huron Statement and adventures in non-hierarchical education. As we did already last time, we had students in the discussion section act out and continue a dialogue reporting the regularly scheduled exchanges between students and faculty at the newly-minted New School College in, say, 1967.
On a whim I asked all the students who'd played the Students to gather in one part of the room, all the Department chairmen in the other, to confer on ways of continuing the debate. I was with the former and was surprised to hear my fellow Students making one argument after another for the chairs. Sure, this stylized dialogue makes the students sound like children, but it makes the chair sound pretty bad too, no?

So it fell to me to try one sixtiesish argument after another with the whole class - though they could just as well be seen as New School arguments, harkening back to the idea that the school should meet the unanswered needs of their students, the students being the best arbiters of what's timely and relevant. Why not let students determine what they want to learn about and hire faculty as needed? They weren't having it.

Kids wouldn't use such power responsibly, they said, and the self-indulgence this encouraged would wind up only adding them to the population of homeless in Union Square. Just one student got it. Why shouldn't students be able to fire teachers who are incompetent, she asked? Her classmates tuttutted about how every student's experience is different, some sure to punish teachers who were hard on them... until a Parsons student told us how students in her program had recently complained so concertedly about a professor that he was let go. Oh!

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