What do our students actually need? And other thoughts related to the politics of teaching.

They need to be challenged, really challenged and pushed beyond their limits.  

They need working understandings of how everything is culturally constructed and subjective, including the system of education they are in. 

They need the confidence, skill, and understanding to have difficult conversations without anger or fear. 

They need time to live and learn and relax and grow.

These thoughts were prompted last night as I was listening to various lectures on YouTube by Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, Dr. Michael Wesch, Dr. Brittney Cooper, and others and reading articles by Dr. Cathy J. Cohen and others. The kind of thinking and teaching they do is inspiring, important, and urgent.

Check out Cooper’s excellent talk about the racialization of time.

Check out Wesch’s wonderful “syllabus” for his Anthropology course.

Don’t miss Harris-Perry’s impassioned talk about Donald Trump and the election.

Our classrooms should reflect exactly this kind of activism, dedication, destabilization, and urgency. 

Teaching is always a political act. a radical act. an act against the status quo. an act of insisting on survival when people like Betsy DeVos speak of things about which they know nothing. 

And lately I have become somewhat, sometimes frustrated with the Academic Discipline of History because it does not as easily allow for the urgency of the present. Sometimes, History is not “radical” enough. not “experiential” enough. not “on the edge” of reach and possibilities enough. not as ready to push and challenge people. 

But then, of course, I realize that history repeats. And that there are always “new” and truly urgent problems that need sincere attention from those who are able to see beyond the social constructions of their given time and place.

Too, History helps provide stability, generally speaking, when looking at the large scope of the world’s history.

But then again, today’s mores and categories are new and in cases, are uniquely dangerous. Global warming. Late capitalism. Increasing population. Industrialism. Fundamentalism. These are more pressing than ever, and they continue to change the world we live in. Students need to learn about these and need to talk about these. If they don’t talk about them in college, will they ever get to talk about them? Television certainly isn’t going to.

Experts need to use their abilities to research, to synthesize information, and to communicate in order to maybe help the world progress a tiny bit. 

So, in other words, our students do not (simply) need to be “prepared for jobs.” And any topic on jobs must include a recognition of the impending future where “humans need not apply.”  

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda