I have taught for a certain university for nearly four years. In that time, I have grown to love the art of teaching, to respect the remarkable genius born only from experience, and to savor the challenges and trials I endure with each of my students. I have experienced their struggle, their victories, and their losses. I have seen too many stories – always stories of strength, of courage, and ultimately, of confusion.
I am also confused. I am unsure, learning-as-I-go. They know – I am making it up. I haven’t read the book either. We are merely students of our experiences, sharing the knowledge that we have discovered, created, through our own trials – the daily deconstruction of ourselves, rebuilt within the guiding framework of our memories. I adore my students for keeping me confused, unsure, and inspired. I cherish the chaos that they bring into my routine, how they break me and allow me the opportunity to reimagine myself, my classroom, and the art of writing.
While I adore my students, I am enraged by the politics of higher education, the guidelines and prejudices, the unspoken laws and by-laws, the games. I despise committees. So many committees. One right after the other, discussing, debating, plotting. I despise the illusion of compassion, the hordes of admission personal, technical support, financial aid offices, presidents and vice presidents – the desire to create a system so complex that it cannot discover or understand its own purpose. A voice enters and is consumed. I despise the need to say yes, to accommodate the impossible, to assure and assure, to trick and recruit students, to shop for bodies and minds, collecting interest. Change is impossible, agonizing. The system works as the system has always worked. We could discuss the many, specific failings of higher education, but that is for a later article. Rather, I’d like to pose a question: why hasn’t higher education changed? Why have there been no changes in regards to who teaches, what is taught, and how institutions are run? Why is there no outrage regarding bad teachers, corrupt institutions, and archaic policies set to benefit the institutions at the expense of its students and alumni?
Because while we complain and whisper quietly amongst coffee houses about these blocks of brick and delicate landscaping, we secretly desire nothing more than to be accepted by them. They are above us, shining stars of intellectual and physical accomplishment, a testament to all our accomplishments and the gateway to all our dreams. To deny the authority of higher education would be to deny all that we have learned and striven for throughout our lives.
Go to college, go to college, go to college…become something. My mother’s words still resonate.
The crisis of education and the discussions created by this debate are often focused on K12 learning, on low scores, drop-out rates, and the failings of our public school systems. We discuss bad teachers, fire ineffective principals, and launch into the twitter-sphere with impossible enthusiasm and focus with complaints, demands, suggestions, frustrations. In fact, it is this outcry upon which change depends. There is no need to change until it is demanded, until old institutions are torn down so that new policies and guidelines can be constructed. We raise our voices because we find ourselves equal in the face of public education. Regardless of income or perceived worth, we are in a position to fight for it. We know it, understand it, and thus, can do battle.
However, we don’t generally want to reform higher education even though it also suffers from corrupt institutions, bad teachers, low grades, and ridiculous drop out rates; we just want to be accepted by it, to walk through its doors, and become a part of its legacy. We crave access. So, while we are highly critical of K12 schools and are often vocal regarding its policies and shortcomings, we fail to criticize the institution of higher education. We might complain about it, but we don’t dare reform it. We care more about affording it and desire little more than to be accepted by it. We are infatuated by its image, its promises and its legacy; despite the lack of substance, despite its failing, we cling to what we imagine it to be and all the things we could become within its walls.
I recognize this within myself. I would not be writing this if I had tenure. In fact, the same institution that has caused me many sleepless nights, that I have complained about and secretly, hoped to challenge and change, would have little to fear if they offered me a full time position. My desire to be accepted by the institutions that I have grown up longing for, admiring, is stronger than my will to create or reform.
For many of my students, little thought has been given to their actual classes or grades – simply getting in is an accomplishment. And while they might complain about certain policies and actions, their criticism is never realized or mobilized into action. Their concern is affording higher education as though the institution of higher education is some immovable, all-knowing entity that they have neither the knowledge nor the right to challenge or change, as though they are to blame.
Higher education has little reason to reform. We believe that we need these institutions; as such, we have little ability to control them, despite the fact that these institutions exist solely because of us.
As an educator and scholar, I adore education, learning, knowledge, experience. I despise the false idols erected in place of these ideals.
And so, I am sick of deans and admissions personal threatening to deny me classes because I haven’t played enough games, written enough papers, published enough articles; I am sick of being praised with one hand regarding my accomplishments in teaching while my pay is demoted with the other; I am sick of counselors convincing students to stay in a class they should drop to ensure that they don’t lose funding, of the sales pitches, half-truths, and spreadsheets. I despise presidents and coaches, construction projects that steal money from students to build shiny things with little substance, the ways in which power and money are abused, the way prestige and image is valued over content – how the way a classroom looks has become more important than the learning taking place within it. I loathe the ways in which adjuncts are assaulted with false promises and meager salaries, the ways in which our love of teaching and our students is used as ransom against our own common sense and reason. I’m an angry adjunct, a committed educator, and I, for one, demand change.
To be continued…