Tuesday, March 17, 2015

On Criticism, an observation

My last day teaching at SMU, I spoke to all three of my classes about why they were there. I pointed out that over half of all high school graduates now go to college and that most people were attending college to get credentials to get a job. What, I asked them, was going to happen to those credentials as more and more people got them?

I pointed out that it was true that the credentials they were getting at SMU were probably of more value than those acquired at most other colleges and universities. But why? Was it because they were getting something else at SMU one couldn't get elsewhere? I pointed out that they were taking a class with me, and that I had taught at UT-Dallas, UNT-Dallas, and two community colleges. Were the community colleges getting a SMU education, or were the students at SMU getting a community college education?

This gets into the problems of adjuncting, but I wasn't really talking to them about that, other than to point out that their elite university was teaching them with people who were not researchers or scholars (I was, but not because I had any institutional support for it). No, what I was really pointing out to them was that they were being sold a bill of goods that likely didn't have the value they were told it had. More, the value they were going to get was entirely up to them, and depended on the amount of time they took upon themselves to create the education they really ought to have -- the kind of education universities are supposed to provide, but have ceased to provide as people have begun to treat universities are places to get credentials rather than to build minds and souls.

I talked to them too about the state of the country, about the state of our culture, about the state of our society. I was anything but optimistic. At least, over the short term. I wanted to inspire them to think about what they could do to change things.

So naturally, on one of my student evaluations, I had a student complain that I had been critical of universities and of the country, that I apparently hated America.

In other words, this student interpreted criticism as hatred. I want you to think about what that means. Criticism means hatred. One doesn't criticize because one wants what one loves to be better. No, to criticize means you hate what you are criticizing.

How do you think this student is going to take criticism of his work?
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