Les Main Sales

Today’s students may be characterized in brief as lazy, drunken, lascivious, self-absorb, materialistic, wayward louts.  And, one might add, lemmings.  I think here most especially of middle class students.  I have taught a writing course several times for persons who wished to doghowlingbecome doctors.  And I must say the idea that 98% of these doctors-to-be should ever treat a patient fills me with terror, especially since I could well be one of their “charges” in my lay away rest home.

This characterization would appear to run counter to the one I have just suggested as their being something like dogs howling at the moon, longing for what they know not, yet longing still.  One is not inclined to think of today’s student as such pansy like wilting violets.  Certainly most students would not admit to harboring any sort of profound desire to learn anything, just for the sake, that is, of learning it.

But pointing to the moral flaws of students is a nice and convenient way of not looking at how the current educational system may contribute to the problem.  What if some of their loutish, boorish, and vulgar behavior is the way their repressed desire to learn something expresses itself.  Repressed desire, as Freud has told us, can result a great deal of odd and untoward behavior.

One might hazard, though, that, even if at one time students did want to learn something, by the time they have reached college certainly this desire has been completely flogged out of them by their prior educational experience. Admittedly, this may be the case.  But no matter how mundane and ho-hum college might be for today’s student, it is still, for however brief a period, something new. Something a little bright and shiny.

That this moment is very short isn’t entirely students’ fault.  Sometimes, I think, at the college level, the professorial desire to fill up these empty vessels as quickly and thoroughly as possible leaves many of them feeling beat up about the head and rendered pretty much deaf to any learning that might come after.  For while the secular university does not teach “values,” it certainly does seem to feel itself the designated spokesperson of the reality principle.  It’s as if, having failed to educate by other means, some are driven to rub students’ faces as deeply as possible into the ugly muck of this ugly world.

I don’t know what else to think, when a colleague whom I respected in many ways, had the students in his introduction to ecology course, itself a general education course, read, as their primary text, a book that outlined seven scenarios by which the world, by the end of this century, is sure to come to an end from some ecological disaster or another.  Or, if that is not enough, one may learn about the ongoing, persistent treatment of women throughout the world as the “second” sex.  Or perhaps one would like to hear about how the United States persistently and consistently exploits the poor people of the world so that we all have more trash to buy at Wal-Mart.

There is shit enough.  We are all up to our necks in the muck; not one of us, as Sartre said, without les main sales.  And the shit must and ought to be taught.  I do question however the way that it is taught and the dosage.

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