I would hope that if, dear reader, you happened to take my Crime and Punishishment quiz that you got 100%. If I did not construct a quiz whose answers were self-evident, I failed in my efforts. I don’t think that my literature Professor would have liked this quiz much because it makes mock of the idea of the English Department as the warden of a specific discipline or knowledge base. I mean if nobody really wants or needs the information of the knowledge base or the knowledge base is somehow made to appear transparent one is not a warden of much.
But I would say the word “knowledge” is thrown around these days a bit too indiscriminately; disciplinary knowledge is not a knowledge base but an information base. Or more precisely if one can find no point to the information, aside from the fact that one might possible call it “interesting,” then it is not knowledge. Knowledge–or at least preliminary baby steps towards it–is information with a point or meaning. My quiz provided transparent information arranged in a way to suggest potentials for possible meanings.
That’s a terrible definition for what I think teaching and/or education to be: information with the potential for meaning. One has, as a teacher, to somehow stimulate in the student the sense that this information is not dead and just lying there, as in having murdered to dissect, but might for the student possibly come to mean something and that in trying to figure that meaning a student might come to a knowledge (meaning, significance, importance plus information). Professors, however, who say their job is to teach the subject and not the students don’t see it that way.
People said that—back in the backlash to the sixties which set in by the late seventies. I was a college student in the late 60’s and I must say personally that I had no idea which end was up about much of anything. But students a bit older than I or perhaps just wiser began to question the way higher education was being done. And many, many Professors, especially those who were authorities in their discipline, did not like the questions students were asking at all.
I remember sitting in graduate school when a Professor said that–I teach the subject not students–and it stung then, and I still feel the sting of it because—and I know I am being presumptuous—anybody who says that and means it should not be allowed to mount the podium. But I need to get off this topic rapidly. It perturbs me.
I am too old to spend what is left of my time on this globe being perturbed. I am all for the powers of positive repression and forgetting. Still, I remember a very nice Professor, who was an expert on Conrad, visiting my class one time; she had a bit more to say about the class than the other Professor had. She said, “You really should talk more.” I interpreted this negatively of course, and said, yes, I knew the discussion had not gone well. But again we (the writing teacher and the Professor) were talking at cross purposes. I thought she meant I should have talked more to stir the pot for discussion, but, no, that was not it. You have, she said, such smart things to say. Why deny them what you know so well and express so clearly.
Damn—was I in a pickle.