It’s been out for a while now, but I was just recently pointed to a piece in the Atlantic, titled “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower,” in which an adjunct college instructor complains at length, under the pseudonym of “Professor X,” about how “unfit for college” his students are. No, really:
For I, who teach these low-level, must-pass, no-multiple-choice-test classes, am the one who ultimately delivers the news to those unfit for college: that they lack the most-basic skills and have no sense of the volume of work required; that they are in some cases barely literate; that they are so bereft of schemata, so dispossessed of contexts in which to place newly acquired knowledge, that every bit of information simply raises more questions. They are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college.
I think this perspective is so vile and loathsome, so indicative of a total misunderstanding of the educational enterprise, that it hardly needs comment. However, I got to thinking about this author’s choice of pseudonym.
You see, this Professor X is all about the “non-traditional” students — in this case, mutants. Perhaps the Atlantic’s “Professor X” also thinks of himself as working with mutants. Here’s how he describes one of his favorite ways of talking about students:
I don’t have cause to use much educational jargon, but deficits has often come in handy. It conveys the seriousness of the situation, the student’s jaw-dropping lack of ability, without being judgmental.
First he’s dismissive about “educational jargon,” and then turns around and uses a term — “deficit” — that no self-respecting educator has used in decades. In what universe is labeling a student as deficient not judgmental? I’d expect the real Professor X (yes, I realize he’s a fictional character, but bear with me) to speak in terms of what his students have, rather than what they lack. I peg the Atlantic’s “Professor X” as more of a Magneto type.
If you don’t believe in the inherent educability of everyone, then perhaps teaching isn’t the best profession for you. I think “Professor X” probably deserves the students he complains about, but his students certainly don’t deserve him.