you, sir, are no professor x

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.

Professor Charles Xavier.
Art by Aaron Lopresti

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.


3 thoughts on “you, sir, are no professor x

  1. That is truly loathsome … i’m so disgusted that i’m having trouble thinking of more eloquent responses.

    No educator worth his or her credentials should conceive of, let alone publicly define, his or her students in terms of their “deficits.” I rather doubt that Professor X would define himself as someone who failed to get a tenure track job or appreciate it if someone reduced the host of economic and situational factors contributing to the rise in an adjunct profesoriate to the deficient research and teaching capabilities of individuals in adjunct positions.

  2. uses a term — “deficit” — that no self-respecting educator has used in decades

    Yeah, other than to point fingers at stupid people using outdated and backwards-ass ways of approaching this issue, which we call “deficit-model thinking.” Professor X is a classic example. The term “deficit” indicates a fixed trait, fundamentally lacking in some way in relation to an objective (and completely naturalized) standard, as opposed to a more enlightened perspective that says there is some sort of contextual mismatch between the learner’s previous circumstances or level of preparedness and institutional expectations. (Clearly there’s a mismatch between the needs of these students and the asshole they’ve got for an instructor.)

  3. vile-ness notwithstanding, when did Prof. X get so buff? Last time I was reading, he was in a blanket wrapped wheelchair and looking old. Now he looks like he could out bench-press Wolverine!


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