Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Why Do I Teach? A short answer: I don't. (Not currently.) A slightly longer answer: I'm good at it. (When I do.) And another: I'm not good at anything else. The tenor of the debate elsewhere leads me to believe people will find these answers inadequate. There is truth in satisfaction, however, and when I teach, I feel intensely satisfied with myself as a human being. I could've gone into real estate appraisal—not kidding in the least—but I doubt helping people inflate or deflate the value of their current or future property would satisfy me the way teaching has. (Esp. considering what would have been my complicity in the sub-prime mortgage debacle. Better not to think about the attendant guilt that would've haunted me day and night had I had a part in that.) What do I find satisfying? The burgeoning awareness of theretofore unthinkable possibilities. In this respect, I side with Dr. Crazy against Kugelmass concerning statements like this: Expanding your world, or changing your view of the world, is not something I associate with becoming more likably bourgeois. One cannot expand into narrowness. Some have attributed this attitude to teaching at UCI, but I think the disagreement more intellectual, inasmuch as I think the path to financial independence in the United States still flows soundly through the middle class, and that the ability to appreciate the works Joe reads and teaches requires an amount of leisure time difficult to secure outside of the middle class. Not to say impossible—as Joe writes, students can cram thirty-eight hours a day into their weekendless weeks, but I don't think that situation ideal. Consider this in terms of scholarships and grants: the appearance of culture and strong writing skills can provide a student a quarter reprieve from what becomes a cycle of inevitable failure. Those devoted students who work full-time through college drop-out at a higher rate than those with scholarships; and those who slave through five rough years never experience the life-of-mind the same way their wealthier or financed classmates can. (Not that either of the latter group necessarily take advantage of this, only that they have an opportunity denied to those fully employed throughout their undergraduate career.) So if I can teach a student how to appear more culture, score a scholarship, and embrace the life-of-mind in a way they couldn't before, I might be making them more bourgeois, but I'm also (and more importantly) affording them the opportunity to become much more than that. Am I romanticizing the upper classes here? Certainly not. I'm speaking neither to nor of them. I'm talking about providing students with the tools required to reach the fringes of financial independence—not by aping the pretensions of imaginary middle class ideals, but (as Dr. Crazy wrote) to allow them to pass among its citizens and fool its gatekeepers. It is in this sense that I find teaching literature most subversive: all the supposedly indelible markers of class can be wiped from our souls with a little learning. Such are...

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