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Latest update: December 17, 2000
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Dialog on the Arrogance of Domination:
Our Students and Higher Learning

Copyright, December 2000: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, and participating students.
"Fair Use" encouraged. Wecome to quote.



Introduction

December 17, 2000

Fall 2000 was exciting. We began to see a new student culture emerge. Not the one we would have predicted. But one independent of our machinations and control. These notes are meant to share our thoughts with that emerging culture so that together we can recognize its interdependence with our own efforts and with the dominant culture of higher learning.

We undertake this project with Edward Said's Culture AND Imperialism and Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth uppermost in our minds, since we just completed a theory course where postcolonialism held our attention. Notes will slowly go up on these sources, so that you'll be able to follow the theoretical approaches we take.

We invite our students to share in the interpretation of the data as we put it up. We also invite others to share in this interpretation, for we are trying to reinterpret the world of higher learning, free of dominance, and that can only be effectively done when those who have been so long silenced are included in the interpretation.



Issues

The following notes indicate issues that have come up for me and Susan again and again. Our perception of the issues is necessarily affected by the university limitations on our release of control and our inclusion of students as equal participants in their education. There is also retroactive interference in our perception of issues, in that we are most likely to focus on those we are presently being forced to deal with. We welcome the perceptions of others in identifying issues of control and inclusion.

Issues that grow out of our responsibility to account for student learning:

  • Students who say just give me what I deserve

    • need to go back and examine the stage at which we taught them to "accept their destiny," the "inevitable" again.
    • Marc Fumaroli on the "inevtiable."
    • need to examine extent to which hierarchical grade curve "taught" them what their place should inevitably be.
    • and that goes all the way back to blue birds and red birds and green birds in the early years of elementary school.

  • Students who "don't want to be bothered"

    • double-edged sword here: we're in the habit of interpreting a non-achievement-oriented attitude as lazy, uncooperative, and no-account. That reflects the dominant discourse of the imperialist West.
    • December 22, 2000. We develop expectations based on our own perceptions of the world. We interpret student commitment on the basis of expectations for "serious" students, such as we suppose we became. We ignore the extent to which "Gentlemen's C's" characterized most of the students, even in our day. Applying those standards to all students smacks of an arrogance based on the identity we chose, and for most of us, that identity disappeared with the advent of "mass education," which isn't a bad thing if we go back to postcolonial theory. As Mac points out, transformation of discourse, particularly when you've been accustomed to accepting that discourse, is bewildering. How easily we forget that and move to "blaming."
    • The Ugly American. US entanglements with indigenous people who did not choose to keep construction schedules.
    • The Yanomami. "They don't work." Yes, they do. But not more than about four hours a day and not without interspersed leisure. They don't produce for market surplus and for profit. (Reference to Archaeology of Violence.)
    • If there's a grading curve, and you have to study harder to get the concepts and skills down, but still can't get a good grade, then what's the point? Beatty's argument in White Boy Shuffle.
    • And how do we conceptualize "don't bother"? Does it include "don't have a clue as to how to imagine a different pattern from the one they've followed for years?" Or does it include the same "profit (or best grade you can pull off any way you can) orientation of the bottom line?
    • Since 1935 Robert K. Merton has been warning us about the great American "myths" that the "goodies" are available to all, and that all we have to do to get them is to work hard (i.e. to produce surplus for the market).
      "Mertonís best-known work concerns deviance, that is, violation of or conformity to the norms of the social unit. Merton recognizes five levels of relationship to the norms of the unit which vary according to the individualís acceptance of either the Goals of the Society or its Means, or both, or Neither. For that relationship which fully accepts both, Merton applies the label Conformity. At the other end of the spectrum, those who deny both, Merton ascribes the label Retreatism. In between are those who accept the Goals but not the Means -- who he calls Innovators -- and those who accept the Means but not the Goals -- the Ritualists. Outside this framework lies Rebellion which is characterized by rejection of the societyís entire format and an active desire to replace it such that neither its Means nor its Goals will be relevant to the equation any longer." The Unanticipated Consequences of Human Action: A Synoposis of the Structure-Functional Theories of Robert K. Merton http://www.thepoint.net/~usul/text/merton.html Link accessed December 17, 2000. C. Dodd Harris IV, Author. A collection of substantive articles by a young Republican, presently in law school, with a B.A. in Sociology.
  • The work ethic in the 21st Century: some basic contradictions with its Calvinist origins.
  • Spivak's view of the dominant discourse and her rejection of mere racist discrimination as postcolonial. Our results on the difficulty of stating validity claims in the dominant discourse.
  • Definitions of learning. Time to rethink the reasons for higher education, for any education for that matter. Time also to stop disenfranchising the student when he/she asks for relevance. Relevance does not require training; it does require respect for the Other.
  • Definitions of respect. "It's structurally violent to demand respect for learning!" TyronTurner. Hmm. Yes, it is, isn't it? Almost like the difference between elaborated and restricted language codes. Respect it because I said so, versus understand its power, at which point neither relevance nor respect is the issue, just satisfying the hunger to learn.
  • More to come . . . .



    Data

  1. Dialog Between jeanne and Susan:

    1. On Saturday, December 16, 2000, Susan wrote to jeanne:
    2. it was so good to talk to you today. making sense of what went on this semester; now it makes a whole lot of sense to me, now. (now, why didn't we think of this when we were in the middle of the semester?) probably had to go through the process to get here, huh? i'm looking forward to spring semester and working with mac and gale.

      susan

      On Sunday, December 16, 2000, jeanne responded:

      Me, too. Glad we talked, that is. I thought I had so well assimilated what Said and Fanon were saying about the extent to which the arrogance of empire permeated our dominant discourse, that I wouldn't be surprised. But it didn't work that way. Like you, I'm flabbergasted when a student in response to "What have you learned?" says "Just give me what you think I deserve."

      I knew the arrogance of "knowingness" had damaged us, but to the extent that a student we could hardly know believes that we somehow "know" what they deserve? I need a new word. That isn't arrogance on our part; it's their projection of arrogance onto us; and to some extent a latent anger with us for refusing to accept that responsibility of knowing "what they deserve." And how that feeds the arrogance of those who believe they do know! Mind boggling!

      amor y paz, jeanne



    Wed, 20 Dec 2000, Susan wrote to Mac and cc'ed to jeanne:

    great input.i'm cc'ing jeanne so we can add this to the dialog. i think some of what happened related to the extent of closed-mindedness of some of the more traditional learners. i also saw a few students from the spring 2000 semester become complacent (mistakenly thinking that the fall was the same as spring, when in reality, the rules changed dramatically). but others from spring adapted and moved into the changes quite nicely.

    the interesting thing with you and gale was your initial and downright skepticism transforming to getting it and going way beyond. there are some missing links that need to analyzed into the close some of the gaps next time around.

    susan

    On Tue, 19 Dec 2000, McLaughlin wrote: Neat! I love how your other dialogs have been displayed before, but because I can clearly follow this one, it's all the more interesting to me and I'm anticipating following it further! Thank you for sharing the link with me!

    I'm curious though....and also wish to share my thoughts on this if I may. As incorrect or overly simplistic as my thoughts may be on this topic, in light of my independent study, I hope I can exchange some of my thoughts as well, in hopes to learn more.

    Do you think "trust" had a lot to do with some of these issues? It seemed to me that some of the students were so discouraged at the unfamiliar teaching methods, that they simply gave up. I saw some try to grasp what we were doing, and just never got it. Others seemed overwhelmed. Still others accepted their initial shock as an indication of what they were willing to allow this style of learning to offer them. It seemed to me that the "non-structurally violent" approach was interpreted as violent from some because it didn't fir their expectations. And just as expectations can ruin a relationship, they can also ruin learning. Some interpreted "lack of structure" as being opposed to "too confining". Some interpreted it as "no control". All of these view points are valid if a fundamental explanation and comparison of the "traditional learning structure" isn't presented and a point of reference provided and examined. Understanding this change would permit more trust in the teacher and provide the students more willingness to go along with the experiment. Lacking this information, they closed their ears. They threw their hands up. Then they discussed this amoungst themselves and these discussions became a sort of "support group" and proved to be more contagious than the "learning atmosphere without structural violence" that was being offered to them. When they found sympathy amongst themselves, they grasped onto it and many did not let go. The fear of loss of control, feelings of forced trust, and no identifiable structure to hold onto, seemed to me to have lost some students. Many times I felt this theory and practice of teaching/learning was too advanced, not understood. But perhaps a clear explanation of the goals and methods at the beginning ofthe semester would have put them at ease and they would have lowered their guard. Then they might have felt like a part of the process rather than the subjects of it.The "you tell me what I deserve" seems to me, to be saying, "I don't know what the hell you want, so YOU tell me". In short, lost.

    It seems to me, that in applying this teaching/learning method, that some of the positives were taken away, when the structural violence was taken away. I think it's important to have a basis of familiarity and comfort, otherwise, you're in free-fall. Some students don't like to jump out of a seemingly perfectly good plane. Students were not provided a point from which to begin. Also, people are not static, they're dynamic, and unpredicatable and always making new choices, and those choices change from day to day. So, to try to devise a system that's going to give you reliable results needs to be just as dynamic, always adjusting JUST my thoughts...If my thoughts on this topic are overly simplistic or in error, can you please give me clarification so that I might understand as you do.

    Respectfully,
    Mac

    On Tuesday, December 19, 2000, Susan R Takata wrote to Mac:

    oops, i think i know why the link isn't working on the Dear Habermas front page at upw. i forgot to move the file over from the csudh site. sorry about that. (small detail, huh? mind is already on sabbatical). go to: www.csudh.edu/dearhabermas and then link to the "what we learned" essay.

    susan

    On Tue, 19 Dec 2000, McLaughlin wrote to Susan:

    Susan,

    good to hear that you're able to enjoy and get some things done towards home! Feels great, doesn't it? Went to the site, and the only link that SEEMS to be working is your hubtakata. I tried several times, but it would not surprise me if I'm just not able to get in for some reason. I REALLY am curious to see this dialog.

    Let me know when you get a chance. And ditto....when you get a chance. I learned something this semester (all classes combined) on a whole that leaves an unusual taste in my mouth ....and yet saw coming, but could really do nothing about. I feel like I robbed myself of getting as much from all of my classes because of the load I took. Though I did alright, I felt like I just missed out on some awesome opportunities. In so, I realize that this will happen next semester as well. A price to pay. Perhaps I'm more disappointed than I ought to be and dare not share this thinking with other students, but it makes me a little sad. A missed opportunity to get a full stomach of what was so well-given and I simply did not have the time to engulf. Even in the classes I got A's in....I can see that there was an opportunity to absorb the information in more depth. And although I satiated the requirement for "A", I was not. Crazy as it may be, I regret not being able to have taken the knowledge from some of my classes to the extent I know I'm capable, but there's always a price in spreading oneself thin. I'm still questioning it's worth.

    But, enough of that....whew! lol Take good care and have a great Christmas and New Years Susan!

    Sincerely,
    Mac

    On Tuesday, December 19, 2000, Susan wrote to Mac:

    hi! i'm home safe and sound and getting my Christmas cards done today. are you done with finals yet? oh by the way, check out the front page of the dear habermas page and catch the link on "dialog on what we learned". jeanne and i are already starting to analyze what happened this fall semester. no rush to do so, though. first, enjoy the holidays with your family. gotta go

    susan



Conclusion

Susan and I have concluded that it's a bewildering experience to face up to the extent that our institutions and our dominant discourse have absorbed the ideas of empire, of dominance, of the worth of "Some" over the "Other." We could see this in the fairly blatant structural violence of institutions and of the dominant discourse, the direct and linear concepts of demanding that rules be followed on the grounds that they (the rules) are not coercive and are good for all of us. But Edward Said is right in the extent to which he sees our complete denial that the structural violence of dominance is embedded in our very rules, in our very imaginary. And Fanon is right in the extent to which he saw the rage of recognition at these violations. Consider the castigation of and outrage at today's students for lack of integrity, for laziness, for simply not being up to the "old standards."

Let's go back to Less Than Zero and to Miss Jane Pittman and look at the passivity of one and the striving of the other. It is Miss Jane Pittman who embodies our ideal, not the white male child of the Nineties. We need to dis-entangle these bits of "empire" thinking. We need to build goals and paths that include us all, and we need not to be so fearful of a world without domination.

More to come . . .